Articles Posted in Toxic Torts

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Nearly 75% of all firefighter deaths in 2016 were cancer-related.

So says data from Firefighter Cancer Support Network, an organization whose aim is to bring comfort, support, and resources to families of firefighters who have received a cancer diagnosis. Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn called the number of firefighter cancer deaths in his city an “epidemic”  in a 2017 interview with NBC News’ Tom Costello.

In his NBC interview, Boston Fire Commissioner Finn recalls a 2002 explosion at a power plant. 200 city firefighters responded to a fire that left them covered with chemicals pouring from the ceiling. A quarter of those who responded have since been diagnosed with a cardiac issue or cancer.

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Sterigenics International, Inc., a manufacturing plant in Willowbrook that sterilizes medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and foods and spices, has been the subject of recent scrutiny by both the public and the U.S. and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A report compiled by a division of the Department of Health & Human Services revealed in August that the sterilization process used by Sterigenics was emitting high levels of the cancer-causing gas ethylene oxide (EtO), polluting the surrounding community and causing elevated risks of cancer for residents in neighboring areas.

According to the EPA, the cancers associated with excess EtO exposure include:

  • Breast cancer
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A federal agency’s results from a May air quality investigation that shows the risk of cancer in Willowbrook and surrounding communities is higher than the EPA initially reported to the facility, Sterigenics, in December. Ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions from Sterigenics International, Inc., a plant that specializes in the sterilization of medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and foods/spices, have been given off from the facility since 1984. The federal agency behind the most recent investigation is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the EPA, the cancers associated with excess EtO exposure include:

  • Breast cancer
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pollution in chicago

Willowbrook Sterigenics Investigated for Emitting Invisible Cancer-Causing Gas to Residents and Workers

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is headed to the neighborhood of one of Levin & Perconti’s founding partners, John Perconti, to perform “ambient air testing” at the Willowbrook Sterigenics facility in DuPage County. Sterigenics is a global company which runs contract business for sterilization services. The Willowbrook facility, currently at the center of a toxic emissions review, sterilizes medical devices such as syringes and surgical procedure kits. The emission in question, Ethylene Oxide (EtO), is a known carcinogen and airborne substance identified as troublesome and cancer-causing for residents and workers who are ongoingly exposed. In 2007, the EPA issued standards to reduce emissions of EtO from hospital and medical device sterilizers to protect workers and community residents from damaging air pollutants.

An August 2018 public report prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) titled “Evaluation of Potential Health Impacts for Ethylene Oxide Emissions” showed workers and residents who live nearby Sterigenics have been exposed to elevated airborne EtO concentrations. The ATSDR further concluded that “an elevated cancer risk exists for residents and off-site workers in the Willowbrook community surrounding the Sterigenics facility,” and that “these elevated risks present a public health hazard.” ATSDR officials have put forth the recommendation that Sterigenics “take immediate action to reduce EtO emissions at this facility.”

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A story about a 23 year old UK woman battling malignant mesothelioma recently made international news. Danielle Smalley was diagnosed with a type of mesothelioma that comes from ingesting asbestos, the now-known carcinogen that leads to the disease. Though Ms. Smalley and her family are unsure where she could’ve eaten asbestos, it is believed that the disease typically takes 20 years to show symptoms, meaning she was just a toddler when the incident or incidents happened. She says they have ruled out her elementary school as a possibility, but that it could’ve happened at a friend’s house or anywhere else. Danielle is only one of 3 under 25 years old that has been diagnosed with the disease in the last decade. Danielle is scheduled to have tumors surgically removed, an operation that also involves receiving ‘hot chemo.’ Hot chemotherapy is the bathing of organs in chemotherapeutic medicine to kill cancerous tumors. Treatment will leave Danielle infertile at just 23 years old.

What is Malignant Mesothelioma?

According to the American Cancer Society, mesothelioma originates in the cells of the abdomen, chest, the area around the heart (rare), or the area surrounding the testicles (very rare). Organs and the aforementioned areas of the body are covered by cells that join together to form a lining referred to as mesothelium. Cells that turn cancerous in this lining are called mesothelioma (specifically malignant mesothelioma).

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After less than a day of deliberation, a Chicago jury awarded Tierney Darden $148 million for a shelter collapse outside O’Hare Airport that ripped her spinal cord in half, leaving her permanently paralyzed from the waist down and in constant pain.

In August 2015, Tierney, her mother, and sister had just returned to Chicago after traveling to Minneapolis to pick out a wedding dress for her sister. The three were waiting outside O’Hare under one of several pedestrian shelters found at the airport. A storm caused the shelter to suddenly collapse, trapping Tierney, now 26. After the accident, CBS 2 investigators found corroded parts and missing bolts and screws in not only the shelter that collapsed, but in nearly all others. The discovery and exposure forced O’Hare to remove all pedestrian shelters.

Tierney, a former dancer at Truman College, told CBS 2 of the accident “I hate it. I hate that I have to wake up every day and see it.”

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A study conducted in Italy found several mesothelioma patients had only been exposed to asbestos during the manufacturing of dental prostheses, leading researchers to conclude that dental technicians are at an increased risk of mesothelioma.  The study included 5,000 diagnosed mesothelioma patients and took place over 14 years (from 2000-2014). The only exposure 4 of the study participants had to asbestos was as employees in a dental lab, tasked with crafting dental prostheses. In the 1960 & 1970s, asbestos was used to line dental casting rings, a container that held a dental mold for a restoration (also know as a dental prosthesis). During this process, the dental mold is heated, transferring heat to the liner, which leeched asbestos particles into the air. Breathing in of asbestos, a known carcinogen, is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a malignant cancer that typically does not show symptoms until 20 or more years after exposure to the carcinogen.

