Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

Ship Channel

Houston Ship Channel


Each year millions of pounds of hazardous chemicals are released into the atmosphere from chemical plants. Often these chemical plants are located in close proximity to schools, playgrounds and neighborhoods.  When a major chemical release occurs at one of these plants, the release can go unreported for several weeks.  For example, during a 40 day period in 2010 flares burned 500,000 pounds of toxic chemicals over BP's Texas City refinery. Yet residents didn't know until weeks later that the flare released 17,000 pounds of cancer-causing benzene. (Houston Chronicle 8-18-2010).

Likewise, in 2005 a study conducted by the Texas Commission on Environmtal Quality (TCEQ) found:

•In Texas City, Galena Park and at the Lynchburg Ferry, concentrations of benzene, if inhaled over 70 years, would probably cause 30 to 70 additional cancer cases in 1,000,000 people. Benzene is a known carcinogen emitted from automobiles, refineries and chemical plants.

•In Houston's East End, in a public park loaded with children playing soccer on the weekends, levels of 1,3-butadiene in 2003 were so high that an additional 200 people per million would likely get cancer if exposed during a lifetime. Milby Park, off the La Porte Freeway, is just north of one of the largest emitters of butadiene in the state, Texas Petrochemicals.

•And in Channelview, along Clinton Drive, and in Deer Park, formaldehyde was recorded at concentrations that, assuming lifelong exposure, could result in 50 to 90 additional people getting cancer.  (Houston Chronicle 1-13-2005)


2004 Derailment in Macdona, Texas


Each year over 170 million tons of chemicals and related products are transported by rail across the United States.  Many of these chemicals are classified as Hazardous Materials and pose a significant risk of injury, illness or death to those exposed to them.

On Monday, June 28, 2004, a westbound Union Pacific Railroad (UP) freight train traveling on the same main line track as an eastbound BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) freight train struck the midpoint of the 123-car BNSF train as the eastbound train was leaving the main line to enter a parallel siding. The accident occurred at the west end of the rail siding at Macdona, Texas, on the Union Pacific's San Antonio Service Unit. The collision derailed the 4 locomotive units and the first 19 cars of the UP train as well as 17 cars of the BNSF train. As a result of the derailment and pileup of railcars, the 16th car of the UP train, a pressure tank car loaded with liquefied chlorine, was punctured. Chlorine escaping from the punctured car immediately vaporized into a cloud of chlorine gas that engulfed the accident area to a radius of at least 700 feet before drifting away from the site. Three persons, including the conductor of the UP train and two local residents, died as a result of chlorine gas inhalation. The UP train engineer, 23 civilians, and 6 emergency responders were treated for respiratory distress or other injuries related to the collision and derailment. Damages to rolling stock, track, and signal equipment were estimated at $5.7 million, with environmental cleanup costs estimated at $150,000.  The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the probable cause of the collison was was fatigue on the part of the Union Pacific Railroad train crew that resulted in the failure of the engineer and conductor to appropriately respond to wayside signals governing the movement of their train  (NTSB Report)

In addition to the obvious dangers associated with tank cars involved in derailments and crossing accidents, many railroad workers are exposed to harmful and/or hazardous chemicals through non-accidental releases (NAR).  A non-accidental release is defined as an unintentional release of hazardous material during transportation, not caused by an accident or derailment.  NARs consist of leaks, splashes, and other releases from improperly secured or defective valves, fittings, tank shells, and venting from safety relief devices.


Benzene has been determined by the Department of Health & Human Services to be a known carcinogen - a chemical or physical agent that causes cancer. The most common cancer caused by benzene exposure is acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), but it has been linked to various other lymphocytic cancers as well.

More than three million workers are potentially exposed to benzene every year. The use of benzene as a solvent has been banned in the US for more than 20 years, but unfortunately, there is still benzene in most petroleum solvents. Workers may inhale vapors from the solvent or absorb vapors through their skin.

Benzene ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume in the United States.  Benzene is used to make a number of products including:

  • Plastics and resins
  • Nylon and synthetic fibers
  • Some types of rubbers
  • Lubricants
  • Dyes and detergents
  • Pesticides

Toxic exposure cases involve legal and scientific complications that many other cases do not. In many of these cases, exposure to the chemical happened many years before the actual illness, and it is the attorney's job to prove to the jury that there is a real connection between the exposure and the illness.

Free Initial Consultation 

SAMMONS & BERRY, P.C., represents injured workers and their families in chemical exposure cases ACROSS THE COUNTRY.  Our lawyers, paralegals, and other professionals are experienced in evaluating, investigating, negotiating and trying these difficult cases.  If you or family member have been injured as a result of exposure to harmful or hazardous chemicals – call or email us for a FREE case evaluation.  Our team of experienced attorneys will review the facts in your case and answer any questions you may have.

Our team of experienced attorneys will review the facts in your case and answer any questions you may have.