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Forever Chemicals and the Implication on Workers Compensation in Nevada

Forever Chemicals are constantly in the news with study after study warning of the risks these chemicals can pose to humans. Forever Chemicals, or polyfloroalkyl substances (PFAS for short) are synthetic chemicals that can be found in consumer products and industrial processes, and have been found to migrate into the soil, water, and air—thus remaining in the environment indefinitely. This results in these toxic and harmful PFAS to be found in peoples’ blood, with nearly ninety-seven percent of the U.S population having these chemicals in their system, and a recent study even suggesting that these chemicals can pass through human skin and enter the bloodstream. [1] According to the U.S Center for Disease Control, over time, these chemicals can cause a myriad of health issues, including various cancers, autoimmune disorders, and reproductive harm.

Forever Chemicals in the Workplace

Forever Chemicals seem omnipresent, but certain occupations in Nevada are even more at risk of exposure than the general population. PFAS include thousands of chemicals common in many industrial processes and many products utilized in the workplace, like products responsible for making things nonstick, slick, or waterproof.

The CDC named several occupations that are known to be exposed to PFAS more than the general population including the following:

  • Chemical Manufacturers—those working at facilities that produce PFAS chemicals are at the highest risk of exposure.
  • Construction Workers – Higher content of PFAS have been found in common construction materials like roofing materials, paints with resistant quality (i.e. water-resistant) , metal coatings for industrial construction, certain solar energy panels, concrete sealer.
  • Ski technicians—Ski technicians, a common practice in Northern Nevada, find themselves breathing in the heavy fumes from waxing skis. Ski wax is a petroleum product utilized by skiers to make their skiis glide faster. However many of these waxes contain PFAS, and their strong fumes are often inhaled by the applicator.
  • Transportation Industry—in a study from New York University, eighteen out of eighteen of the commonly used commercial automotive lubricants contain PFAS. Additionally, highest levels of PFAS were found in a brand of hydraulic fluid marketed for use in vehicles, boats, elevators, and construction equipment. PFAS are also typical components in fuel lines, brake lines, valves, and batteries in cars.
  • Cleaning Services—commonly used cleaning products used by cleaning professionals, certain floor waxes and stains, and carpet cleaning agents are high in PFAs, and often emanate strong fumes. [2]

If Forever Chemicals are Linked to Decline in Health, Does Workers’ Compensation Apply?

So if certain occupations carry a higher risk of PFAS exposure, and forever chemical can result in illness, does workers’ compensation apply?

There is no simple answer—it is possible, but not easy.

To prove that you have been exposed to high levels of PFAS, you will have to take a blood test to determine the exact level. This test isn’t too commonly offered, so it may require further research as well as paying out of pocket for the test.

A test showing elevated levels of PFAS, does not automatically mean you are entitled to workers’ compensation, as it can be very difficult to prove that this elevated level is in fact related to work. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance meaning you don’t have to prove negligence, but you DO need to prove that the injury occurred while you were engaging in work-related activities.

As mentioned above, PFAS are present in many things, including water, consumer goods, and other daily interactions. Thus, drawing a link to you particular PFAS levels and exposure at work in can be somewhat difficult to do. This is why it is important to consult a Nevada licensed workers compensation lawyer, who can assist you in advocating—they can investigate evidence, collaborate with experts, and ensure that you have a viable claim on hand. [3]

What can be Done to Make the Workplace Safer?

While claim activity stemming from workplace exposures to forever chemicals is an emerging and thus a tricky area to navigate, experts say that safety protocols can assist in ameliorating risks related to PFAS. Currently, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has not set limits or thresholds regards PFAS in products or in the air. Many safety experts have called on OSHA to revise their safety standards to include these.

In addition, if you are concerned about handling PFAS in Nevada, you can ask your employer for proper protective equipment and ensure you use these when handling products with known levels of PFAS. It is advisable to use masks when handling products with heavy fumes or dust, and using gloves so products are not accidently ingested.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2024/06/26/toxic-forever-chemicals-beauty-products-study/

[2] https://www.ehn.org/pfas-in-workers-2657293887.html


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