In 2003, a Lancaster man was asked to help clean up a chemical spill at his job. Less than six months later he would find himself permanently disabled. What started off as a persistent cough and a blinding headache would land him in a nursing home with toxic encephalopathy, a Parkinson’s-like, degenerative brain disorder.
Armstrong World Industries in Lancaster County, where the man worked, was at one time the largest employer in the area. Known for its vinyl flooring, Armstrong also produced a wide variety of products requiring the use of solvents in their manufacture, typically as degreasers or coatings. Not all of the chemicals were harmful, but one in particular, trichloroethylene, or TCE, has been blamed for several types of cancer and was recently linked by researchers to Parkinson’s disease and neurotoxicity.
The man’s wife filed a worker’s compensation case in 2007, when a doctor at his nursing home surmised that his situation might be due to his contact with dangerous chemicals in the workplace. Armstrong fought back for five years until a judge finally upheld the claim and ordered lost wages and medical benefits paid going forward.
The man’s wife then filed civil lawsuits against the companies who manufactured the chemicals her husband cleaned up back in 2005 but had not yet sued Armstrong. The suit was initially dismissed because the court ruled that the statute of limitations had run out, but the decision was later reversed. Medical and legal bills for the family have totaled some $600,000. Another suit has been filed by the surviving son of a Columbia man who worked for Armstrong for 35 years and died of bladder cancer at the age of 56.
According to the complaint by the Columbia man, “Exposure to TCE can cause catastrophic injuries even at levels well below the chemical’s odor threshold, therefore, TCE was clearly unsafe and unreasonably dangerous for use at AWI (Armstrong World Industries) where [the complainant] was routinely exposed over a very significant period of time.”
The Lancaster woman filed suit directly against Armstrong two months ago, alleging civil conspiracy, recklessness, fraud and infliction of emotional distress.
The debilitating consequences of exposure to toxic chemicals in the workplace may not show up for years or even decades. For those working with chemicals as part of their jobs, and who experience symptoms and illnesses with no ascertained natural cause, it may be prudent to consult an attorney with experience in work-related injuries before the effects of toxic exposure progress beyond remedy.
lancasteronline.com, “Lawsuit claims chemical spill at Armstrong caused worker’s neurological disorder” Gil Smart, Oct. 13, 2013