Articles Posted in Toxic Torts

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The implied warranty of habitability is a core principle of landlord-tenant law in California, and it gives every tenant the right to a habitable rental unit, which includes protection from weather, working plumbing and electricity, appropriate garbage receptacles, a unit free of rodents and other vermin, etc. And San Francisco landlord-tenant law attorney Gregory J. Brod would note that another important issue that can render a rental unit uninhabitable is the presence of lead or lead-based paint, a danger that should be of particular concern to renters with children.

Disclosure is a key element of regulations on lead in the United States that apply to landlords, which is spelled out in the so-called Lead Disclosure Rule, or Title X Section 1018 of the Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992. In that federal law, Congress directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency to require the disclosure of known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards prior to the sale or lease of most housing units constructed before 1978. The 1978 date is important because lead was prohibited from all housing build from that date forward. Landlords must include an addendum to a lease, or language within a lease, that includes a Lead Warning Statement and confirms that the landlord has complied with all notification requirements.

A major potential problem with pre-1978 housing, of which there are plenty of examples in the Bay Area’s housing stock, is whether lead that may have been used in the construction process will ever get released in the form of paint chips or dust. In that form, it is particularly toxic to children, especially those age 6 and younger, who may inadvertently inhale or ingest it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are at least 4 million households in the United States that have children living in them who are exposed to high levels of lead. In addition, there are approximately 500,000 children ages 1-5 in this country with blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, which is the reference level at which the CDC recommends the initiation of public health actions.

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In California, a landmark case was decided in December 2013 in which a California Superior Court judge in San Jose ruled that three major current or former paint companies – Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and ConAgra Grocery Products Co. – must contribute $1.1 billion to a fund that has been earmarked for cleaning up the hazardous substances present in lead paint in hundreds of thousands of homes in California. According to the Wall Street Journal, the three firms would have to decide among themselves how to apportion the cost of the program that has come about as a result of the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by 10 city and county governments in the state, including San Francisco, Alameda and San Mateo counties.

The cleanup plan does not mandate removal of all lead paint from homes, but it does require work to remove lead from household areas such as window frames and doors where friction may lead to the release of lead dust or chips.
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Methamphetamine face horrific long-term consequences including brain damage (i.e. memory gaps, inability to grasp abstract ideas), psychosis, cardiovascular damage, and premature death. Methamphetamine also poses risks to bystanders. Some of these bystander risks are akin to risks from other drugs such drugged driving, injuries caused by a user who is not in his/her right mind, and the danger/violence of the drug trade. Unique bystander methamphetamine risks include the particular dangers of production, both in the moment and after-the-fact. While we’ve talked before about methamphetamine production in cars, in this post our Oakland meth injury law firm looks at other production sites from a recent bust in a retirement community to a rising trend of manufacturing methamphetamine in hotels.

Meth Lab Found in Fresno Retirement Community

meth3.jpgRetirement in 2014 is an ever-changing concept, with many people finding they need to look for at least a part-time job to make ends meet. According to the Associated Press (via the Oakland Tribune), one 64 year-old man appears to have turned to a second career straight out of prime time television, manufacturing methamphetamine (“meth”) out of his apartment in a Fresno, California retirement community. Robert Short was pulled over in a routine traffic stop and officers found meth in his vehicle along with scales and baggies, believed to have been used in the sale of the drug. Officers put the street value of the drugs in his car at around $1,700.

It is tough to imagine life before electricity. Over time, even in the past 15 to 20 years, there have been countless changes to how we produce and distribute power. In 2000, 50% of all energy produced in the U.S. came from coal. By 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that number dropped to 39%. There have been many positive changes to the environmental and health impact of coal use, but real dangers continue to concern our San Francisco toxic exposure attorney. Our firm is dedicated to helping people in Northern California who have been sickened by coal ash or otherwise made ill because of coal.

Power Company Agrees to Fund Clean-Up of Major Coal Ash Spill

coalplant.jpgOn Tuesday, a report in the San Francisco Chronicle announced an agreement between Duke Energy and environmental/wildlife groups to fund the cleanup of a major spill of toxic coal ash. The spill originated at a power plant near Eden, North Carolina and left 70 miles of the Dan River covered in gray sludge. Duke has already begun vacuuming up large pockets of the sludge from the river bottom. The agreement provides that the company will pay for further cleanup and wildlife monitoring. While water samples showed a drop in contamination as the ash settled to the bottom, environmental groups warn that the sediment will be churned back into the water after storms and in other high water flow periods. Residents have been warned not to eat fish caught downstream from the plant and communities that use the river for drinking water have been treating the water and filtering out contaminants. North Carolina lawmakers are examining other ash dump sites in the state.

