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Articles Posted in Toxic Torts

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The smoke billowing from a fire Sunday at a scrap metal recycling plant in Redwood City was so big that a health advisory was issued urging residents of three counties to shelter in place. But while the blaze has now been brought under control and authorities have canceled the health advisory, toxic tort attorney Gregory J. Brod suspects that those who live in the zone impacted by the conflagration’s fallout may very well have reason to be concerned about their health.

Foul Air From Fire Detected Through Much of Bay Area
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the fire began in a pile of scrap metal at the Sims Metal Management yard, which is close to the Port of Redwood City, at approximately 1 p.m. Sunday. At least 50 firefighters were called upon to subdue the blaze until it was declared officially extinguished just after 7 a.m. Monday. In the interim, though, due to the voluminous plumes of smoke and foul air fire officials advised residents of San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties to remain indoors overnight with their windows shut. The smoke was so bad that people from as far away as San Francisco and Oakland reported smelling it. Even though some residents of the area still reported lingering smoke and bad air quality on Monday, the shelter-in-place precaution has been deemed to be no longer necessary.

To put the fallout from the blaze in a more disturbingly comparative context, air quality officials recorded the release into the air of as much as 114 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter during the fire; the federal standard for unhealthy air is a maximum of 35 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter.

Numerous Complaints Filed Over Malodorous Smoke
Not surprisingly, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has already received 30 complaints Monday stemming from the fire – even though the blaze has been contained – according to KTVU. As one would expect, people with respiratory and other health problems would be among those most severely impacted by the noxious smoke.

Officials are conducting an investigation into the cause of the fire, and Sims could be facing fines of up to $10,000 per violation, per day. It’s worth noting that the company has been in trouble before over a fire, as in 2007 Sims was slapped with a $20,000 fine for a blaze at its Redwood City plant, and the firm has had fires at facilities in Hayward and San Jose. In addition, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has investigated the company for polluting San Francisco Bay.
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We tend to take the air we breathe for granted, with the vital element of life often characterized as one of the free things in life. But there are few things in life that can be as quickly and pervasively polluted as the air we breathe, and our San Francisco toxic tort attorney Gregory J. Brod is reminded of this fact and how important it is for those who fall ill from the inhalation of polluted air to find experienced legal representation to win the compensation from polluters that the victims of pollution deserve.

The San Francisco Bay Area received an up-close-and-personal reminder of the fact that companies emitting harmful pollutants into the air very much exist in our region when it was announced Tuesday that the Valero Refining Co. agreed to pay more than $300,000 in civil penalties for air quality violations. According the Bay Area Quality Management District as reported in a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, the energy firm was cited for 33 violations in 2011 and 2012 committed at its Benicia refinery. Among the specific violations emanating from the Benicia refinery were those that involved excessive emissions and gas leaks.

In 2013, Valero earned the dubious distinction of being named one of California’s top producers of toxic substances, ranking as the 10th biggest source for chemicals and pollutants in the state, according to a January assessment by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Within the Bay Area, Valero ranked just behind the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo as the region’s biggest emitter of poisonous substances in the region – the company was linked to the release of 504,472 pounds of toxic substances into the air, water or ground.

However, in a version of the saying, “We’ve seen this act before,” the recently announced penalties against Valero are not the first time the energy company has landed in hot water with the government over pollution and paid a penalty as a result. Indeed, the federal government levied a much bigger penalty against Valero in June 2005 as a result of the emission of harmful substances. In a settlement with the Justice Department and the EPA under the Clean Air Act, Valero was required to pay $5.5 million in penalties and to defray the cost of supplemental environmental projects valued at another $5.5 million in the six states where Valero refineries are located. Once again, among the 14 refineries at the center of the settlement, Valero’s facility in Benicia but also its refinery in Martinez were involved. In the 2005 settlement, Valero was expected to reduce harmful emissions by more than 20,000 tons per year from its 14 refineries, including nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter. The federal government also authorized injunctive relief that called for the following goals:

  • Valero was to spend more than $700 million on injunctive relief through 2012.
  • Valero was to guarantee emissions reductions of specific substances at each refinery.
  • Valero made a commitment to reduce the number and severity of major flaring events at all of its facilities.
  • Valero made a commitment to put in place improved procedures for reducing benzene emissions and volatile organic compound leaks from its equipment.

