Workers expect their employers to keep them safe on the job. Although many industries use hazardous chemicals in their processes, companies are expected to minimize the harm caused by these chemicals by providing proper protective equipment and replacing the most dangerous chemicals with less-dangerous alternatives when possible.
Recent revelations about worker carcinogen exposure show that Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners, space, and security systems, failed employees when it comes to safety.
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A series of lawsuits have been filed against Boeing by the families of former employees because of catastrophic birth defects they say were caused by exposure to chemicals. As part of the depositions in these lawsuits, Boeing has released documents that show they knew about the risk of employee exposure to known carcinogens, including hexavalent chromium, which has been linked to lung and other respiratory cancers, liver toxicity, and birth defects.
Toxic Exposure & Hexavalent Chromium
Hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, is a chemical compound commonly used in many industries, including aerospace, manufacturing, and construction. It provides corrosion protection, among other industrial benefits, which is why it is a common component of the production processes at Boeing factories.
When hexavalent chromium is inhaled, ingested, or comes into contact with the skin, it can cause a range of health problems, including:
- Lung cancer. Exposure to hexavalent chromium is a known cause of lung cancer. Studies show that workers in industries such as welding, plating, and painting have a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Respiratory problems. Hexavalent chromium can cause respiratory problems such as asthma and chronic bronchitis. Inhaling the chemical can lead to nose, throat, and lung irritation and cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
- Skin irritation. When it meets the skin, hexavalent chromium can cause skin irritation, rashes, and ulcers. This can be especially problematic for workers exposed to the chemical regularly.
- Eye problems. Hexavalent chromium can cause eye irritation, including redness, itching, and burning. If the chemical gets into the eye, it can cause corneal ulcers and other serious eye problems.
- Kidney and liver damage. Prolonged exposure to hexavalent chromium can cause damage to the kidneys and liver. This can lead to serious health problems such as kidney failure, liver disease, and even death.
- Birth defects. When pregnant women are exposed to hexavalent chromium, it can cross the placenta and affect the developing fetus, leading to a range of birth defects, such as neural tube defects, cardiovascular issues, and musculoskeletal abnormalities. Some birth defects have also been shown to occur due to exposure to these chemicals by prospective fathers.
Toxic Exposure at Boeing Factories
Workers have alleged that safety procedures were insufficient to adequately protect them even though the company knew the chemicals they were using were highly dangerous. The violations mentioned include failing to provide workers with adequate protective equipment, failing to train workers on the hazards of hexavalent chromium properly, and failing to conduct air monitoring to detect the presence of the chemical. Samples taken show that, even though Boeing claimed to be researching ways to reduce reliance on and exposure to hazardous chemicals, exposure levels in some areas actually increased.
Additionally, the documents exposed during these lawsuits show that Boeing long lobbied the federal government for relaxed standards regarding the use of this chemical and required worker protections, even though internal documents reveal that they knew removing hexavalent chromium from the production cycle was the safest option. When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did lower the allowed worker exposure levels for chromium 6, Boeing obtained multiple waivers that allowed them to conform to higher exposure levels.
These internal documents, including emails, memos, and newsletters, show a tradition of putting worker safety well below other business concerns.
How We Help Birth Defects Victims
Seek justice with the help of our experienced birth defects attorneys. Our alliance of birth defects victims’ attorneys has represented people like you affected by birth defects caused by toxic exposure, aggressively fighting the corporate giants who failed to protect vulnerable workers. If you or a loved one was exposed to chemicals while pregnant and now have a child who suffers from a life-altering birth defect like spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy, we can help.