Birth Defects and Pesticides

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Massachusetts birth defect lawyers helping victims of workplace exposure

The attorneys at Thornton Law Firm who specialize in birth defects help farm workers and their families who were needlessly exposed to and harmed by dangerous pesticides.

Agricultural workers in the United States have the greatest incidence of birth defects, according to Dr. Theodore Schettler, author of Generations at Risk.

Unfortunately, agriculture is an industry dominated by migrant workers, making it difficult to study and document this growing public health crisis. Adding to the difficulty of stemming pesticide-related birth defects is that one of the most effective tools for implementing changes—the tort lawsuit—is largely prohibited against pesticide manufacturers. Courts have interpreted an act passed by Congress, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), as preempting or preventing such lawsuits and improved warnings for pesticide products.

Working to hold pesticide manufacturers responsible

Even with these barriers to legal actions, Thornton Law Firm, for the past several years, has investigated and prepared lawsuits on behalf of children with birth defects whose parents either worked in fields where pesticides were applied, or lived in close proximity to such areas. Thornton Law Firm has worked closely with Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA), an organization dedicated to addressing this country’s use of pesticides and making changes that will better protect farmers and laborers in the fields, as well as the general public that consumes crops.

In addition, the firm has been investigating ways to bring these lawsuits in the United States without them being preempted under FIFRA. We believe that such claims can be brought against other entities responsible for the use of pesticides on crops, such as large commercial farming corporations that have purchased numerous family-owned farms. We also believe manufacturers of pesticides, such as Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, and Bayer, can still be found liable by establishing the existence and potential use of safer alternatives to the toxic ingredients in pesticide products. We have successfully demonstrated in other toxic product litigation that such alternative designs do exist. We have worked with scientists in this endeavor, including those in the Department of Toxic Use Reduction at the University of Lowell in Massachusetts.

U.S. pesticide makers spreading harm around the world

In 2009, Thornton Law Firm, along with two other law firms, took on cases involving a large number of children residing in Misiones, Argentina, who suffer from spina bifida and other serious birth defects. Doctors treating these children realized that they all had parents who worked in tobacco farming in Misiones.

Investigation to date has revealed that these farmers were required to use large amounts of pesticides, including Round-Up, on their tobacco crops to meet quotas. Research shows that tobacco farming in the United States has significantly declined since the 1950s, while farming in countries such as Argentina has markedly risen.

This is not a coincidence. Tobacco producers such as Phillip Morris knew that restrictions on pesticide usage were much different in countries such as Argentina, allowing for their increased use and higher crop production. Moreover, the requirements for protecting workers in these countries are much less stringent. As the companies responsible for the use and ingredients of these pesticides are domestic corporations, Thornton Law Firm has filed cases in the United States on behalf of the injured children.

Important birth defect links

Trust our birth defect attorneys to help

Contact the Boston law firm of Thornton Law Firm online or at 1-888-491-9726 for a free consultation with a recognized leader in toxic tort and birth defect litigation. You have nothing to risk. We offer a fair and accurate assessment of your case.

Birth Defects and Solvents


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Lawyers championing birth defect victims nationwide

Thornton Law Firm in Boston, Massachusetts aggressively litigates legal claims on behalf of children born with major malformations and other serious birth defects caused by exposure to solvents containing toxicants that are hazardous to reproduction.

Using well-established and cutting edge research in epidemiology, toxicology, genetics, and exposure assessment, the firm pursues claims against companies in many industries, including furniture making, industrial manufacturing, scientific laboratories, and others where workers are exposed to toxic chemicals.

It is well-established in scientific literature that certain toxic chemicals can cross the placenta and affect the unborn child, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy. Literature also supports claims based on preconception exposure of either the mother or the father. Such exposures permit us to file a legal action on behalf of a child with birth defects directly against the child’s parent’s employer for unsafe working conditions, and claims against the manufacturer and supplier of the damaging industrial solvents.

Further, parents may have substantial loss-of-consortium claims against the manufacturer and supplier because of the long-term disability suffered by these children.

