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What kind of workplaces can literally make you sick?

Recently on this blog, we discussed the fact that it's possible for your workplace or job duties to expose you to toxic materials. Industrial chemicals, asbestos dust, microfibers, nanotechnology, chemical flavorings -- the list goes on and on.

People who work in industries such as construction, oil and gas production, chemical testing and manufacturing are obviously at greater risk than average. That shouldn't make you too comfortable, though. Any workplace might be harboring toxins.

What are some examples of occupational illnesses caused by workplace toxic exposure?

  • Popcorn lung disease: Some people who work in popcorn manufacturing plants where a butter flavoring containing the chemical diacetyl was used have developed an incurable lung disease from breathing in the diacetyl. The disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, sharply reduces lung function and may require a lung transplant. 
  • Neurological damage from bromopropane: Some spray adhesives, degreasers, dry cleaning chemicals, and other chemicals contain this solvent. In 2007, six people who worked as foam cushion gluers were exposed to bromopropane as they used spray adhesives. They developed symptoms ranging from numbness in the lower extremities to loss of sensation in their limbs and difficulty walking. Two years later, the most seriously affected workers still had chronic pain, loss of sensation in their legs and trouble walking. 
  • Nail salon workers are exposed to numerous chemicals every day, some of which can cause serious illness either through inhalation or contact with the skin via splashes -- and the exposure adds up over time. Top chemical dangers in nail salons include toluene, found in nail polish and fingernail glue, which can damage the kidneys and liver; and formaldehyde, found in nail polishes and hardeners, which is known to cause cancer.

There is a truly dizzying variety of workplace toxins that have the potential for making you seriously ill. The good news is that workers' compensation generally covers occupational diseases. The bad news is that these illnesses often develop slowly over time, and it can be hard to pin down exactly what caused them. If you are suffering from an illness or disease that may have been caused by workplace toxic exposure, you should talk to a workers' comp attorney right away.

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