Contact with harmful materials can occur in and around the home, the workplace, businesses, and in the general environment. Toxic substance lawsuits try to determine: 1) whether a chemical or heavy metal caused physical injury; and 2) whether to place responsibility on the manufacturer, a seller, or the property owner. Lead poisoning, indoor air pollution/“sick building” syndrome, and mold and pesticide exposure are a few of the sub-topics within this area of the law. If you are the injured party, you must get the appropriate medical care and not delay in enforcing your rights because in law, as in life, “timing is everything”: courts have decided that the time to sue starts to run when one begins to experience symptoms, not when the cause of the injury is identified. In New York, that time can be as short as three (3) years from the time of injury. If you are the business owner, you must immediately notify your insurance company of a claim in order to verify coverage and secure a defense. Regardless of which side you are on, you must retain a law firm that is experienced in these highly specialized areas and that can guide you towards a successful resolution, a firm like Kardisch Law Group PC.
The most commonly alleged source of lead poisoning is peeling paint and contaminated dust in older apartment buildings. Young children (and fetuses) are most susceptible to lead’s long-term effects which may include developmental and learning delays, attention deficits, hyperactivity and bad behavior. While lead poisoning lawsuits attempt to hold property owners responsible for these harms, landlords may argue, under appropriate circumstances, that they complied with the law and/or that other factors such as conditions in the family or outside environment and/or or genetics are responsible for the child’s physical, intellectual and psychological issues.
In New York City, peeling paint in multiple dwellings built before 1960 is presumed to contain lead. By satisfying certain criteria, landlords can overcome this presumption. Building owners must send annual notices to ascertain the occupancy of young children, tenants must disclose this information and landlords must inspect and remove any hazards. The presumption of lead does not exist outside the five boroughs, but property owners who know or should know that there is a peeling, lead-based paint condition in a residential rental in which young children reside, must inspect for and repair any hazards.
Indoor Air Quality
The drive to save money and conserve energy in the 1970’s yielded design choices and construction approaches which clearly decreased indoor air quality (“IAQ”). Some examples are: the construction of buildings without windows that open, the use of petroleum-based products, water-proofing materials and particleboard that may out-gas formaldehyde, and; the installation of carpeting, computers, copiers and blue print machines which may release volatile organic compounds like methane, benzene, xylene, toluene, trichloroethylene and acetone. The EPA, in fact, has ranked indoor air pollution in the top five environmental risks to public health, estimating that roughly 30% of office buildings and more than 100,000,000 individuals experience IAQ-based health problems.
In IAQ litigation, individuals claim that they suffer from sick building syndrome or multiple chemical sensitivity because the air within the work place or home is contaminated with biological or chemical irritants. The symptoms are largely upper-respiratory (coughs, runny noses, sore throats, etc.) in nature. Increased scientific focus, the invention of sophisticated investigation, measurement and industrial hygiene techniques, media coverage, legislative response and general public awareness and anxiety (not necessarily in that order of importance), have generated a massive number of indoor air pollution cases in New York City and on Long Island (Nassau and Suffolk counties.)
Most species of mold are harmless. But some can cause nasal and chest congestion, eye irritation, wheezing, aggravation of asthma and allergies, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. And in severe cases, toxic mold has been linked to irritability, memory loss, bloody discharges, fibrous lung growths, pulmonary hemorrhages and even death. Yet, there are no federal or New York state standards that define acceptable levels in an interior environment.
The most difficult task in mold litigation is proving a cause-and-effect connection between exposure and injury because the typical symptoms mimic those of common upper respiratory infections. An experienced law firm such as KLG will recommend environmental hygienists to test and remediate the internal atmosphere and doctors who can recognize the physical manifestations and can determine whether those symptoms are related to mold.
Pesticides and Solvents
The formulation 2,4-D, for example, is the third-most widely used herbicide in North America and the most widely-used weed killer in the world. A component of the Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange, 2,4-D breaks down to a form of dioxin that has been linked to nervous and endocrine system disorders, skin conditions, soft-tissue sarcomas, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. A recent investigation found “elevated levels” of dioxins in a version of 2,4-D which levels “could pose potential health risks.” Although it is not approved for application in Northern Europe and parts of Canada, the US EPA permitted its continued use as recently as 2005 and refused to cancel its registration in 2012, finding the product to be “safe.” 2, 4-D is available to the general public in a number of Scott, All-In-One, Bayer, Spectracide, Ortho and Liquid Turf Builder formulations.
Organic solvents (like those found in paints and printing & dry-cleaning agents), have been implicated in central nervous system depression (eg., memory loss, attention and psychomotor dysfunction, impaired intelligence, etc), and various types of cancer, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A recent university study identified nearly 100 volatile organic compounds in six laundry and air fresheners, five of which emitted air pollutants which the EPA considers hazardous, carcinogenic and unsafe at any level of exposure. The compounds include acetone (the active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover), limonene (which emits a citrus scent), acetaldehyde, chloromethane and 1, 4-dioxane. Indeed, the study found that one plug-in air freshener contained more than 20 different volatile compounds, 7 of which are regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal law. And while the FDA requires that cosmetics specify their ingredients, it does not mandate that laundry products, air fresheners or a number of personal-care products do so.