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We come into contact with countless man-made chemicals every day. There is often a delicate balance between a chemical’s usefulness and the potential danger the substance poses to our health or environment. There has been much debate in recent years about certain chemicals, such as those used in nonstick cookware and those used in flame-retardant children’s sleepwear. A new study from a major university is raising a new concern regarding a chemical that has drawn much scrutiny in recent years – bisphenol-A or BPA. This study and others like it are of major concern to our Oakland toxic chemicals attorney, Gregory Brod, who works with people made ill by the ever-increasing presence of toxic chemicals in our modern lives.

An Overview of the Study and BPA

pregnant.jpg A Stanford University study, covered in an Associated Press article carried by The Oakland Tribune, suggests high levels of BPA may raise the chance of a miscarriage among women who are already prone to miscarriages or had difficulty conceiving. Importantly, scientists suggest the study cannot be considered conclusive at this time. However, Dr. Linda Giudice, the president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and a California biochemist, said the study adds to “the biological plausibility” that BPA may impact on fertility and other health issues. Nonetheless, a group of obstetricians called for further study of potential fertility hazards due to environmental chemicals.

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Food safety is an issue of particular concern to toxic tort attorney Gregory J. Brod. The safe consumption of the food that we eat can be affected by a variety of factors along the way from farm to dinner table, including contamination from bacteria and other pathogens. However, one of the most inconspicuous yet pervasive ways that our food can become the agent for illness is through the use of pesticides in the growing process and the long-term cumulative impact those substances have on our health.

A report this week in the San Francisco Chronicle focused on the particular peril farmworkers face from long-term exposure to pesticides. A professor of maternal health and child health and epidemiology and a supporting team at UC Berkeley launched a study of how pesticides adversely affect the health of farmworkers in the wake of the federal government’s decision in the late 1990s to fund research about environmental chemicals and children’s health. The UC Berkeley research found the presence of organophosphate pesticides – commonly used in agriculture but known to harm the human nervous system – in the urine of women in the study group drawn from the Salinas Valley and in greater quantity than in women of child-bearing age elsewhere in the United States. Research has established that children who have been exposed to high levels of pesticides in the womb were more likely to register test result markers that determine the likelihood of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

With California a key agricultural state, it stands to reason that the potential exposure of farmworkers to pesticides would be an issue of concern and, indeed, an important treatise on the subject “Fields of Poison 2002” with the subtitle “California Farmworkers and Pesticides” was published a decade ago. But the problem of exposure to pesticides goes way beyond the agricultural sector straight into the lives of consumers. Even though most pesticides used on farms don’t appear in the food we eat there still are troubling facts the Pesticide Action Network of North America has found that are cause for some alarm including the following:

* Tests conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 93 percent of Americans had metabolites of chlorpyrifos, which is a nuerotoxic insecticide, in their urine. Chlorpyrifos, which has been linked to ADHD, has been banned from home use due to its risks to children.
* Tests have determined that 99 percent of Americans are positive for the presence of DDT degradants, this in spite of the fact that DDT hasn’t been used in the United States since 1972. Studies have found that women who have been exposed to DDT as girls are five times more likely to develop breast cancer.
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It is a tough dilemma and an oft-repeated problem – sometimes working to prevent one danger, we raise the risk of another. An example of this paradox is the use of flame retardants that have negative health consequences, especially seen in pregnant women and their developing fetuses. Our Oakland toxic exposure lawyer has the experience necessary to help those who have been made ill by toxic chemical exposure. We also believe in working to end the use of chemicals where the danger outweighs the benefits.

Tests Show Ban Reduced Presence of Dangerous Chemicals in Pregnant Women

pregnant.jpgA recent study of blood samples taken from pregnant women found, per reporting by the Oakland Tribune, found that the concentration of PBDEs dropped by two-thirds between 2008 and 2012. Tracey Woodruff, the director for UC San Francisco’s Program on Reproductive Health, ties this to a ban on a dangerous chemicals used in a form for fire retardant. California enacted the ban ten years ago in light of evidence that the products could hurt fertility, cause low IQ in children, and increase thyroid problems.