When people think of the dream of home ownership, they often form a picture in their minds that includes a lovely home set on a well-manicured and very green lawn. In order to make this dream a reality, at least insofar as it involves a lush lawn, many rely on pesticides and other chemicals. Professional lawn care companies use such substances to produce green lawns for both residential and corporate clients (ex. office parks with built-in green spaces). Unfortunately, these chemicals are not without their downsides. Our Bay Area toxic chemicals attorney is concerned about these downsides, particularly when the impact the health of our community members.

Research Shows Pesticide Runoff Poisons Area Creeks, Threatens Creek-Dwelling Creatures

A recent report in the Contra Costa Times raises concerns about the impact of pesticide runoff on the county’s waterways. Notably, environmental scientist Dr. Donald Weston has led interest groups expressing concern about a species of tiny crustaceans, Hyalella Azteca, and a red worm-like species called Chironomus dilutus. He worries that pesticides applied to lawns are leaking into area creeks and killing the aforementioned species. Weston notes that the Hyalella Azteca crustanceans are particularly sensitive to insecticides used in professional-level lawn care products and household items like Raid. Additionally, the Chironomus creatures are being killed due to exposure to a flea-killing pet treatments that are also used for ant and termite control. Both the presence of lethal chemicals and the growing resistance of aquatic life to even high levels of chemicals.

It’s a frightening opponent, a colorless and odorless gas that can kill people in their sleep – carbon monoxide. Our San Francisco carbon monoxide poisoning lawyer knows that exposure to this potent gas can be the result of shoddy construction or repair work, a faulty appliance, or other forms of negligence. When careless corner-cutting causes illness or death, including when improperly performed work leads to carbon monoxide poisoning, we believe in holding people accountable and in obtaining monetary damages for the victims.

Involuntary Manslaughter Claims Filed in Connection with Deadly Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Prosecutors in Nevada County, California are pursuing charges against a contractor whose negligence is believed to have led to the deaths of two men, a development detailed in an article in The San Francisco Chronicle. Last fall, Albert Senzatimore, age 69 of San Jose, and Gary Trovinger, age 57 of Los Gatos, both died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. The two men were exposed to the gas in a home in the Tahoe Donner ski community.

While it is a subject that has frustrated many high school students, chemistry is essential to modern life. Likewise, chemicals are essential to everything from medicine to transportation. Still, many useful chemicals are dangerous and chemical exposure can be illness-inducing and life-threatening. As an Oakland chemical exposure lawyer, Attorney Brod uses the legal system to help people injured by dangerous chemicals recover monetary compensation and also brings wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of families who have lost a relative due to chemical exposure. These cases, often classified as toxic tort lawsuits, call upon his legal expertise and his ability to work with expert witnesses to convey complex science to judges and juries.

Repeat Toxic Chlorine Gas Release at Pittsburg Plant Hospitalizes Worker

Investigators with California’s Division of Occupational Safety & Health (“Cal/OSHA”) are looking into an accident that sent a worker to the hospital when, for the second time in only three months, dangerous chlorine gas was released at a Pittsburg plant. According to The Oakland Tribune the K2 Pure Solutions plant was shut down in December when an equipment malfunction in its liquefaction unit allowed a small amount of chlorine gas to be released. The plant’s liquefaction unit supplies chlorine to Dow Chemicals and the main portion of the plant produces bleach products for use by other customers. No one was hurt in December’s incident and the closed portion of the plant reopened in early January.

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In a noxious introduction to a little-known chemical, 300,000 residents of nine counties in West Virginia were left without most of their drinking water Thursday after a storage tank ruptured at chemical plant, spilling 5,000 gallons of MCHM, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, into the Elk River. And San Francisco toxic tort attorney Gregory J. Brod would remind us that the disaster in the Mountaineer State, while local, has unsettling implications elsewhere in the nation.

According to The New York Times, the chemical spill occurred at a chemical plant owned by Freedom Industries that is located upstream from the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies most of the household water in Charleston, the state capital, and the surrounding area. Because the contaminated water had already invaded the water company’s distribution system, the company’s entire system has to be flushed, a process whose timeline is undetermined at this point.

