Two Florida Congressmen sent a letter to Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean Williams, asking the Department of Justice to investigate working conditions at Tampa’s Gopher Resources lead smelter.
“No American worker should be forced to work in a facility as mentally, physically, and emotionally toxic as Gopher Resource has been described.
Employees of the plant and their families deserve justice for the company’s apparent failure to protect their most basic health and well-being,” U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) said during a news conference.
His colleague echoed these sentiments. “Workers and their families in Tampa appear to have been sacrificed for the corporate profits of the Gopher Resource lead smelting plant, and it’s critical that we aid our neighbors and address their health impacts,” remarked U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), who co-authored the letter.
The stories of individual workers, which largely prompted the request for an immediate investigation, highlight the serious safety issues at this secondary lead smelter.
Lead levels in the Gopher Resources plant have exceeded almost 80,00 micrograms per cubic meter.
That’s roughly 1,500 times higher than the maximum exposure level allowed under federal law.
Lead Smelter Health Effects
The Gopher Resources Tampa smelter, as well as the other dozen or so lead smelters in the United States, are mostly secondary processors.
Lead products, mostly batteries, are crushed into powder and liquified in furnaces at temperature above 1,500 degrees.
This process has both short and long-term health effects on the people who work in these smelters.
Mostly since they wear heavy protective breathing equipment, many workers succumb to high temperatures in the unairconditioned areas near the furnaces.
Serious burns, mostly from splattering molten lead, are rather common as well.
Occupational diseases are a hazard as well. According to one survey, the air in the Gopher Resources smelter frequently contained so much lead that the workers’ respirators couldn’t possibly filter it out.
The health effects of lead poisoning have been very well-documented over the years.
These long-term effects include:
- Neurological damage,
- Nervous disorders,
- Chronic muscle pain,
- Kidney disease, and
- High blood pressure.
Workers aren’t the only people at risk. Workers often unwittingly carry lead particles home with them.
These particles also seep into groundwater. As a result, people in the surrounding community are also susceptible to these serious injuries.
At one smelter, the water contained over 400 parts per billion of lead. That’s over eight times above the safe exposure level.
Lead poisoning is especially bad news for children. In addition to the aforementioned physical problems, lead poisoning causes developmental delays.
The further these children fall behind their classmates, the more discouraged and depressed they become. So, they fall further behind, and the downward spiral continues.
Even very low levels of exposure causes these issues. Lead particles accumulate in bones and then spread throughout the body.
Ambient Lead Smelter Injuries
This term refers to the injuries sustained by people in the surrounding community. If these victims prove negligence, which is basically a lack of care, they are also entitled to damages.
As mentioned, conditions at locations like the Gopher Resources are often extremely hazardous.
Generally, the company owners know about these hazards, yet they choose to place profits before people. An experienced environmental litigator holds these companies responsible for their choices.
Attorneys usually rely on illness spikes to establish negligence.
An unusual number of lead poisoning cases in a small area usually points to a common cause, such as a nearby lead smelter.
The burden of proof in these cases is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, a little evidence goes a long way.
In addition to the aforementioned economic damages, these victims are usually entitled to noneconomic and punitive damages.
Noneconomic damages include items like pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment in life, emotional distress, and loss of consortium (companionship).
Punitive damages force companies to put people before profits.
Lead smelters are very dangerous for the people who work in them and the people who live near them.
For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.