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Atlanta Environmental Law Blog

Federal law regulating toxic chemicals receives update, P.2

In our previous post, we began discussing the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, particularly with respect to recent updates to the law. As we noted, the primary purpose of the federal law is to regulate the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products and manufacturing. Under the recent update of the law, a number changes were made.

These changes include: a new requirement that the Environmental Protection Agency identify and protect populations which are particularly at risk for toxic chemical exposure. Such populations include children, the elderly, pregnant women and workers. The changes also require the EPA identify the hazards of high-risk chemicals and, when appropriate regulate specific uses of individual chemicals. 

Federal law regulating toxic chemicals receives update

Chemical exposure is a daily reality for many people, particularly for those who work in industries which put them in frequent contact with chemicals. Even those of us who do not work in such environments face exposure, though, in our homes, in the food we eat, and in places we frequently on a daily and weekly basis.

Federal law, via the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, was an attempt to regulate public exposure to dangerous chemicals. The law, which is enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency, imposes a number of rules, including: notification for new chemical substances prior to manufacture; routine testing of risky chemicals; monitoring of new uses for chemicals; certification reporting and other requirements. 

Enforcing the coal ash rule: work with experienced attorney to determine process

In recent posts, we’ve been looking at the topic of coal ash disposal and the potential threat to local environments and populations that can result from failure to abide by federal regulations. The federal coal ash rule establishes specific requirements landfills and surface impoundments, including things like: groundwater monitoring; liner requirements; contamination cleanup; closure of unlined surface impoundments; and restricting the location of new impoundments and landfills.

Federal law also establishes structural integrity requirements to protect against surface water contamination, requires assessments to protect against surface impoundment failure, and requires landfill and surface impoundment operators to develop plans to control against fugitive dust. There are other requirements as well.  

Duke study looks at water contamination from coal ash disposal sites

In our previous post, we began looking at the topic of vanadium toxicity, specifically in the context of a recent report that increased levels of the metal have been found at a landfill in South Georgia. As we noted, Georgia does not currently have a vanadium water quality standard, though neighboring North Carolina does.

North Carolina, of course, is home to Duke University, where a study was recently conducted which found that unlined ponds can cause consistent and lasting contamination—including vanadium contamination—to nearby surface water and groundwater. According to the study, the highest concentrations of metals and metalloids, including vanadium, were found in shallow wells near an old coal ash disposal site in the state of Tennessee. 

EPD to investigate elevated vanadium levels at landfill

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is reportedly looking into a landfill in South Georgia recently found to have an increase in levels of vanadium, a potentially toxic metal. Vanadium levels have reportedly been increasing since 2012 at the landfill, though the exact cause isn’t yet known.

Vanadium is a naturally occurring metal and is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. The metal is permitted by state regulators and doesn’t necessarily pose any threat to the environment when levels are low. Vanadium compounds are still considered toxic, though, and it is tracked by the state. Elevated levels can cause cancer and nerve damage in human populations, and concerns about environmental damage are increasing as well.

Looking at the role of expert testimony in toxic tort litigation, P.3

We’ve been looking in recent posts at the use of expert witnesses in toxic tort litigation. As we’ve noted, expert testimony can be critical to identifying and explaining the scientific and biological facts central to a case. Selecting an appropriate expert can help build up a case, but it is important to work with an expert who has a good record. 

Experts whose testimony has previously been excluded due to lack of reliability are carefully scrutinized by experienced attorneys to ensure the best possible testimony is available in a toxic tort case. For plaintiffs in toxic tort cases, it may be easier to work with an expert whose testimony or analysis has previously been excluded for lack of reliability. 

Looking at the role of expert testimony in toxic tort litigation, P.2

Last time, we began looking at the use of expert testimony in toxic tort litigation. As we noted, expert testimony may be necessary to establish the scientific and biological aspects of liability. As we noted last time, expert witnesses cannot just be anybody that claims expertise, but they must be qualified and approved by the court in toxic tort litigation.

In some cases, expert witnesses are disqualified from a case and this can negatively impact their reputation and employability, including their ability to serve as an expert witness in future cases. The ability of an expert to recover from disqualification as a witness at trial depends, to an extent, on the reasons for disqualification. It also depends on whether the expert’s testimony was partially or fully excluded. 

Looking at the role of expert testimony in toxic tort litigation, P.1

Toxic tort litigation can be an important avenue of recovery and compensation for those harmed by exposure to chemicals contained in consumer products and on the job. Toxic tort litigation can be premised on negligence, strict liability, fraud and sometimes wrongful death claims, depending on the circumstances of the case.

In many toxic tort cases, a firm understanding of the scientific and biological aspects of the case is necessary to establish liability. One of the tools used to do this is expert witnesses, or individuals who are qualified to speak about the technical aspects of the case necessary to establish liability. 

Company faces litigation for allegedly covering up dangers of weed-killer to humans

This time of year, many homeowners are working to get their lawns back in shape for the year, and this involves addressing weeds. While some folks opt for a chemical free approach to lawn care, many American’s use commercially available herbicides. With any chemical product, responsible consumers read labels well and use products as directed. Unfortunately, labels are only as reliable as the companies that put them on their products.

An example of this is found in recent research suggesting that the supposedly inactive ingredients in Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup may be just as harmful as glyphosate, the active ingredient. The research apparently shows that the company may have intentionally mislabeled certain chemicals as “inert ingredients” to hide their harmful effects to humans. 

Mine closings present environmental threat as companies go bankrupt

Readers may be aware that the mining industry is currently experiencing significant financial challenges due to lack of demand. As a result, workers are being laid off, companies are filing for bankruptcy, and mines are being abandoned. Along with these mine closings, there is an increased risk to the environment.

As mines are increasingly abandoned, the risk of environmental pollution increases, which can impact local natural environments and populations. Mining companies, facing their own challenges, are not likely to take precautions to prevent possible pollution or clean it up. This is all the more likely given that mining companies are allowed to make promises to clean up abandoned mines without actually setting aside the funds necessary to do so. This practice is known as self-bonding.

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