On Friday morning, residents learned that their tap water was unsafe for routine uses such as drinking, brewing coffee, brushing teeth or bathing, and local stores quickly ran out of their supplies of bottled water. But residents of Kanawha County, where Charleston is located, smelled a telltale sign that something was amiss the day of the spillage, when many reported a foul oder – similar to licorice – in the air. The National Guard had to supplement water supplies with shipped-in tankers of water that residents could take home in jugs.

Area schools were closed and businesses such as restaurants and hotels were effectively shut down. The state’s governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, ordered a ban on drinking, bathing and cooking with tap water in Charleston and nine surrounding counties. The federal government joined the governor in declaring a state of emergency in West Virginia.

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MCHM is used in the mining industry to wash coal, and its spillage into a river from a ruptured storage tank is a direct, obvious and nightmarish source of pollution. However, there are more insidious sources of water pollution that can emanate from extractive industries and are as much a cause for concern. And in the western United States, there is particular cause for worry, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 percent of all the watersheds in the region are impacted by mining pollution, including residual mercury and acid mine drainage. The drainage occurs when acidic water leaks from mines, either active or inactive, when freshly extracted minerals are exposed to air and water.

The spillage of a toxic chemical used by an extractive industry such as coal mining is also a reminder that the current boom in the oil and gas industry as a result of enhanced drilling techniques – particularly hydraulic fracturing and its close cousin acidizing, which employ water and chemicals to separate hydrocarbons from rocks – are a cause for concern in states such as California where the new techniques are very much in evidence.
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A small town in eastern North Dakota experienced fireworks in a spectacular and potentially deadly way one day before New Year’s Eve when an oil train derailed Monday afternoon and exploded into a fiery display of flames and black smoke near Casselton, N.D. And while incidents such as the train derailment in North Dakota are rare, San Francisco train accident attorney Gregory J. Brod would remind us that the consequences of the few derailments that do occur can be devastating.

Fortunately, no one was injured when a BNSF Railway train left the tracks near Casselton, but out of an abundance of caution the town’s 2,400 residents temporarily evacuated in the wake of the derailment of the mile-long train, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The train included oil tankers which, upon overturning, exploded and unleashed voluminous flames and black smoke for more than 24 hours.

As Oil Industry Expands Production, Shipments by Rail Become More Common
Casselton Mayor Ed McConnell expressed the fears and anger of many in the town and elsewhere in the state when he called for federal officials to implement more concrete safety measures. With the booming oil sector in North Dakota producing ever larger amounts of petroleum and train companies hauling the bulk of the industry’s output, it’s not hard to see why the mayor would be so concerned.

“This is too close for comfort,” McConnell said Tuesday. “There have been numerous derailments in this area. It’s almost gotten to the point that it looks like not if we’re going to have an accident, it’s when.”

The mayor does not have to rely on a guessing game to back up his grim forecast, as there has been a sharp increase in the number of oil train releases over the last few years, even as less than 0.1 percent of oil tank cars have experienced accidental releases this year. But that has translated into spillage of crude oil from 137 rail cars in 2013, compared with only one release in all of 2009.

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched a probe into the Casselton derailment, but preliminary statements from one NTSB member included the observation that the overturned tankers in question were older model DOT-111 tankers, which have been prone to rupture in previous accidents.

A Toxic, Deadly Trail of Derailments Before Disaster in North Dakota
Prior to the derailment in North Dakota, the most recent major incident involving crude-carrying train cars occurred Nov. 8 when more than two dozen oil tankers derailed into an Alabama swamp, unloading almost 750,000 gallons of crude and sparking another conflagration.

While there were also no injuries in the Alabama derailment, residents of the Quebec town of Lac Megantic were not so lucky in July, when a train carrying crude from North Dakota derailed, killing 47 people.

July also marked the 22nd anniversary of the biggest railway chemical spill in California history. On the fateful morning of July 14, 1991, a Southern Pacific Railroad tank car derailed on the tricky section of track along the Sacramento River called the Cantara Loop. The resulting spillage of 19,000 gallons of the soil fumigant metam sodium destroyed all life in a 41-mile stretch of the river, including more than one million fish and thousands of trees, according to the state Department of Toxic Substance Control. Southern Pacific ultimately paid $38 million for damages, cleanup and river restoration.
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California has some of the toughest standards in the nation on the handling of hazardous waste, with the state’s “cradle to grave” tracking system in place to safeguard the public and the environment by documenting the status of hazardous waste shipped for disposal every year. And yet, Bay Area toxic tort attorney Gregory J. Brod would point out that with the multiplicity of players involved in the process and some 1.7 million tons of hazardous waste disposed of in our state each year one can never be too confident that every single shipment will be dealt with safely.