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It is reasonable to expect that consumers should be able to use everyday household products according to product directions without falling ill, but as a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday argues, even the use of as seemingly an innocuous personal care item as shampoo can prove hazardous to one’s health. And as the scope of the lawsuit becomes clear and gels, this case has the possible makings of a major products liability and toxic tort legal action.

As a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle explained, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), which is an Oakland watchdog organization, filed the lawsuit accusing Walgreens, Lake Consumer Products, Vogue International and Ultimark Products of having products for sale that allegedly contain cocamide diethanolamine, or cocamide DEA, and for not labeling the products warning consumers that the shampoos, soaps and other care products contained high levels of a carcinogen. Cocamide DEA is a compound used to make the foam and bubbles in shampoo, but it was listed last year as a carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65 in the wake of an International Agency for Research on Cancer report fingering it as a possible carcinogen in humans. That state measure, formally known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 and which was easily approved by the voters that year, seeks to protect drinking water from toxic substances that cause cancer and birth defects. Prop. 65 also sets a general goal of reducing or eliminating exposure to such harmful chemicals in consumer products and mandates product labels warning consumers of the hazards of such chemicals.

The state had given companies a one-year grace period to comply with Prop. 65 after adding cocamide DEA to its list of possible carcinogens, but this summer the CEH purchased shampoos and other products from stores in the Bay Area and online retailers and then had them tested. The independently conducted tests demonstrated that 98 products contained unacceptably high levels of cocamide DEA. Now, the CEH has said that it plans to sue more than 100 other companies beyond the aforementioned group of four that manufacture or purvey such products, including such well-known firms as Colgate Palmolive, Kohl’s, Rite Aid, Sears, Sephora, Target, Trader Joe’s and Walmart.

With respect to products liability, a key basis for legal action is proving that a manufacturing or design defect was instrumental in causing harm to a plaintiff. In addition, the defect may be based on the fact that the product lacked sufficient instructions or warnings of potential safety hazards. Similarly, in the case of toxic torts, potential plaintiffs are exposed to harmful chemicals but may not have not been afforded the chance or opportunity to take steps to safeguard their health, usually because of the hidden nature of the problem.
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At one point the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park had consumed acreage the size of the city of Chicago. As of Wednesday, though, the fiery monster’s appetite has scorched 290 square miles, an area the size of New York City. As a result, the huge blaze now ranks seventh among the largest wildfires in California’s recorded history and is still only 23 percent contained, according the the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. And as fallout from the growing conflagration increasingly looms over but has not yet fouled the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies San Francisco with 85 percent of its drinking water, San Francisco toxic tort attorney Greg Brod is concerned that the Bay Area may not yet be out of the woods for some time on the issue of water contamination.

While Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for San Francisco last week and ash and smoke particles from the wildfire drifting into Hetch Hetchy have not yet reached excessive levels as set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, there is still the chance that conditions could deteriorate in the near future as well as down the road. In the short term, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has been working on contingency plans should ash and other byproducts from the Rim Fire make the reservoir’s water unsuitable for consumption. However, according to a report in The New York Times, even if firefighters manage to contain the blaze, and ash and smoke particle levels do not exceed a safe threshold in the reservoir, a longer term threat to Hetch Hetchy water will linger well after the fire is extinguished. As ash and other debris from the voracious Rim Fire continues to be deposited in the area around Hetch Hetchy, the resulting residue will build up over the landscape and could potentially wash into the reservoir upon the arrival of the state’s rainy season in the fall. Compounding the problem is the fact that Yosemite National Park experienced one of its driest winters on record through the end of the season this year and the snowpack in the Sierra has consequently been below average, according to statistics from the National Weather Service. This is crucial because precipitation-poor winters followed by the normally drier spring and summer months sets a parched table that is more vulnerable to serious runoff from storms when the rainy season resumes in the fall. In addition, the fact that Hetch Hetchy, at 83 percent of capacity, is one of many reservoirs in California that are currently at below-normal water levels, the Bay Area can ill afford to lose any of its crucial water supply from the Tuolumne River held in reserve by the O’Shaughnessy Dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley.
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While the jury is still out on whether the practice used to extract natural gas and oil from shale known as “fracking” is inherently dangerous, the process has been known to cause contamination, especially of drinking water. And another technique related to fracking that oil companies are employing to separate hydrocarbons from shale formations in California known as “acidizing” could prove to be as harmful to health as it is effective in oil and gas exploration. Attorney Gregory Brod, who has achieved notable success in resolving numerous oil and gas related disputes and has litigated and tried several energy industry cases in the state, is closely monitoring this potential source of toxic torts.