Asbestos & Mesothelioma in the News

Asbestos-related class action lawsuits have been making headlines recently, as the House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill that would draw out asbestos claims and severely limit a victim’s ability to not only recover damages, but to join the class action in the first place. The bill, H.R. 985 or the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017 (more commonly known as FACT), aims to create very narrow classes that require all plaintiffs to have the exact same injury. Injuries from exposure to asbestos can range from malignant mesothelioma and lung cancers to other lung-related disorders. The odds of each person who has been impacted from asbestos exposure to have the same symptoms and diagnoses are rare, proving that the goal of this provision is to eliminate victims and prevent them from seeking action against corporations who manufactured or used asbestos materials. The bill also seeks to limit the ability of plaintiffs to receive compensation from multiple companies or asbestos trusts. It would require full disclosure of the funds each plaintiff has received and this information would be available on court dockets, a move which Joanne Doroshow, plaintiff’s attorney and executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School, argues “would force a lot of very private information about asbestos victims and family on to the public court docket, which is basically a public website.”

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An Illinois woman has filed a lawsuit against a refining plant, claiming that chemical spills of benzene by their plant caused her to develop cancer. The personal injury lawsuit alleges that the woman, who lived nearby the chemical plant for many years, got sick from the release of benzene as well as other chemicals released by the chemical plant regularly over the time that she lived at that house. According to The Telegraph, the lawsuit filed by the woman goes into further detail, describing how the leaked chemicals affected her directly, stating that the chemicals were leaked into the groundwater (through leaking pipes/storage tanks, product transfer, equipment problems and leaching of compounds from soil and sediment that was contaminated). The groundwater then penetrated into the woman’s home through seepage and cracks (her basement has an open drain and cinder block walls), which led to the air in her home being highly contaminated with the chemical residue.

Recently, the woman’s home was purchased from her and demolished, along with several others, after the chemical plant discovered that there had been chemical leakage in the surrounding area and that the level of chemicals was directly affecting several nearby homes. The chemical corporation intends to build a soil vapor extraction system in order to address the chemical leakage and to cleanup the area. According to the refinery corporation, they will continue to work closing with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to make sure to address the dangerous and hazardous issue.

In addition to the woman who filed suit against the corporation, the village that she lives in has also filed a lawsuit against the corporation claiming that any amount of benzene level in the air is dangerous and hazardous to the people that live in the village. According to the village’s lawsuit, the area nearby the chemical plant is 2,600 times over the current legal limit of the toxic and dangerous chemical.

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Recently a Hepatitis A outbreak has been linked to contaminated frozen berries sold in grocery stores. The frozen berry mix was identified as a berry and pomegranate mix that was sold at a couple different retail stores including Costco. The outbreak affected people in 7 different states in total and at the time of the story had made 79 people sick by exposing them to Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is a disease that causes a very serious and even fatal form of liver disease. When it is found in food it is likely caused by the food preparer handling the food with dirty hands.

When the outbreak initially occurred, health officials were worried that the disease would be spread to a number of children, since frozen berries are used in a bunch of treats that are common for children, including smoothies and ice popsicles.

Surprisingly, once more people became infected it became clear that children were actually not the ones likely to be infected during this particular outbreak. Of the 79 reported cases, only one case involved a young child. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) credits this surprising statistic to childhood vaccinations. Routine childhood vaccinations currently (since 2006) always offer protection against Hepatitis A. The CDC’s thought was further supported by the fact that the only child that was infected by this outbreak was a young boy who had not had routine vaccinations.

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An Illinois asbestos lawsuit is on its way to federal court after the Defendant was granted its request to move the lawsuit last week reports the Madison-St. Clair Record. The plaintiff, as administrator of the deceased’s estate, filed the lawsuit against CBS Corp., the successor in merger to the corporation formerly known as Westinghouse Electric Corp., and 30 other defendants. The plaintiff claims that the decedent was injured while he was working as a United States Navy machinist on several ships between 1958 and 1980 that contained asbestos-laden equipment. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant corporations failed to exercise care and caution for the decedent’s safety by knowingly including asbestos in their products when they knew or should have known about the dangers of exposure to deadly asbestos. The decedent developed lung cancer and died in June 2012 as a result of his prolonged exposure to asbestos.

The lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in damages and includes counts for negligence, willful and wanton conduct, conspiracy, negligent spoliation of evidence and strict liability. The defendants deny that they caused or contributed to the decedent’s alleged exposure to asbestos and have moved to dismiss the lawsuit. The decedent had a rare form of cancer, called mesothelioma that is associated with exposure to asbestos. Once a victim is diagnosed, the cancer often progresses throughout the body very rapidly and sadly claims many lives. The trick with mesothelioma is that it often appears decades after the first exposure to asbestos, which creates a problem for many of its victims in terms of their legal rights. Our attorneysknow that it is difficult and can be intimidating to sue large corporations for their negligence. That is why victims count on experienced lawyers who are not afraid to stand up for the rights of victims and their families, even against large corporations with huge legal teams. A diagnosis of mesothelioma is devastating to any family, as it unfortunately is often a death sentence for the sick. We understand that behind each and every diagnosis is a scared family and that every diagnosis involves a different and unique chance to fight for justice. We understand that the emotional toll is just as taxing as the financial toll that the devastating diagnosis of mesothelioma brings. If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos or diagnosed with mesothelioma, consider contacting our offices for a free consultation to discuss your options under the law.