New Study Shows Long-Lasting Effects of Workplace Chemicals

It has been a well-known fact for years that some chemicals found in certain work environments can be dangerous to an employee’s health. We know that Asbestos, for example, provided excellent fire protection for homes built in the mid-20th century, but was found to be definitively linked to Mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer. We know that the chemicals found in many industrial strength solvents cannot possible be healthy to breathe in, but a recent study shows these effects may be much more significant than originally thought.

The scientific definition for a solvent is a substance, such as water, that is used to dissolve another compound-say, salt. When salt is dissolved in water, the salt is the solute in this situation, the water is the solvent, and the salt water is the end result-the solution. Chemical solvents use potent materials to break down stronger compounds. In the study authored by Erika Sabbath, a research fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, researchers focused on three different types of chemical solvents:
• Benzene, which is found in detergents and many types of plastics • Chlorinated solvents, which are common ingredients in industrial products such as paint strippers and dry cleaning solutions
• Petroleum solvents, commonly found in varnish.

These solvents often give off a strong scent that tends to cause headaches, dizziness, and possibly confusion when subjects are in direct contact with them, but the study aims to determine a link between prolonged exposure to potent chemical solvents and cognitive function over an extended period of time. More research would need to be performed to find a definitive link between exposure to solvents and brain damage, but the results from this study did provide an important step in creating a safer workplace for employees in the utilities industry.

The subjects for the study were 2,143 retired French male utility workers. They had entered the workforce as a young adult in their teens and early twenties, and remained at the company throughout their entire working lives. The exposure breakdown is as follows, according to CNN:
• 33% of the men were exposed to chlorinated solvents throughout their career.
• 26% of the men were in contact with benzene solvents.
• 25% of the subjects were exposed to petroleum solvents.

According to an article by CNN, “study authors gave participants cognitive tests to measure such abilities as working memory, attention and thinking skills.” The results were surprising, even to researchers who had been closely investigating the effects chemical solvents have on the body. Test results indicated that the men whose exposure to chemical solvents was “greater and most recent had the highest risk of memory and thinking problems.” This means that utility workers and employee who handle common industrial materials like paint strippers, dry cleaning solutions, or detergents are causing more harm to their bodies than originally thought. Further complicating the situation is the fact that most of those affected by the chemical solvents are low-wage workers who need the jobs to support their families at the expense of their own health. Study author Erika Sabbath explained, “we were expecting to see this relationship between total lifetime dose and cognitive outcomes, but we weren’t expecting that the effects would have lasted this long.”

Permanent solutions may lie with new laws and regulations limiting exposure to such chemicals, but policy changes are notoriously difficult to accomplish. Instead, preventative measures are more effective in the meantime.

Safety Tips
• Implement intensive hazardous materials training for employees and supervisors.
• Wear protective eyewear, gloves, and especially a respirator.
• Limit exposure as much as possible.
• Make sure the workplace has proper ventilation

At the law offices of Altman & Altman, we understand that enduring lifelong suffering as a result of an unsafe work environment can be devastating, but we’re here to help. If your or your loved one was recently injured or killed as a result of unsafe working conditions, including prolonged exposure to dangerous solvents, do not hesitate to give our office a call to discuss your legal options, and whether you may qualify for filing a workers’ compensation claim or lawsuit. Our attorneys have nearly 50 years of experience handling all types of personal injury cases including workers’ compensation cases, and we have both the knowledge and compassion to help settle your case and direct you through this difficult time. Our team is available around the clock to assist you with any and all aspects regarding your case, and all initial consultations are completely free and confidential.

Read the full original article from CNN here.

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