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IBM and plaintiffs settle over TCE spill suit.

IBM and plaintiffs settle over TCE spill suit.

IBM Corp. will settle a lawsuit brought by 1,000 plaintiffs who alleged that toxic spills from the company’s former Endicott manufacturing plant caused illnesses and deaths, damaged property values and hurt businesses.

Both sides announced the settlement without revealing details of the agreement.

“IBM and the plaintiffs’ counsel have reached this agreement in an effort to resolve these cases without further burdensome and expensive litigation,” said the joint statement from the litigants.

The settlement brings to a close a more-than six-year saga in which IBM and those who claim they were harmed by the toxic releases waged a fierce legal battle on monetary rewards.

Affected residents, in a multi-million-dollar liability lawsuit against IBM, claimed the company should pay for the damage caused to residents around what once was the company’s main domestic manufacturing facility.

From 1935 to the mid-1980s, IBM used TCE (trichloroethylene) to clean metal parts in degreasers at its industrial campus in the Village of Endicott. In 1979, the company discovered some of the TCE had pooled in groundwater beneath the facility and appeared to be migrating.

Soil vapor intrusion

Contamination from soil vapor intrusion was detected by the late 1990s, and by 2002, IBM began testing the air at the request of state health and environmental agencies. Basement ventilation systems were eventually installed in more than 400 homes.

Settlement negotiations between the parties began last July, when state Supreme Court Justice Ferrous D. Lebous requested that representatives of both sides start meeting about an out-of-court settlement. Negotiations were apparently successful, culminating with Tuesday night’s release that the parties agreed to a settlement that satisfied both sides.

Lawyers of those who brought the suit against IBM said they will conduct meetings with clients over the coming weeks to present terms of the settlement.

IBM representatives said the company will continue the environmental cleanup that has been ongoing since the widening toxic plume was discovered.

Pumps spread throughout Endicott pull pollution from the ground through structures called recovery wells.

Over time, these wells have grown in number from four to more than 22, and to date, they have recovered more than 815,000 pounds of trichloroethylene and other toxic chemicals, with an unknown amount remaining beneath the village.

Company officials have never publicly explained IBM’s role in the disaster, and their legal position was that the company always handled chemicals responsibly and in accordance with standards of the day. They have not denied their former operations were a primary contributor to the pollution. They have not admitted it, either, nor have they offered a detailed explanation of the source of the problem.

Cleaning up industrial solvents

Representatives of the company said it was cleaning up the solvents from multiple industries that have operated in the region’s industrial corridor for generations. Endicott was also home to the vast shoe manufacturing empire of Endicott Johnson Corp., once the region’s largest employer.

However, the toxic-liability suit named only IBM as the source of the chemicals that tainted parts of Endicott’s commercial district and nearby residences.

IBM sold the 140-acre campus to Huron Real Estate Associates in 2002. Current tenants include i3 Electronics (formerly Endicott Interconnect), BAE Systems and Binghamton University, among others.

Lawyers for IBM have long contended it was following the responsible path, picking up the sizable costs for cleaning the spill and providing venting systems for properties designated at-risk for vapor intrusion.

Both sides scored initial victories as the case wound its way through the courts. Lower courts ruled against IBM’s motion to have the case dismissed, and ruled in favor of a plaintiff’s motion to have charges of negligence — the underpinnings of the case — tried before a jury.

But lower court rulings also eliminated or limited some aspects of the litigation, including the charge that the pollution constitutes a trespass in all cases, and the claim that IBM should be held accountable for monitoring the medical condition of all plaintiffs, including non-property owners.

IBM was also able to limit claims for medical monitoring to only people claiming other damages, such as illness or property loss. That eliminated claims for a potentially large group of plaintiffs — renters and children, for example — who may have been exposed but did not develop illnesses or suffer property damage.

Source: PressConnects

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Soil vapor intrusion and other sources of chemical exposure can affect health and well-being – especially with long-term exposure.

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Dry cleaners often use hazardous chemicals. Photo: Simon Law.

