February 14, 2013

Program helps property owners clean up polluted land

Source: Echo Press (MN), February 10, 2013

For 25 years, Minnesota’s petroleum remediation programs have provided assistance and partial funding for businesses, schools, farmers and homeowners who are responsible for cleaning up property contaminated by petroleum tank leaks.

These leaks are a liability for property owners because they can contaminate drinking water, and under certain conditions, the vapors can enter sewer pipes or buildings, where they can pose a health threat or even cause a deadly explosion.

Over 17,000 sites have been cleaned up since the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Petroleum Remediation Program was established in 1987. Almost 40 percent of the sites being cleaned up today are at small businesses, such as gas stations.

“These days, we get about 400 calls per year reporting contaminated sites, and we finish about 500 cleanups per year,” Michael Kanner, the program’s manager, said. “We’re beating the problem.”

Protecting human health and the environment

State and local officials became concerned in February 2007 after routine well testing in the city of Foley revealed high levels of petroleum contamination. The well was near two properties that once had contained fuel tanks. Over the course of many years, the tanks had leaked into the surrounding soil, and changes in water use patterns caused contaminants to be drawn into the well.

Responding promptly, city managers began working with the MPCA to investigate the contamination and determine how best to protect the town’s water. The MPCA awarded funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help the city install a new well and supply line. Today, Foley’s drinking water is drawn from a well located safely outside of the contaminated area, and experts have determined that the leak no longer presents a hazard to the community.…

November 3, 2011

Columbus settles with Genentech over ammonia leak

Source: San Mateo County Times (CA), November 2, 2011
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

Sausage maker Columbus Foods Inc. has settled a lawsuit filed by its neighbor Genentech over a large-scale noxious ammonia leak in South San Francisco that sickened nearly three dozen of the biotech giant’s employees in 2009. According to a statement from Genentech, the 94-year-old cured meat company agreed to “vigorous safety improvements” to its refrigeration system, which was the source of the leak. The cloud of anhydrous ammonia that escaped from the factory where Columbus makes salami and pancetta resulted in 30 Genentech workers getting medical treatment. The suit, settled Oct. 28, pointed specifically to a company bus driver who collapsed due to the ammonia cloud and had to be hospitalized, according to San Mateo County Superior Court records. The man, who drove one of the fleet of buses that ferries employees to and from work in the Bay Area, survived his injuries. About 200 pounds of the chemical shot out of the roof-mounted cooling system of the facility at 493 Forbes Blvd. on the morning of Aug. 28, 2009, during construction work. A contractor, who was not named, had recently made some changes to the system and it malfunctioned when turned on. The facility had a similarly sized ammonia leak on Feb. 17, 2009, but didn’t tell its neighbors, the suit says. The Environmental Protection Agency slammed Columbus in February 2009 for not following industry practices for ammonia refrigeration and ordered safety changes. Columbus later paid San Mateo County $850,000 to settle a separate lawsuit over the release. According to the EPA, exposure to ammonia can cause temporary blindness and eye damage as well as skin, mouth, throat and breathing problems. Extended exposure can cause death or major health problems. Columbus CEO Timothy Fallon declined to comment on the terms of the settlement, which he said were confidential. Genentech would not elaborate on the information in its statement. However Fallon said the company began work in September to transfer the rooftop refrigeration system to the inside of the building, where leaks can be contained. He said the company hoped to be done with the work by December. He added the contractor, and not the company, was to blame for the leak. “But ultimately it’s our property,” Fallon said. “The buck stops with us, I guess.” Genentech has about 10,000 employees roughly scattered throughout its 54-building campus in South San Francisco. On any given day about 700 children of employees are being looked after at the company daycare centers.…

September 1, 2011

Condo roof leaks lead to toxic mold and a lawsuit

Source: http://www.boston.com, August 24, 2011
By: Rona Fischman

Chelsea is the site of a precedent regarding mold litigation. Richard D. Vetstein is here to tell you about it.

Toxic mold is a dangerous condition that can arise in buildings with untreated water leaks and penetration. The most common form of “toxic mold” is Stachybotrys chartarum (also known as Stachybotrys atra), a greenish-black mold. It can grow on material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint.
The recent case of Doherty v. Admiral’s Flagship Condominium Trust deals with a unit owner getting sick due to toxic mold at the Admiral’s Flagship Condominium in Chelsea. The toxic mold arose from persistent roof leaks at the condominium which caused untreated mold in Doherty’s unit. Roof leaks are almost always a common area problem that the board of trustees must fix. According to the trial judge, the condo management did a shoddy job repairing the damage. Feeling sick and unable to live with the toxic mold, Doherty’s doctor ordered her to vacate her unit. She filed a lawsuit for personal injuries.

The lower court dismissed Doherty’s claim under the applicable a 3 year statute of limitations because she filed the case over 3 years after the water leaks occurred. The Appeals Court overturned that ruling, holding that under the “discovery rule” the statute of limitations for a toxic mold claim starts when the injured person becomes aware of the existence of toxic mold through investigation or some physical manifestation of being exposed to toxic mold, such as respiratory symptoms, asthma and the like. In Doherty’s case, she first became aware of the toxic mold when the lab results came back in March 2006 which was within the 3 year limitations period.
According to the judges themselves, this decision is the first Massachusetts appellate case dealing with the statute of limitations for toxic mold, so it’s important. The case will make it easier for toxic mold victims to sue wrongdoers in state court. The case also highlights the importance of addressing water leaks in condominiums quickly and professionally. If the condominium management had properly dealt with the roof leaks in the first place, perhaps Ms. Doherty would not have been exposed to toxic mold in the first place.…

March 9, 2011

Ammonia Leak Sends People to Hospital

Read here about how an ammonia leak in Connecticut sent 12 people to the hospital.…