Many employees of a Tampa lead recycling plant for batteries and other metal products have health conditions related to increased lead exposure. The Tampa Bay Times recently reported that Gopher Resource, the company that operates the lead smelter, failed to properly protect its workers against dangerous levels of lead and toxins, resulting in medical conditions for many former and current employees and their loved ones. If you or a loved one have medical issues or injuries from working at a lead smelting plant, contact a lead poisoning lawyer at McDonald Worley to discuss your options.
Gopher Resource recycles lead batteries and other lead-bearing material into reusable resources. This includes automotive, industrial and stationary batteries. The lead products that are recycled, mostly used car batteries, are broken up and dismantled to salvage the lead that is inside the battery.The battery acid is drained and the lead is separated from the outer plastic shell. The lead is then melted in high temperature furnaces, purified and then added to molds to create new blocks of metal. These blocks of metal are then sold to other manufacturing companies.
According to the article, workers at the plant were exposed to broken, disabled, inadequate, and malfunctioning equipment; leaking hazardous liquids; air filled with poisonous toxins; and floors covered in lead dust and pools of drained battery acid. Preferred Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) methods for cleaning the lead recycling plant were also not used; instead, cheaper alternative methods for cleaning were implemented.
While employees were issued safety equipment, the Tampa Bay Times article states that the equipment failed to adequately protect employees from elevated levels of lead, a neurotoxin, along with other chemicals such as sulfur dioxide. The amount that levels of lead in the air exceeded the federal limit was in the hundreds; other dangerous levels of gases were also measured at the lead plant. Cadmium and arsenic, which are known to cause cancer, were also found inside the factory.
Potential Lead Poisoning Complications
The repeated and prolonged exposure to elevated levels can cause both short and long-term health effects that may be irreversible, Affecting nearly every system of the body, it can make certain medical conditions worse and can also lead to loss of life. Reported side effects of lead poisoning may include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic muscle pain
- High blood pressure
- Irritable moods
- Kidney disease
- Loss of appetite
- Memory loss
- Neurological damage
- Nervous disorders
The symptoms of lead poisoning share similarities with other medical conditions; therefore, it may be hard to confirm a correlation until the blood lead levels of the affected individual have reached a very high level.
In addition to lead and other poisonous chemicals and materials, workers using furnaces to melt the lead in the recycling process were exposed to burn hazards from molten lead. When water hits the liquid lead, it may cause an explosion and propel the material into the air, injuring workers.
Impact to Lead Worker Families
Lead particles from the plant may attach to workers on their clothes, shoes and vehicles. This dust can then be brought home by some workers, exposing their children and family to the same toxins. According to the CDC, there is no safe level of lead exposure identified.
In children, symptoms of lead poisoning may include:
- Behavioral problems.
- Developmental delays
- Hearing problems
- Speech problems
- Stomach pains
- Lowered IQ
- Slowed growth
- Trouble concentrating
Tampa Neighborhoods Affected by Gopher Lead Plant
The Tampa lead smelting plant, the only one of its kind in Florida, is located approximately six miles from downtown Tampa. Malfunctions in the rooms designed to capture the toxic lead dust before it can leave the recycling building and enter the surrounding neighborhood have previously malfunctioned, allowing lead to flow into the neighborhood. The communities surrounding the plant may also be exposed to ambient lead exposure and lead particles that seep into groundwater. Hillsborough County, home to Tampa residents, has reported the most adult lead poisoning cases for any Florida county, including those with higher populations.
How A Lead Poisoning Lawyer May Be Able to Help
Prior to the Tampa Bay Times article, “… OSHA inspectors hadn’t set foot in the plant in five years.” Additionally, the article indicates inspectors missed evidence of the dangerous and elevated levels of the toxin in the air or tested for the wrong chemicals. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg have reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice, OSHA and the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA). to review the operations of the lead smelting plant.
According to the Tampa Bay Times investigation, Gopher Resource failed to properly protect their employees from the harmful effects of excessive exposure to lead and other harmful gasses. As of a result of this failure, many former and current employees, along with their families, of the lead recycling plant face health conditions. A lead poisoning attorney at McDonald Worley can hold the negligent parties responsible and help bring justice to employees and their loved ones.