Dry cleaners often use hazardous chemicals. Photo: Simon Law.

When Myra Vargas and her husband took over a dry-cleaning business in Jamaica Plain last spring, they had to make a tough decision: whether to use a common chemical called perchloroethylene, known as perc, or institute a costly change.

Vargas knew that perc, which they’d been using to clean clothes at their Roslindale shop for nearly two decades, was dangerous.

Years earlier, she’d been warned to stay away from it while pregnant. But she’d recently learned that perc probably causes cancer in dry-cleaning workers.

“We went seventeen years using something that was dangerous for everybody,” she says.

Extra encouragement to make the change to a safe system known as wet cleaning came from a group called Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition, but it wouldn’t be easy.

The couple would need to buy all new machinery and pay to get rid of their old, perc-based equipment. And making the switch would cost more than $100,000, a daunting hurdle. Plus, they’d heard conflicting stories about whether wet cleaning worked as well. But then the project helped them get a $15,000 state grant and launch a Kickstarter campaign that raised another $18,000.

On September 11, J&P Dry Cleaners celebrated its grand opening as the neighborhood’s only wet cleaner and one of only about a dozen in the state.

The shop’s opening was the first success in an ambitious effort to rid Jamaica Plain businesses of chemicals likely or suspected to cause cancer.

Across the nation, Main Street businesses routinely use such chemicals: at beauty and nail salons, hair straighteners and polishes that may release formaldehyde, for instance; at auto shops, brake cleaners that can include perc and solvents with trichloroethylene.

By persuading companies to switch to safer alternatives, the JP project aims to create locally what its leaders are calling “a cancer-free economy.”

Although nationally cancer rates are declining slightly, an estimated 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with the disease this year and more than half a million will die of it.

But most of us don’t need stats to tell us there’s a lot of cancer around — everyone seems to know someone.

“Not enough effort, not enough research, not enough funds have been directed toward upstream efforts to prevent carcinogens from getting into the human environment in the first place,” says Richard Clapp, an epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, which is partnering on the Jamaica Plain project.

“How do we get to the point where we don’t pour this fire hydrant of carcinogenic chemicals into the environment?”

To be sure, exposure to chemicals doesn’t cause all (or even most) cancers. The American Cancer Society attributes 30 percent of US cancers to cigarette smoking and 35 percent to poor diet, inactivity, and obesity.

Other factors, such as genetics and infections, also contribute. But any given cancer case is now understood to have more than one cause, Clapp argues, so the idea of dishing out blame to one factor is flawed.

The JP project, which received a $20,000 grant from UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute last year and was recently awarded another, is gearing up to approach other neighborhood businesses like auto shops and beauty salons.

And it’s trying to persuade local hospitals, hotels, and senior living facilities to use Vargas’s shop for dry cleaning.

In addition to reducing carcinogens, the project aims to support minority- and immigrant-owned small businesses in JP’s gentrifying economy — communities all too often left out of environmental and health discussions.

The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production is taking an even wider-angle look at creating cancer-free economies.

In partnership with two national groups, it secured foundation support — around $1 million for each of the next three years — to build a network of organizations that will strategize how best to wean the national economy off cancer-causing chemicals, then fund a series of initiatives to help do just that.

Whether the JP project or even the national one can credibly reduce our economic dependence on carcinogens remains to be seen. But we need more of this kind of bold, creative thinking.

And if we want businesses, especially small ones, to change their ways, they are going to need help.

Fortunately, Massachusetts has other like-minded initiatives, including Boston’s Green & Clean small-business certification program and the Toxics Use Reduction Institute’s statewide assistance program.

Without the JP project’s help, Vargas says she would never have given up perc.

But she’s thrilled with the decision: There’s no chemical smell in the shop, wash loads take half the time and less energy, and the whites come out whiter. Her utility bills have dropped, and there are no more fees for disposing of perc.

“At the end, it’s worth it, because now we see the results,” she says. “People like it. It’s better.”

Vargas is planning to send other neighborhood business owners to the group and is helping spread its message of a carcinogen-free Jamaica Plain.

