May 3, 2015

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Take Home Killer

Much like some cases of second-hand take-home exposure for certain industrial materials, PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls piggy-back their way into the home through a worker’s clothing. Studies have shown that the dust in homes of people who work in close proximity to high levels of PCBs have significantly more PCBs than in non-worker homes.

One early case of this secondary exposure involved the wife and child of a Monsanto Industrial Chemical Company employee. Monsanto PCBs were the only locally produced PCBs in North America. The case was reported to the US Public Health Service in 1936. The officer that interviewed the wife and child saw that pustules and blackheads had developed on their skin, and concluded that it was due to the PCBs that the employee brought home with him from the work site.

Other cases prompted the release of papers linking PCBs and adverse health effects. In 1947, in an article by Robert Brown in the journal Chemist-Analyst, he warned about the toxicity of Aroclors. He pointed out exposure could lead to disfiguring skin conditions such as dermatitis. Despite these many warning signs, PCBs continued to be manufactured and used in many products.

It was only in the 1970s when the dangers of PCBs became widely known that pressure was put on legislators to restrict its use. By then, it had been widely disseminated. It is estimated that Monsanto alone produced 1.5 billion tons of PCBs. Between 1935 and 1971, the Anniston plant was dumping anywhere from 16 to 250 pounds of PCBs in Snow Creek daily. There have been efforts to clean up years of waste disposal in Snow Creek, but the contamination levels are still severe. The Environmental Protection Agency continues to prohibit the consumption of fish from Snow Creek.

Anniston is just one site that declared a hazardous area because of PCBs. Several other sites are also problematic because these are where the products using PCB were manufactured.

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Jun 20, 2013

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How Dangerous Products Get into the Home

The home is where one should always feel safe, and in general that is true. But there are times when the things and consumer goods that are regularly used in the home turn out to be dangerous products that can bring serious harm to household members.

In general, US manufacturers of consumer goods follow strict guidelines for ensuring the safety of products that they produce. This is partly from a sense of corporate responsibility, partly in fear of running foul with consumer protection agencies and risking fines and other sanctions. But there are many opportunities for slips between the cup and lip. This can be in the design, in the production, or in the proper consumer information for inherently dangerous products.
In the first instance, the design of the product is inherently defective and unsafe even with proper use. This could be the improper placement of a part that could lead to mechanical injury or a hazardous chemical reaction. For example, designing a sharp edge to protrude from a kitchen appliance could cause lacerations to the user.

In the second type of product defect, it is in some error made by workers or a malfunction in a machine that could turn out dangerous products. For example, a stuck valve in a dispensing machine could introduce too much of a caustic chemical to cleaning solution, resulting in chemical burns to the user. Or perhaps an absent-minded worker forgets to flip a switch, and the space heater is missing an essential safety feature that may cause a house fire.

The last type of product defect primarily lies in the label and user manual of the product. Some consumer goods are dangerous if used or handle improperly. It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to provide clear and detailed warnings about the risks of purchasing and using the product. A good example is bleach, which most households have. The label for bleach should include the poison symbol, warnings about how it should be used and stored, and instructions about what to do if it is accidentally ingested. Most people are aware of these for common items like bleach, but there are some inherently dangerous products that are not so familiar. The failure to include pertinent information about the proper use, storage and hazards of the product is considered a product defect, and renders the manufacturer liable for any injury or death it may cause.

Most people take for granted that if you buy consumer goods off the shelf, it must be safe. Unfortunately, this is not always true. If you unknowingly brought home a dangerous product that caused harm to you or someone in your family because it was defective, bring the manufacturer to book by retaining the services of a product liability lawyer.

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