A landmark lawsuit recently concluded in Missouri, focusing on an engineering and construction company, Fluor Corp., and 16 plaintiffs who were gravely injured by the company’s lead smelter emissions. Originally, the verdict amounted to $358 million, however an appeals court cut the award to $38 million. Toxic exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight this case and what it could mean for those similarly exposed to toxic emissions.
U.S. refineries like Fluor Corp. release about release about 37,895 tons of volatile compounds per year. This number is based on companies’ own reports, however, and the EPA estimates that actual toxic emissions are actually 10 to 100 times higher.
Lead smelter emissions at the Missouri Fluor plant, specifically, caused immense harm in those who lived in the area. The 16 plaintiffs were all children (born between 1984 and 2000) when they were exposed, suffering permanent cognitive harm such as low IQ, ADHD, and other disorders.
In the court’s opinion, the language toward Fluor was deservingly harsh, criticizing the company for failing to curb the plaint’s toxic emissions and misleading local residents – and federal regulators – about its highly reprehensible behavior. The court found that the company was knowingly emitting levels of lead that violated national laws and was aware that local children were testing at extremely high blood lead levels, and did nothing about it.
Fluor even went so far as the blame the children’s parents for the high levels of lead, along with two other companies – A.T. Massey Coal Co. and Doe Run Investment Holding – which co-owned the plant between 1986 and 1994. The resulting 13-week trial concluded in 2011 with irrefutable evidence that these three companies placed profits over the well-being of children.
Workplace Exposure and Its Consequences
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Unfortunately, toxic exposure in the workplace has been common practice since the industrial revolution. Many toxins, including asbestos and radon, are conclusively associated with cancers and mesothelioma. Others, such as lead, are known to cause neurological or cognitive conditions, particularly in children or those exposed over long periods of time.
Community groups in Texas and Louisiana recently settled a lawsuit that will require the EPA to review outdated and inaccurate methods that chemical and refinery companies use to report toxic emission levels. Federal law requires the EPA to review and revise these emission factors and methods every three years – despite this, the agency has not reviewed many of the factors in more than two decades.
This egregious failure is resulting in not only significant underestimation of emissions, but allows hundreds of thousands of tons of pollutants to release into local communities. Per the settlement, the EPA must review emissions factors no later than August 2014, and issue final revision guidelines by no later than December 2014.
In children, the effects of lead exposure can be almost immediately evident, or take just a few years to manifest. In other cases, particularly with radon and asbestos exposure, the opposite is true.
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Asbestos is a white, fiber-like mineral that was often used in insulation and friction products throughout the 20th century. Without their knowledge or consent, workers in dozens of different industries were exposed to asbestos on-the-job, breathing in these fibers and even carrying asbestos residue home with them on their clothing.
Asbestos is the only known cause of a specific, incurable form of cancer called mesothelioma. Unlike other toxic chemicals, asbestos takes decades (between 20-50 years) to develop and grow into cancer. Because of this long latency time, patients are usually unaware that cancer is forming internally and write off their symptoms (coughing, chest pain) as minor annoyances. Asbestos is also responsible for another serious illness, asbestosis, which can often lead to mesothelioma.
Lung cancer patients may be unaware that their illness was caused by workplace or environmental exposure, and that they may have a case against companies like Fluor who willingly exposed them to toxins. In fact, radon, a chemical gas, is the second-leading cause of all lung cancers.
Our team of lung cancer lawyers investigates all cases of lung cancer (even in smokers) and mesothelioma throughout the country. If you or someone you love was diagnosed with lung cancer or an asbestos-related illness, contact our office today. Our case reviews are free, confidential, and no-obligation. We will even come to your home to answer any questions you may have about your diagnosis and possible exposure.