“It’s a big problem and a hard process . . . for them to convince people,” she says. “But I’m hoping they do it.”

Source: Boston Globe

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Working with cars can be an occupational risk. Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

Working with cars can be an occupational risk.
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos

A complaint investigation found that Transport Tech LLC failed to provide employees with an effective training program, including information on appropriate handling and safe use of hazardous chemicals at its Hillside repair facility.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the company for five repeat safety violations, carrying proposed penalties of $66,400.

“Workers have the right to know what chemicals they are exposed to and how to protect themselves against exposure, which can have severe health effects,” said Angeline Loftus, OSHA’s area director at the Chicago North office in Des Plaines.

“Employers have a responsibility to provide accurate information about the hazards their workers face each day, and Transport Tech failed to do that.”

OSHA initiated an inspection on March 28, 2014, after it received a complaint alleging hazards at the shop, which provides repair services for trucks operated by the national carrier Central Transport LLC.

Transport Tech failed to put identification and warning labels on containers filled with hazardous chemicals.

The company also failed to have an eyewash station readily accessible and provide portable fire extinguisher training, as required.

In addition, floors at the facility were not kept clean and dry to prevent slips and falls. The company was cited for similar violations in 2011 at the same facility.

OSHA issues repeat violations if an employer previously was cited for the same or a similar violation of any standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years.

Transport Tech, based in Warren, Michigan, has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742).

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.

Source: OSHA

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Find out more about Electrocorp’s air cleaners for auto body shops and garages, or contact Electrocorp directly to find the right air cleaner for your workplace.

The warehouse has been closed and workers sent home until further notice.

The warehouse has been closed and workers sent home until further notice.

A Walmart returns processing center in Indianapolis is contaminated with a toxic substance, and hundreds of workers at the evacuated facility are now undergoing medical testing to see if they were exposed.

The contamination involves a massive warehouse, where logistics company Exel processes merchandise returned from Walmart retail stores.

The warehouse now sits empty after Exel ordered nearly 600 full-time and contract workers to evacuate the processing center on August 20.

On that day, supervisors met with employees at 3:45pm to announce the facility was shutting down immediately.

During the meeting, employees were not told the reason for the shut-down, only that they would continue to receive their normal pay and benefits and would not return to work until further notice, according to a longtime worker who asked not to be identified.

Five days later, Exel managers again met with employees at a nearby hotel to explain Walmart discovered the presence of a strange substance within the facility.

Testing showed the substance to be PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyl, a synthetic organic chemical compound that is highly toxic and classified by the US Environmental Protection Agency as “probable human carcinogens.” The EPA says studies in animals provide conclusive evidence that PCBs cause cancer.

Over the past two weeks, Exel employees have been reporting to an east-side medical laboratory for blood tests, which Exel hopes will shed light on which employees were exposed to the PCBs and what impact – if any – the exposure might have on their health.

“It’s a situation that continues to evolve, and we’re working diligently with Walmart to understand it more,” said Exel Vice President of Communications Lynn Anderson.

“We took an overly cautious role and decided we wanted to get out of the building right away. We are really trying to understand the extent of the contamination and the exposure and what it means for the future and the facility.”

A Walmart company spokesperson says that Walmart made a joint decision with Exel to close operations “out of an abundance of caution.”

“Walmart immediately hired an environmental consulting firm after a contractor servicing a return center we lease discovered the presence of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls. Additional testing confirmed PCBs were present in the building, which is operated by a contractor, Exel Inc. We made a joint decision with Exel to close the facility out of an abundance of caution.

“Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) have been informed and are investigating this matter. We are cooperating with the investigation, and early indications suggest that the contaminant is in the building materials.

“We have made arrangements for returned products from our stores to be sent to other return centers.”

Unusual particles discovered

Anderson says the contamination was discovered by accident, while equipment was being moved inside the plant. That’s when workers found an unusual residue and “particles that didn’t look right.”

Walmart hired a third-party company to test the residue, and according to Exel, the testing revealed the presence of PCBs.