Background on birth defects

A major congenital (present at birth) malformation is perhaps the most catastrophic, long-term, debilitating injury a human being can suffer. Birth defects are major abnormalities of the body’s structure or function that result in physical or mental disability or death. Many children do not survive birth defects—they are the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Annually, between 120,000 and 250,000 newborns, or 3.5% to 8.8 % of all babies born in the United States, suffer from birth defects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates for the annual number of major birth defects are [1]:

  • Orofacial clefts – 7,088 cases
    • Cleft lip
    • Cleft palate
  • Central nervous system – 2,660 cases
    • Spina bifida
    • Anencephaly
    • Encephalocele
  • Cardiovascular defects – 6,136 cases
  • Other structural birth defects – 8,746 cases
    • Gastrointestinal defects
    • Musculoskeletal defects

Often, children with a major structural birth defect also suffer from significant, related developmental disabilities. Indeed, high percentages of children with cerebral palsy or mental retardation have been found to have structural defects. Surgery is available to correct or improve certain cosmetic and functional aspects of birth defects, such as cleft palates and certain cardiac conditions. However, many birth defects, such as those related to the central nervous system, cannot be repaired by medical intervention. The result is a permanent disability. Children who do survive often spend their adult lives living with family members or in assisted care facilities.

Causes of birth defects

Recognized causes of birth defects include:

  • Genetics
  • Maternal conditions, infections, deformities
  • Chemicals
  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Other external agents exposures (teratogens)

Epidemiologic studies, animal studies, and case reports strongly support the causal relationship between birth defects and exposure to chemicals contained in industrial solvents. These studies most strongly associate solvent exposure to the following types of birth defects:

  • Cleft palate and cleft lip
  • Neural tube defects
    • Anencephaly (underdeveloped or malformed brain)
    • Spina bifida
  • Other central nervous system defects
    • Hydrocephalus (fluid in the brain)
    • Cerebral palsy
  • Cardiovascular defects
  • Digestive anomalies

Occupations with significant exposure to solvents containing teratogens

An analysis of industry data and the published epidemiology identifying elevated rates of birth defects in certain occupations show there are industries which utilize large quantities of organic solvents likely to contain teratogens. Thornton Law Firm has identified the following industries and occupations as the most likely source of birth defects from these chemical exposures:

  • Furniture making
  • Manufacturing of industrial machinery and equipment
  • Microelectronics and semiconductor manufacturing
  • Medical and scientific laboratories
  • Commercial printing
  • Cosmetology and hairdresser products
  • Plastics industry
  • Textile industry

Teratogen toxicology

The teratogenesis of a substance is usually determined by animal studies. These studies have found that one third of industrial solvents tested were found to be teratogenic in laboratory animals. Additionally, animal studies have established that the route of exposure (i.e. inhalation, ingestion, skin contact) is particularly critical in determining whether a solvent is teratogenic.

Epidemiological and toxicological data indicate that the teratogenic chemicals contained in industrial solvents are:

  • Glycol ethers
  • Aliphatic chlorinated hydrocarbons
    • Trichloroethylene
    • Perchloroethylene (Perc)
    • Dichloroethane
  • Aromatic hydrocarbons
    • Benzene
    • Toluene
  • Ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol)
  • Isopropanol (also known as isopropyl alcohol)

Epidemiologic evidence linking solvents to birth defects

Since the late 1970s, epidemiological studies have found associations between birth defects and exposures to industrial solvents used in different occupations.

The leading study was conducted in six regions of Europe by Dr. Sylvaine Cordier and her colleagues in the Occupational Exposure and Congenital Malformations Working Group and involved 984 cases with major malformations (cleft lips and defects of the neural tube, cardiovascular system, central nervous system, and musculoskeletal system). Researchers found that women whose children had birth defects were 1.4 times more likely to have been occupationally exposed to glycol ethers than women whose children were born without defects [2]. In a prior study, Dr. Cordier had found a 4.5-fold increased risk of congenital malformations following maternal exposure to solvents, predominantly in occupations involving cleaners [3].

Exposure to aliphatic chlorinated hydrocarbons such as trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, and dichloroethane has been associated with cardiac birth defects in numerous animal studies [4]. Additionally, research on human populations has shown a greater than expected number of infants born with heart defects in areas where drinking water was contaminated with trichloroethylene [5]. In another large study, researchers found an increased incidence of cardiac malformations in children born to mothers who lived in areas with water contaminated with dichloroethylenes and dichloroethanes [6].

Research conducted in the San Francisco Bay area has shown that the presence of birth defects correlates with the level of industrial pollutants. A 1992 study found that mothers of children with birth defects were 1.5 times more likely to have lived near a contamination site than those whose children did not have birth defects [7]. The fact that the specific defects found in the human studies are consistent with those defects observed in the animal studies is quite significant.