State’s Tracking System not Immune from Problems
As it turns out, according to a Los Angeles Times investigative report, California’s tracking system is not failsafe and the state Department of Toxic Substance Control cannot account for 174,000 tons of hazardous waste that has been shipped for disposal in the state over the last five years. The DTSC tracking system’s reliance on forms that are often illegible and the inability of data entry contractors to accurately enter information on shipments from those forms has been blamed for misplaced waste. And disposal manifests – the documents required to certify that a shipment was received and properly processed – have gone missing for 1 percent of all loads.

Among the lost loads are some rather alarmingly toxic materials: more than 20,000 tons of lead, which is a neurotoxin; 520 tons of benzine, which is a carcinogen; and 355 tons of methyl ethyl ketone, which is a flammable solvent that has been dubbed by some in the industry “methyl ethyl death.”

Federal standards classify almost 60 percent of the misplaced loads – the state’s database indicate the cargo was shipped but shows no record of arrival at their destination – as hazardous and thus so potentially harmful that they must be regulated in all states. The other 40 percent fall under the stricter standards in California.

With the DTSC’s system not automatically flagging problems, there is already a built-in weakness to an efficient method of tracking hazardous waste disposal. Throw in the fact that seven years ago regulators told the state contractors responsible for entering data on shipments not to bother attempting to make sure the information on all shipments was accurately recorded, and a toxic recipe exists for the fate of tons of harmful chemicals and cancer-causing metals.

Unauthorized or Alleged Improper Disposals in Southern and Northern California
The investigation presented a nightmare scenario of the foregoing that came true in which tons of sewage sludge and contaminated dirt were dumped at a soil-recycling plant in the Coachella Valley that did not possess a permit from the state. Noxious fumes from the plant drifted over a nearby elementary school, sickening children and teachers, and it was only after public outrage and pressure from a U.S. senator that regulators forced the dumping to cease in 2011.

The problem with the proper disposal of hazardous materials has not been limited to Southern California, nor to the shipping process. Indeed, the state Attorney General’s Office, acting on behalf of the DTSC, won a restraining order against a Richmond metal-plating company that requires it to remove toxic wastes from its plant, according to NBC Bay Area News. The state had filed a lawsuit against Electro-Forming Co., accusing the company of illegally disposing of hazardous waste in the street and on property next to their facility. The lawsuit also alleged that the company boiled off liquid plating waste and mixed different types of hazardous waste in a tank.
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The controversial energy extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will take an important step toward greater transparency and oversight, if regulations proposed in Sacramento on Friday are enacted. However, Bay Area toxic tort attorney Gregory J. Brod remains concerned that California residents in or proximate to the drilling areas may still be exposed to some potentially harmful consequences.

The proposed new regulations, detailed in the San Francisco Chronicle, would require oil companies to obtain a specific permit to frack a well in California. An earlier proposal did not require the permitting process. The proposed rules would also mandate that the oil companies reveal the chemicals employed in fracking as well as monitor nearby groundwater for any signs of contamination. Fracking involves the injecting of a highly pressurized mix of water, chemicals and sand deep into the ground in order to cause the cracking of rocks and thus liberate the oil or natural gas locked within the shale formation. Fracking has an equally controversial close cousin, known as acidizing, in which a type of acid is pumped into vertical wells to create pores in rocks and thus release the petroleum within.

Both fracking and acidizing have raised concerns about potential groundwater contamination from the chemicals used in the procedures as well as caused jitters in nearby communities where seismologists suspect the extractive methods have triggered small earthquakes. And at the nexus of these worries in the Golden State sits the massive Monterey Shale formation, which stretches through the southern San Joaquin Valley and the adjacent Coast Range and traps a potential 15.4 billion barrels of oil, the largest such formation in the nation.

While all forms of energy extraction involve some potential for environmental degradation or health risks, the exact nature of the risks linked to shale oil and gas recovery remains largely unknown, according to a report released by the federal General Accountability Office. In its report, the GAO explained that what is known about fracking suggests that the process poses potential damage to air and water quality including these specific risks:

  • Increased air pollution from engine exhaust due to stepped-up truck traffic to and from well sites
  • Increased emissions from diesel-powered pumps employed in fracking
  • Since fracking requires enormous amounts of water, the process stands to deplete important bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers and streams
  • Contamination to surface and underground drinking water due to accidental spills and routine releases of water mixed with chemicals used in the fracking process
  • Soil erosion and shifting of oil, gas and chemicals into underground aquifers

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