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Articles Tagged with environmental contamination

still-life-1460067_1920-1024x683Each morning, before going about your day, do you spritz on your favorite perfume? Next time you do, look at the ingredient list. You’ll probably see the word “Fragrance.” Seems appropriate for a perfume, but what exactly is it? Turns out, a whole bunch of chemicals that could be toxic.

The word “Fragrance” on any product’s ingredient list refers to the mixture of natural and synthetic chemicals that give your products that pleasant smell. Even unscented products may list “Fragrance” as an ingredient, because chemical companies may need it to counteract foul-smelling ingredients to give the product a neutral odor. A 2010 study on perfumes and colognes found that, on average, there were 14 secret chemical ingredients in the fragrance cocktail that consumers do not see listed on the product label. Compared to the average 15 listed ingredients, almost half of the ingredients in your perfume are a secret.

Smells fishy, but why is that so bad? Well, to start, many of those secret ingredients are associated with allergic reactions. Fragrance is among the top five allergens in the world! The study discovered over 24 chemicals that could act as allergy triggers, possibly causing a variety of symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, rashes, coughing, vomiting, and skin irritation. Keeping in mind that these chemicals could trigger you and those around you, fragrances can pose a serious risk to a large number of people.

chimney-3705424_1920-1024x646Talk about federal government overreach! The EPA is planning to weaken rules that allow local communities to have a say in deciding how much pollution in their backyard is too much.  If the agency’s proposed changes go into effect, local individuals and community advocates would no longer be able to appeal to a panel of judges EPA-issued pollution permits that they oppose. More precisely, the new rule would allow the industrial polluter to appeal to the panel to INCREASE its allowed pollution, but the affected community could not appeal to REDUCE the pollution! The proposed rule change is so bad that even industry lawyers seemed surprised by its inequity.

This outrage is just the latest act of environmental sabotage by the EPA since Donald Trump took office.  Other efforts to roll back environmental regulations that protect public health include a rule weakening regulations of greenhouse pollution from power plants (hello, climate change), a coming plan to weaken rules on tailpipe pollution, and a proposal to open most of the US coastline to oil drilling.

Environmental law experts say the proposed rule change will give polluters an even stronger influence over the EPA and could lead to more lenient pollution permits which would hurt poor and minority communities who tend to live closer to polluters than more affluent citizens. The end result for many communities would be that they would no longer have a voice in decisions–made by the pro-pollution EPA– that would affect their homes and their health.

lipstick-791761_1920-1024x683Since ingredients in cosmetic products present numerous health risks, you have to wonder: how are cosmetic companies regulated? Well, the unfortunate truth is that they really aren’t.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for cosmetics under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), which has not been updated since 1938. The FDCA is concerned with “adulterated” or “misbranded” products. “Adulterated” products are those that contain any poisonous, deleterious, putrid, or decomposed substances, or those that have been prepared in unsanitary conditions. “Misbranded” products are those that are false or misleading or whose label does not contain the name and place of the manufacturer and the quantity of the contents. All that sounds good, so what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is what the FDA doesn’t have any meaningful way to regulate cosmetics. For instance, ingredients in cosmetic products do not need FDA approval before going on the market. Additionally, federal law does not require cosmetic companies to register or test their products for safety. In fact, the law doesn’t even require cosmetics companies to share any safety information with the FDA. As a result, the FDA has only restricted nine cosmetic chemicals for safety reasons.  That’s not many, considering cosmetics manufacturers use at least 88 chemicals that have been linked to cancer. The FDA also lacks authority to mandate a recall, as evidenced by its inability to force Claire’s to recall products that tested positive for asbestos.

EPA’s Air Pollution Chief, Bill Wehrum, recently announced his plans to resign. This announcement comes just two months after the sam-bark-R1GWSOJ9cng-unsplash-300x200House Committee on Energy & Commerce started investigating him for potential federal ethics rules violations. Wehrum’s conduct came into question when Wehrum allegedly provided conflicting information to Congress about his ties to his old law firm and the Utility Air Regulatory Group, a lobbyist group that fights Clean Air Act regulations.

Before joining EPA, Wehrum worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for power companies seeking to scale back air pollution rules. His client list included the Utility Air Regulatory Group. In his position at EPA, Wehrum met with some of the Utility Air Regulatory Group’s members, which might be a violation of the federal ethics rules that require that he recuse himself if they were his former clients. Given his “industry first” attitude that has loosened air pollution rules, it’s not a surprise that people question Wehrum’s motives.

Wehrum’s departure is definitely something to celebrate. He looked out for industry to the detriment of human health and the environment by wreaking havoc on environmental regulations. During his one and a half years at EPA, Wehrum championed industry, rolling back the Obama Administration’s farthest-reaching air policies. Most recently, he finalized the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule, which helps the coal industry by reducing carbon emissions by less than half of what experts say is necessary to avoid a climate change catastrophe. Wehrum also played a role in relaxing tailpipe emission standards and changing how EPA measures the health effects of air pollution. In the Chicago-area, he showed a complete disregard for the health of communities affected by ethylene oxide emissions from Sterigenics by agreeing that it is possible for Sterigenics to reopen if they implement stricter pollution controls. It’s certainly not a shame to see Wehrum leave!

It started with a letter to Congress.