Maternal occupational exposure to organic solvents like toluene, benzene, and xylene is significantly associated with malformations at birth, according to epidemiological literature. In a large meta-analysis of 559 studies, Kristen McMartin and her colleagues at the Motherisk Program in Toronto, Canada concluded that maternal occupational exposure to organic solvents is associated with an increased risk of major malformations [8].

A case report study found that children born to women who inhaled toluene while working throughout their pregnancy all manifested some common birth defects, including microcephaly, CNS dysfunction, and minor craniofacial and limb anomalies [9]. Other case reports and epidemiological studies show that exposure to organic solvents (toluene, benzene, and xylene) while working increases a mother’s risk of having a child with a congenital defect.

Current solvent litigation

In addition to nearly 100 cases filed by Thornton Law Firm involving birth defects and parental solvent exposure in the semiconductor manufacturing industry, we are currently litigating cases involving birth defects arising from exposures in scientific laboratories, furniture making, and heavy machinery manufacturing.

Our experience has convinced us that further litigation is warranted to expose this largely overlooked public health hazard and to provide relief to those with the greatest need.

Trust our birth defect attorneys to help

Contact the Boston law firm of Thornton Law Firm online or at 1-888-491-9726 for a free consultation with a recognized leader in toxic tort and birth defect litigation. You have nothing to risk. We offer a fair and accurate assessment of your case.

 

 

Sources

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2013, July 15). Birth Defects: Data & Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 31, 2013

[2] Cordier S, Bergeret A, Goujard J, et al. Congenital malformations and maternal occupational exposure to glycol ethers. Epidemiology. 1997;8(4):355-63.

[3] Cordier S, Ha M-C, Ayme S, Goujard J. Maternal occupational exposure and congenital malformations. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. 1992;18(1):11-17.

[4] Johnson PD, Dawson B V, Goldberg SJ. A Review: Trichloroethylene Metabolites: Potential Cardiac Teratogens. Environmental Health Perspectives. 1998;106(Supp 4):995-99.

[5] Goldberg SJ, Lebowitz MD, Graver EJ, Hicks S. An association of human congenital cardiac malformations and drinking water contaminants. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 1990;16(1):155-64.

[6] Bove FJ, Fulcomer MC, Klotz JB, Esmart J, Dufficy EM, Savrin JE. Public Drinking Water Contamination and Birth Outcomes. American Journal of Epidemiology. 1995;141(9):850-62.

[7] Shaw GM, Schulman J, Frisch JD, CumminsSK, Harris JA. Congenital malformations and birthweight in areas with potential environmental contamination. Archives of Environmental Health. 1992;47(2):147-54.

[8] McMartin KI, Chu M, Kopecky E, Einarson TR, Koren G. Pregnancy outcome following maternal organic solvent exposure: a meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 1998;34:288-92.

[9] Hersh JH, Podruch PE, Rogers G, Weisskopf B. Toluene embryopathy. Journal of Pediatrics. 1985;106(6):922-7.

Fracking and Birth Defects

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Recent studies have found that glycol ethers, toluene, and several other well-established chemicals known to cause birth defects and miscarriages are prominent in the gas extraction process known as fracking. This law firm has been litigating cases involving exposures to the same toxic chemicals on behalf of children with birth defects whose parents were working in semiconductor manufacturing and other industries.

Hydraulic fracturing—also known as “fracking”—is a process in which certain geologic formations are fractured in order to release natural gases that are often otherwise trapped beneath the Earth’s surface. Fracking has been considered a success within the industry as it makes difficult-to-reach natural gas deposits more accessible, thus making this process a profitable venture for energy companies. However, recent studies have found that chemicals that can cause birth defects, also known as teratogens, are involved in the process of fracking. As this technology becomes increasingly prominent within the energy industry, it is important to keep an eye on how this developing technique affects certain communities.

The first step in the process of fracking involves drilling a large well into the ground that can extend thousands of feet below the surface of the Earth. The well, as shown in the diagram to the right [1], makes a turn to horizontal drilling once it reaches the shale (or rock formation), making accessing and later breaking up the rock formation more efficient and profitable. A casing, most often made up of layers of steel and cement, is then inserted around the walls of this well. The casing is perforated so that areas in the ground which contain oil or gas are targeted later in the process. Fracturing fluid is then injected under high pressure into the well and goes through these perforations in order to fracture, or break up, the targeted rock formation. The fluid is then removed from the well. The pressure created from this process of extracting the fluid from the well causes the natural gases or oil embedded within the formation to be released into the well and brought up to the surface.