Largely Mum Oil Industry Sees Monterey Shale Formation as Big Prize
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the process of acidizing, which pumps a type of acid into vertical wells to create pores in rocks and thus release petroleum locked in, may work better than hydraulic fracturing, which uses water, in California’s shale formations. The state’s oil industry is eyeing in particular the large Monterey Shale formation – thought to hold 15.4 billion barrels of oil – for utilizing the acidizing process. While petroleum companies have set their sights on the Monterey Shale formation in Central California, they have been fairly tight-lipped when it comes to discussing the details of acidizing for competitive reasons as well as the desire not to draw the attention of environmentalists and state officials.

When it comes to acidizing, there is plenty to ponder and debate. Hydrofluoric acid, the particular acid used in acidizing, is highly corrosive, capable of breaking down steel as well as rock, and it can also damage lungs and cause serious burns to the skin. When hydrofluoric acid exceeds 67 degrees it forms a vapor cloud that lingers near the ground, according to energy experts. A high-profile example of the deadly nature of the acid arose last September, when a hydrofluoric acid accident at a South Korean chemical plant killed five people.

Acidizing Process Attracts Scrutiny from Lawmakers in Sacramento
While state officials say they are not aware of any serious accidents involving the use of hydrofluoric acid as an acidizing agent to extract petroleum in California and there have been no recorded incidents of the acid seeping into groundwater, lawmakers in Sacramento are moving to include acidizing in legislation to regulate fracking. More specifically, the bill would require oil companies to secure permits for acidizing as well as fracking of wells, and it would authorize a study of the potential environmental perils of the two extractive techniques.
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As a society, we are becoming more aware of the health risks associated with exposure to chemicals and radiation. This awareness translates into a range of duties, including the duty of companies to limit current/future exposure of employees and the public at large to potentially dangerous substances. Additionally, entities often have a duty to remediate prior problems, such as cleaning up the site of a past incident if dangerous substances still lurk in the water and soil. When corporations (and even government entities) fail at these duties and people become ill, the victims may be able to invoke the area of law known as “toxic torts” and seek damages for the harm they suffered. As a lawyer for toxic exposure victims in Sacramento, San Francisco, and elsewhere in Northern and Central California, Attorney Brod knows that these are complex cases, but also believes that toxic tort claims are crucial way to help individuals and protect the health of our nation.

The History of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory

A Sacramento Bee report checked in on the progress of the clean-up at a former rocket test site active during the Cold War. North American Aviation founded the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in 1947, a site spanning nearly 2,900 acres. The aerospace hub, located 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, saw thousands of tests on rocket space engines over the subsequent four decades, including the testing of engines that flew on the Apollo spacecraft. It was also the site of nuclear research, at one time playing home to 10 reactors. In 1959, there was a partial meltdown released radioactive gases. While the government said at the time that there was no dangerous radioactive release, full details didn’t emerge until two decades later when some UCLA students looked into the event. The nuclear reactors shut down in 1980 (per Wikipedia).

gavel2.jpg From single-vehicle car crashes to major industrial accidents, we believe in learning from tragedy. This is a value we share with the victims who come to us for help after their lives have been shaken by injury or loss. Preventing future incidents is one of the goals of injury litigation, a process that helps compensate victims and also helps avoid future tragedy by uncovering the cause of past events. It is a goal that can be especially important in the cases we handle as an Oakland industrial accident law firm and one we are reflecting upon this month as we note the one-year anniversary of the 2012 Chevron refinery explosion.

Public Demands Action Following Chevron Plant Explosion

A recent article in The Oakland Tribune recalled the events of August 6, 2012 when a unit at the Chevron refinery in Richmond burst into flames, sending a dark cloud of smoke across the neighboring communities. For many, the incident recalled the accident at the Tosco refinery in 1999 that left four workers dead. While no fatalities were attributed to the Chevron fire, some 15,000 residents sought medical attention in the aftermath of the explosion and several workers incurred minor injuries.

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