Severe lung injury cases are of growing concern to lawyers in our firm who are committing resources to evaluating the cause of these dreadful illnesses. In many situations, severe lung disease occurs as a direct result of exposure to hazardous substances. The lungs are the only internal organ consistently exposed to the outside world, and, as a result, they are particularly vulnerable in the workplace as well as to certain hazardous consumer goods.
It is important to understand the many different forms severe lung injury can take. Short-term, high concentration exposures (also known as acute exposures) can cause devastating injuries to the lungs and body in only one exposure. Chemicals most commonly related to acute severe lung injury cases are chlorine and chlorine gas, ammonia, acrylonitrile, formaldehyde, vinyl acetate, petroleum hydrocarbons in the oil industry, high concentrate acids and high concentrate ethers.
Long-term “chronic” exposures can also cause severe lung conditions. Commonly, these lung conditions are interstitial lung diseases where the end result is advanced pulmonary fibrosis (permanent lung scarring). There are more than 100 lung diseases that are associated with occupational exposure / hazardous substance exposure, including the following categories:
• The Pneumoconiosis Diseases: diseases caused by exposure to inorganic dusts and substances such as coal, silica, chemicals, metals, and fibers. These diseases include black lung disease, silicosis, bronchiolitis obliterans, hard metal lung disease, and chronic beryllium disease (also known as berylliosis).
• The Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis Diseases: diseases caused by exposure to organic dusts and molds which oftentimes lead to permanent lung scarring (dust, mold, wood dust, cheese, bird excrement and wastes, cotton, etc.). These diseases include farmer’s lung, compost lung, coffee worker’s lung, hot tub lung, wood worker’s lung, chemical worker’s lung and byssinosis (brown lung), to name a few.
• Asthma: Occupational asthma can either be caused by an acute or chronic exposure to fumes, gases, dusts, isocyanates (chemicals used for spray painting, insulation, plastic manufacturing, rubber, and foam), and high concentrate ethers. Depending on the exposure, if diagnosed and treated early, permanent damage to the lungs may be avoided. Unfortunately, we see instances were permanent damage to the lungs occurs.
The pneumoconiosis diseases are particularly troubling because they often result from man-made products. For instance, chronic beryllium disease is caused by exposures to beryllium that occur in the manufacturing sector. Bronchiolitis obliterans, which has been termed “popcorn lung,” is a devastating and irreversible disease caused by exposure to diacetyl (flavoring additive), acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, fiberglass and styrene (oftentimes in the fiberglass industry). Hard metal lung disease (various steels and metal dusts) and silicosis (quartz and silica dust) are equally devastating and irreversible.
Unfortunately, many of the interstitial lung diseases progress to the point where they are fatal without a lung transplant. These cases are oftentimes the result of poor industrial hygiene, defectively designed products and infrastructure. Parker Miller, a lawyer in our firm’s Toxic Torts Section, leads a team of lawyers who are all reviewing these cases. If you have any questions about severe lung disease, you can contact Parker at 800.898.2034 or Parker.Miller@beasleyallen.com. He will be glad to assist you.
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