Although the fracturing fluid itself is made up of 98-99.5% water and sand [2], a single fracking job requires 39,000 gallons of chemicals within that fluid [3]. It is these chemicals that pose such a health risk. Many of the chemicals used in the fracking process, such as ethylene glycol, ethanol, methanol, and toluene, are known teratogens, meaning they are known to cause birth defects. The toxicity of these chemicals, and therefore the fracking fluid, combined with the fact that much of the fluid can be left behind once the process is finished can prove to be a devastating hazard to those who live near or come in contact with the fracking process. In fact, recent studies have shown that anywhere from 25-80% of fracking fluid used for a specific fracking job may be left behind beneath the surface [4]. The contaminated fluid can seep into groundwater creating the potential for consumption by nearby residents. Moreover, these residents can also be exposed to the chemicals as they are removed from the well and stored before being taken to a water treatment plant. Furthermore, the water that is removed from the ground contains not only the chemicals in the fracking fluid, but also natural elements that may have been pulled out of the Earth [5]. With countless health risks associated with this process, Thornton Law Firm is dedicated to pursuing legal claims on behalf of those that have experienced birth defects as a result of their exposure to hydraulic fracking.

Data now exist on the levels of these toxic chemicals that are found in drinking water and ambient air in areas with prominent fracking. Using this information, coupled with the long-established medical and scientific link between these chemicals and certain birth injuries, we believe we can change the gas industry’s practices on fracking with successful litigation that will make them pay significant verdicts for the injuries they have caused. For over 10 years, Thornton Law Firm has pursued such lawsuits using the leading experts in the fields of reproductive medicine, epidemiology and exposure assessment. We have recovered significant multi-million dollar settlements on behalf of such children, allowing for them to receive proper care and treatment for the remainder of their lives.

Contact us today

Contact the Boston law firm of Thornton Law Firm LLP at 1-888-491-9726 or a free consultation with a recognized leader in personal injury litigation. For more information, please contact Thornton Law Firm for a free consultation.

 

 

Sources

[1] ProPublica. (n.d.). What Is Hydraulic Fracturing? ProPublica.com. Retrieved January 9, 2013 from https://www.propublica.org/article/hydraulic-fracturing-national.

[2] FracFocus. (n.d.) Hydraulic Fracturing: The Process. FracFocus.org. Retrieved July 31, 2013 from http://fracfocus.org/hydraulic-fracturing-how-it-works/hydraulic-fracturing-process.

[3] Phillips, S. (2015, March 27)EPA releases first part of frack study, an analysis of chemical disclosure from  https://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2015/03/27/epa-releases-first-part-of-frack-study-an-analysis-of-chemical-disclosure/
[4] Lustgarten A. (2009, December 27). In New Gas Wells, More Drilling Chemicals Remain Underground. ProPublica.com. Retrieved January 9, 2013 from https://www.propublica.org/article/new-gas-wells-leave-more-chemicals-in-ground-hydraulic-fracturing.

[5] Schmidt CW. Blind Rush? Shale Gas Boom Proceeds amid Human Health Questions. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2011;119(8):A348-53.

Semiconductor Industry and Birth Defects

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Massachusetts birth defect attorneys focusing on workplace exposures

The Boston law offices of Thornton Law Firm LLP has a long, distinguished history of helping semiconductor workers and their families seek justice for birth defects caused by exposures in their workplace.

Our firm first represented semiconductor workers with reproductive health injuries in the late 1990s. Our initial semiconductor case, Edward Ayers et al v. Shipley Company, Inc. and J.T. Baker Inc., was one of the first lawsuits filed in the country involving a cleanroom worker in the semiconductor industry who suffered reproductive harm. This suit involved claims against the manufacturers of dangerous semiconductor chemicals. It was successfully resolved in Massachusetts state court after three years of litigation.

Leaders in semiconductor birth defect litigation

Over the past several years, Thornton Law Firm has litigated cases against the manufacturers of semiconductor wafers, chips, and other microelectronic components involving birth defects among the children of employees in the industry. One of these cases alleged that Digital Equipment Corporation in Hudson, Massachusetts failed to provide employees with a safe workplace. This failure resulted in exposures to numerous teratogenic (birth-defect-causing) chemicals such as ethylene glycol ethers (EGEs). Our law firm litigated this case against Digital’s successor, the Hewlett Packard Company, for several years. The case resolved in 2009.

The Pastides Study links semiconductor exposure to spontaneous abortions

The Digital Equipment case was of particular significance as the exposures took place in the same facility that became the subject of the first major epidemiological study of reproductive harm in the semiconductor industry. This study, commonly known as the Pastides Study [1], was performed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts in the early to mid-1980s and found a significant association between spontaneous abortions and employment in semiconductor manufacturing.

