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How do I find out if I am exposed to toxic materials?

The most accurate method to determine whether you have been exposed to chemicals is environmental monitoring, which is done by measuring the concentration of a chemical in the air and the duration of exposure to it.

answered by Gregory A. Cade

Industrial hygienists perform the sampling for environmental monitoring using various instruments

In the case of toxic substances that are ingested or are absorbed through the skin, environmental monitoring will underestimate the quantity of chemicals you may have absorbed. Therefore, the levels of such chemicals in the body can be measured by testing the blood, urine, and exhaled air. This type of testing is called biological monitoring and the results of these tests provide an estimation of the dose of the toxin absorbed by your body. Apart from this, there are some practical clues to check your exposure:

  • Immediate symptoms: These symptoms include tears in the eyes, a burning sensation on the skin, nose or throat, dizziness, headache, and a persistent cough. If you experience symptoms known to be caused by exposure to a chemical, you might have been overexposed.
  • Taste: Ingestion or inhalation of toxic substances may leave a peculiar taste in your mouth.
  • Particles in the throat or nose: The mucus you coughed up or blew out from your nose may contain particles if you have inhaled toxic substances in the form of particles. However, most particles inhaled are microscopic and cannot be seen by the naked eye.
  • Settling of dust: Chemical dust will settle on your skin, hair, or work clothes, as well as on work surfaces. If you find some dust or mist, it is likely that you may have inhaled some when it was airborne.

What are the most common workplace toxic agents?

There are over 650,000 toxic agents people can be exposed to on their job. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, approximately 32 million people are exposed to toxic agents in the workplace every year throughout the country. While some toxic agents were banned or regulated, others are still present in various work environments, particularly in industrial settings. The majority of toxic agents are used for the manufacturing of various products or are released in the air by certain industrial processes. This is how exposure occurs. These are the most common toxic agents which can be encountered on the job:

  • arsenic
  • benzene
  • beryllium
  • cadmium
  • chromium
  • diesel exhaust
  • formaldehyde
  • hydrogen sulfide
  • lead
  • mercury
  • methylene
  • silica dust
  • solvents
  • synthetic mineral fibers
  • toluene

Even though asbestos was heavily used during the last century by industries such as construction, power generation, chemical, oil refining, and textile, it is rarely employed today, as in 1980, a series of regulations concerning the use of asbestos came into effect by virtue of the Environmental Protection Agency. Nevertheless, every year, between 12,000 and 15,000 people are diagnosed with a disease as a consequence of asbestos exposure, since diseases which stem from asbestos exposure have a long latency period.

What are the symptoms of toxic exposure?

Depending on the toxic agent you were exposed to, symptoms may appear immediately after exposure or, in the case of asbestos exposure, it may take between 20 and 50 years for a disease to develop, as asbestos fibers gradually cause damage to the organs in the body. However, if you were exposed to asbestos, you may begin to experience symptoms after several years. Some of the most common symptoms of toxic exposure, regardless of the hazardous agent in question, are:

  • respiratory: chest pain, a persisting cough, shortness of breath, irritation and difficulty breathing
  • gastrointestinal: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, heartburn, indigestion and a feeling of fullness after eating small amounts of food
  • renal: back pain, urinating more or less frequently, blood in urine and swollen ankles, feet or hands
  • neurological: headache, dizziness, confusion, depression, coma, and convulsions
  • hematological: anemia
  • dermatological: rashes, itching, swelling and redness
  • reproductive: infertility and miscarriage

It is worthy of note that diseases that develop as a result of asbestos exposure mostly affect the lungs, so the victim of asbestos exposure will experience respiratory symptoms, along with fever, night sweats, nail clubbing, fatigue, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss. It takes between 20 and 50 years for a disease to occur as a consequence of occupational asbestos exposure, but people may begin experiencing some symptoms earlier. For this reason, we strongly encourage people with a history of asbestos exposure to undergo periodical medical examination, as they may have developed a related disease. Nevertheless, the majority of diseases caused by asbestos exposure are asymptomatic in their early phases, which is why it is a good idea to regularly undergo asbestos screening if you have a history of workplace asbestos exposure.

We offer free of charge asbestos screenings to former industrial workers

With over 25 years of professional experience, our medical experts specialize in diagnosing diseases that are caused by asbestos exposure. Thereby, if you experience symptoms and have a history of occupational asbestos exposure, we highly recommend you to contact our law firm for a free of charge screening. People who already have a diagnosis related to asbestos exposure are also encouraged to undergo a screening since misdiagnosis is very common when it comes to asbestos-related diseases. Our medical specialists will carefully examine your chest X-rays to determine whether you have asbestos fibers in your lungs, as well as the damage they have caused to the organs so far. They may also employ other medical tests and exams to evaluate your health, such as blood and breathing tests so that you will receive a correct and accurate diagnosis.

Our attorneys provide victims of toxic exposure with quality legal assistance

In the regrettable case you developed a disease as a result of occupational toxic exposure, our attorneys, who specialize in toxic exposure cases, will help you recover the compensation you deserve. Although the legal process is complex, your involvement will be minimal, as you will only have to provide your lawyer with your employment and medical records, which will be used as evidence of toxic exposure and of related diagnosis. If you were exposed to asbestos, we will file a claim with asbestos trust funds, which represent the primary source of compensation for former industrial workers injured by occupational asbestos exposure. Since 1990, our attorneys have been pursuing compensation for the victims of toxic exposure and will gladly help you as well.

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