How much PCBs and where did they come from? Exel and its employees are still looking for answers.

Exel plans to begin its own independent testing at the abandoned warehouse this week. In the meantime, it is actively looking for another facility to resume its operations. Exel has not ruled out the possibility of returning to the contaminated facility, but says that is unlikely – at least in the short-term.

Since the evacuation, Exel has hosted two face-to-face meetings with affected employees to provide them with information, and another meeting is scheduled for early October.

At the last meeting, workers were encouraged to take advantage of free blood tests.

PCBs are considered very dangerous to human health, and they are very hard to destroy. Banned in the United States for decades, they were commonly used as coolants and stabilizers in products such as fluorescent light ballasts, transformers, paints, cements, electrical components, pesticides, lubricating oils and sealants.

A known carcinogen, PCBs are linked to other serious health concerns including negative impacts on the immune, reproductive and neurological systems.

Source: 1340 AM WBIW

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The carpet industry has been responding to concerns about chemical exposure.

The carpet industry has been responding to concerns about chemical exposure. Photo credit: “Swatches of carpet 1” by Quadell

New carpet smell used to be considered an asset. After all, it meant a new product.

But in recent years, customers have been asking for carpets that don’t “off-gas,” meaning carpets that won’t release chemicals, which may be hazardous to health.

And the carpeting industry seems to have taken the hint.

For one thing, most carpets no longer release those volatile organic compounds, or VOCS, that come from the glues or other components. Consumers should look for the industry-run certification Green Label Plus.

More carpet is made of recycled content, and more is being recycled all the time.

Indeed, the carpet industry has been a leading innovator in construction, said Janet Milkman, executive director of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council.

“They’ve been analyzing the environmental impacts of their products and processes for years, and are now looking deeply into the human health impacts,” she said.

Experts credit the U.S. Green Building Council’s building certification system, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which sets standards and drives purchasing decisions.

The thousands of buildings across the nation that are now LEED-certified represent countless phone calls to manufacturers from architects and interior designers asking about all kinds of environmental considerations, said Max Zahniser, who once ran the LEED certification program but returned to Philadelphia seven years ago to start a green consulting firm, Praxis Building Solutions.

Enough of those, and manufacturers take heed.

Hurdles remain

While American rugmakers have stopped using stain repellents made from perfluorinated chemicals, some think the replacements aren’t much better. And carpet made abroad, even if it’s for a U.S. company, may contain the old chemicals.

Some companies still use vinyl plastic in the backing; triclosan may be used as an antimicrobial as well. Both are linked to health effects, said Michael Schade, a campaign director with the nonprofit advocacy group, Safer Chemicals/Healthy Families. Ask, he said, and choose alternatives.

Last year, researchers at the Healthy Building Network, a nonprofit that works to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals in building products, looked at 50 “asthmagens” – substances that can cause asthma – in carpet and other building materials.

Only three were covered by the leading indoor air quality protocols, said Jim Vallette, one of the researchers.

There seems to be no end to things consumers should consider.

Deep-pile or not? Over time, deep-pile carpet will generally harbor more microbiotic organisms.

Natural wool or manmade fiber such as nylon? Wool often does not have stain-resistant chemicals or flame-retardants, another group of chemicals that concern health professionals. But it’s not very durable, and so is less sustainable.

Nylon is durable, but it’s made from petrochemicals. Then again, it’s recyclable.

That’s another major industry advance, experts say. Many companies have take-back programs for older, less environmentally friendly carpeting.

But in the push to increase the proportion of recycled materials in carpet in order to meet sustainability goals, some manufacturers are using coal fly ash – a byproduct from coal-fired power plants that may contain heavy metals – as a filler in the carpet backing.

Whatever type of carpeting you get, the advice of experts is to take care of it – extending its lifespan and reducing its environmental footprint (not to mention the drop in your bank account).

That includes cleaning it with a vacuum or chemicals that are too brutal on the poor rug. The institute’s website (www.carpet-rug.org) lists its approved vacuums and cleaners.

This article has been edited for length. Source: Philly.com


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