While litigating the Digital Equipment case and other semiconductor birth defect cases in Massachusetts, Thornton Law Firm expanded its representation to hundreds of families with children with birth defects related to work in semiconductor manufacturing facilities across the United States. The firm represents plaintiffs in cases involving semiconductor manufacturing plants in Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and other states. These cases involve birth defects arising from a mother’s and/or father’s exposure. The types of birth defects involved in these cases include:

  • Limb abnormalities
  • Heart problems
  • Situs inversus
  • Brain damage
  • Spinal cord damage
  • Facial and skeletal deformities
  • Organ injuries
  • VATER syndrome
  • Spina bifida
  • Gestational cancers
  • Retinoblastoma

Broad range of semiconductor workers suffer harm

The semiconductor workers involved in these cases held different positions in manufacturing or fabricating semiconductor wafers, from photolithography operators and etch operators to engineers, maintenance, and even clerical workers. Common to all workers was their presence in the fabs, or manufacturing facilities, where silicon wafers were constructed (fabricated). They worked in so-called cleanrooms that were designed to protect the chips or wafers from contamination. However, the recirculated air and inadequate exhaust on the tools in the cleanrooms resulted in harmful exposures to the workers.

Multiple studies document dangers

It was well known to the industry that certain chemicals integral to the semiconductor manufacturing process (such as ethylene glycol ethers) were reproductively harmful. In fact, the semiconductor’s own trade association, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), informed their members as early as 1982 that EGEs were causing birth defects in animal studies.

Many of the companies in the semiconductor manufacturing industry had health and safety personnel or industrial hygienists who were also aware that, as early as the late 1970s, animal studies existed in published literature reporting birth defects. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the State of California in the early 1980s released official notices of the reproductive hazards associated with EGEs.

These government reports indicated that dermal exposure (skin absorption) was particularly dangerous and should be completely avoided. At the same time, the manufacturers of solvents containing EGEs used in semiconductor manufacturing facilities also informed the semiconductor manufacturers about the availability of safer, less-toxic alternatives to EGEs, known as propylene glycol ethers (PGEs).

Manufacturers knew but failed to act quickly

Although the semiconductor industry had actual knowledge of the reproductive harm of EGEs, the industry’s response was slow. Most companies did not substitute EGEs with PGEs until the mid to late 1990s. This is even more astonishing as the Pastides Study, which reported a positive association between reproductive harm and work in semiconductor manufacturing had been released to the industry years earlier in 1986 [1].

Several more years lapsed until the industry completed and published its own epidemiological study in 1996 [2]. Not surprisingly, this study confirmed the findings of the earlier Pastides Study. In 1996, a third study by Johns Hopkins University of IBM semiconductor workers was published [3]. It found similar results of elevated miscarriages among workers in the IBM semiconductor manufacturing facilities.

While the industry was undertaking these studies from the mid-1980s to early 1990s, untold numbers of spontaneous abortions and birth defects occurred among the workers in this industry and their children.

Thornton Law Firm and our co-counsel brought the first cases to of this new wave of birth defect semiconductor manufacturing lawsuits to trial in 2011 in cases filed against Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in the state court of Delaware. The trials of these cases will be followed shortly thereafter by Thornton Law Firm’ other cases filed in Illinois and California.

Trust our birth defect attorneys to help

Contact the Boston law firm of Thornton Law Firm online or at 1-888-491-9726 for a free consultation with a recognized leader in toxic tort and birth defect litigation. You have nothing to risk. We offer a fair and accurate assessment of your case.

 

Sources

[1] Pastides H, Calabrese EJ, Hosmer Jr DW, Harris DR. Spontaneous abortion and general illness symptoms among semiconductor manufacturers. Journal of Occupational Medicine. 1988;30(7):543-51.

[2] Schenker MB, Gold EB, Beaumont JJ, et al. Association of Spontaneous Abortion and Other Reproductive Effects with Work in the Semiconductor Industry. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 1995;28:639-59.

[3] SchenkerMB. Reproductive health effects of glycol ether exposure in the semiconductor industry. Occupational Hygiene. 1996;2:367-72.

Beaumont JJ, Swan SH, HammondSK, et al. Historical Cohort Investigation of Spontaneous Abortion in the Semiconductor Health Study: Epidemiologic Methods and Analyses of Risk in Fabrication Overall and in Fabrication Work Groups. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 1995;28:735-50.

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