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Hazardous Materials Freight Incident

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Areas of Expertise

Michael Fox, PhD.



Hazardous Materials Freight Incident

In May one year a dock worker was told by her supervisor to clean up a major spill in a trailer. All she knew at the time was that it was "really dusty black stuff" and she was not given any personal protective equipment (PPE). She later learned that it was carbon black. After the carbon black incident she became ill with pneumonia that she attributed to the carbon black exposure. Prior to the carbon black incident she was running threes miles per day.

Following her recovery from the pneumonia incident the dockworker was assigned to unload another trailer containing carbon black. This occurred in the fall of the same year. There is no indication that there was any spill of carbon black on this trailer. However, due to her previous experience with carbon black, she refused to unload this trailer. At that point her supervisor assigned her to a different trailer.

When she opened the back door of the second assigned trailer she said "Oh my God," and went to get the Polaroid camera in the supervisor's desk. She got the camera because "the condition of the boxes of the freight in that trailer was like if the trailer was flipped over and brought back on its wheels."

At this point she did not go into the trailer and did not smell anything. She took four pictures with the Polaroid camera. After that, she went to get skids and then began to unload the freight and unloaded about five feet of material (into the trailer) and was still feeling all right. The trailer is about 10 feet high and 8 feet wide.
When she got to some paint-related freight, she saw: "the product box wet, crushed and the spill, the wetness of this product on the trailer floor."

Condition of trailer upon unloading.

The dockworker testified that she immediately (before unloading the wet box) ran out of the trailer and reported it to her supervisor. She also stated that they all knew it was hazardous material, including her supervisor. At this time she had been unloading the trailer for about 45 minutes.

After her supervisor told her to remove the wet box from the trailer, she brought the wet box out of the trailer and put it on the loading dock. It was about at that point that she began feeling something health-wise. She testified to becoming dizzy, nauseous, blurry vision and losing control of her body.

A short while later she requested an ambulance and was subsequently taken to the hospital for treatment and observation. She eventually became disabled due to respiratory problems and sued the paint company that shipped the paint-related materials alleging that those materials were improperly packaged.

Chemaxx was hired to investigate this incident. This issues included whether the paint company had properly packaged and labeled their paint-related materials, whether the trailer had been exposed to conditions normally incident to transportation, and compliance with Department of Transportation (49CFR) Regulations, including the required performance-oriented testing. Another issue was the odor threshold of the paint materials versus the allowable exposure limits to those chemicals.

Dr. Fox is a fire expert, explosion expert and chemical expert with extensive experience in OSHA, EPA and DOT chemical regulations and chemical safety.