Seven past EPA chiefs, appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents, wrote to Congress in April. They were concerned aboutUS-EPA-1-300x300 the direction of the current EPA and offered to help Congress use its oversight to put a halt to Trump’s misguided deregulatory push and the dismissal of science in favor of politics at the agency.

The seven EPA leaders signing the letter had served under Obama, Reagan, and both Bushes, so the current administration could not blame the letter on partisan politics.

Starting in 1984, the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook, IL consistently emitted a chemical known as ethylene oxide into the air. These air emissions continued until February 15, 2019 when Illinois EPA ordered Sterigenics to stop operating because it found that Sterigenics’ emissions posed a danger to public health.

Ethylene oxide is a colorless, flammable, gas which Sterigenics uses to sterilize medical and other equipment. In the summer of 2018, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a branch of the CDC), alerted the Willowbrook community that there is an elevated cancer risk for residents and those who work in the community near the Sterigenics plant. Using air samples taken by EPA in commercial and residential areas within a mile of the plant, ATSDR estimated that Sterigenics’ ethylene oxide emissions were making nearby residents 64 times more likely to get cancer.

On May 29, 2019 U.S. EPA hosted an Open House and Community Meeting to provide an update on its work to better understand the ethylene oxide emissions from the Sterigenics facility. At the meeting, U.S. EPA updated the community on the air testing it conducted over 49 days between mid-November 2018 and the end of March 2019. The Agency tested the air at 8 locations within a couple miles of the facility for ethylene oxide. The graph below shows that the levels of ethylene oxide that U.S. EPA found in the air while the plant was still operating dropped significantly after the plant was forced to close. This drop in emissions led U.S. EPA to conclude that the facility is responsible for a significant amount of the ethylene oxide detected.

A cancer diagnosis is scary, sometimes devastating. pink-ribbon-3715346_1920-1-300x200 But it is all the more so if your cancer might have been caused by exposure to a toxic chemical in your home, air or water.  There is a true sense of violation and betrayal when a cancer victim realizes that her illness might have been caused, for example, by the careless dumping of industrial chemicals by a company in her neighborhood.  It may even be a company where the cancer victim herself, or a family member, worked for many years.

What should she do to find out if the company—the neighborhood polluter– caused her cancer? And beyond that, how can she find out if she has a toxic tort lawsuit against the polluter for her cancer?

To get answers to these questions, you will need to find an environmental lawyer who handles these kinds of cases—called “toxic exposure” cases.  Here are some of the critical questions that an experienced toxic tort lawyer will explore:

Beach-Park-300x190We are environmental personal injury lawyers with years of experience representing the victims of chemical exposure. People who are injured as a result of toxic exposure have a special kind of case: a toxic tort case which is a personal injury and environmental case blended together. The victims of the toxic spill of anhydrous ammonia in Beach Park, Illinois may have a toxic tort lawsuit against the person responsible for the spill and will need an experienced environmental lawyer to represent them. Our toxic tort attorneys can help them fight for the maximum compensation for their injuries.

What Happened in Beach Park, Illinois?

A tractor was pulling two large containers of anhydrous ammonia when they began leaking near Green Bay Road and 29th street in Beach Park. The spill created a large and dangerous chemical cloud in the area, prompting authorities to close all of the public schools in the area and to warn residents within a one mile radius to stay indoors with their windows closed. In addition, dozens of people affected by the toxic gas were taken to area hospitals. Most of the victims were treated and released, but some remain in the hospital. Now, the National Transportation Safety Board has announced they will be conducting an investigation to see how this spill happened.

Last week, Governor Rauner finally joined the group of elected officials calling for the shutdown of the Sterigenics facility in Willowbrook. Officials had pressured Rauner to take action to protect the community after weeks of public outcry following the recent release of a report about cancer causing emissions coming from the plant.

Bruce_rauner_cropped-thumb-356x519-106443-thumb-250x364-106444-205x300That report, written by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, detailed a three decades long contamination of the Willowbrook area with a toxic carcinogen, ethylene oxide, by Sterigenics. The authors of the report came to the conclusion–after evaluating ethylene oxide testing done near the facility last May–that the emissions from Sterigenics posed “a public health hazard” and an elevated cancer risk for the community. In fact, the report estimated the cancer risk of exposed residents in the area to be 64 times the EPA’s acceptable lifetime risk.

Understandably, residents, many of whom already had cancer or who had lost a family member to cancer, were outraged. How could this have happened and how could any elected official allow it to continue happening?

Willowbrook has been in the news recently because of a federal government report which revealed that Sterigenics has been contaminating the community with a carcinogen known as ethylene oxide for decades, resulting in a significantly elevated cancer risk for nearby residents. This situation reminds me of some similar cases I was involved in: the Lockformer lawsuits in Lisle, IL.

My name is Shawn Collins. I’m the lawyer whose firm–The Collins Law Firm in Naperville– represented a community of families in those cases. In three separate cases, we successfully won from the polluter (Lockformer, in Lisle) $27 million in property damage; a generous settlement (the precise amount remains confidential) for a young woman who had contracted cancer from exposure to the chemical; tens of millions more for a fund for future cancer victims; and a safe, clean water supply for hundreds of area families.

The saddest but most meaningful case was the one for the young cancer victim. Her illness is why we are right to take so seriously toxic contamination in our communities. We don’t want devastating illness to happen to anyone we love.

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