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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 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.


[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.