Illinois Hazardous Chemical Injury Lawyer

The hidden dangers of using, storing or transporting hazardous chemicals

Illinois residents generally know - based on information we gathered in science classes, things we've seen in the news and facts listed on warning labels - that some chemicals are more hazardous than others are. Substances that are toxic or contain dangerous ingredients must be handled, used and stored in a particular way in order to avoid accidents that can damage property and hurt people in the area. Hazardous materials can easily cause harm to workers using them on the job, to first responders who treat injured employees and address on-site emergencies, and to innocent bystanders exposed inadvertently due to the release of toxins.

Current protocols

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with keeping track of hundreds of thousands of different types of hazardous chemicals, everything from poisons and household cleaners to industrial-strength acids and fertilizers. While the EPA has protocols in place for mandatory employer reporting of dangerous substances through its "Tier II" system, there is little to no federal oversight of the validity of that data.

Illinois has its own state laws regarding the handling and disclosure of toxic chemicals, set forth in the Uniform Hazardous Substances Act of Illinois (435 ILCS 35) and the Illinois Chemical Safety Act (435 ILCS 45). Having these protocols in place means that it is less likely that Illinois workers and emergency responders will be exposed to toxic levels of dangerous materials, but it does not mean that injuries - even deaths - from hazardous chemical substances never happen.

The consequences of inaccurate reporting

In June of this year, a fire and subsequent explosion at Nova-Kern LLC (a manufacturer of compounds used in high-tech manufacturing based in Seward, Illinois) injured one employee and released smoke containing numerous potentially toxic substances, including chlorine gas, into the environment. The chemical exposure resulted in the evacuation of many of the homes and businesses in the area of the plant for an entire day. Firefighters on the scene took no special precautions when trying to extinguish the blaze because the company had not reported the presence of any hazardous chemicals on site. Amazingly, no emergency responders or bystanders were injured.

Not all have been so lucky, though. EPA data shows that there have been 60 deaths, over 1,300 injuries and roughly $1.6 billion in damages at sites storing the 140 most hazardous chemicals (of the 500,000 that the EPA keeps track of) since 2005.

Common work-related injuries

Exposure to dangerous chemicals can happen in several different ways, and can result in different injuries. Workers exposed to hazardous materials might endure serious or even fatal:

  • Chemical burns to the skin
  • Inhalation burns to the mouth, throat and lungs
  • Injuries from fires or explosions triggered by improper storage or handling of toxic substances

Exposure to chemicals could also result in a heightened risk for some cancers and other potentially fatal health conditions.

The high risks associated with many industrial chemicals led the EPA and Illinois Emergency Management Agency to create reporting and education programs aimed at both keeping the state informed about caches of dangerous chemicals, but also to ensure that employees have been given the necessary knowledge to make safe decisions in the workplace. This includes having Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) listing pertinent handling and use information about various substances, properly labeling all hazardous materials and having well-defined training programs to teach new employees how to handle toxins.

Getting help

Have you or a loved one been injured by exposure to a toxic or dangerous chemical in the workplace? Would you like more information about how workers' compensation benefits or possible third party liability claims against those responsible can help? If so, speak with an experienced Illinois workers' compensation and personal injury attorney in your area.