Fires

Chlorine gas release

A large fire took place in a Minneapolis warehouse. The contents were a wide variety of swimming pool chemicals which released chlorine and irritant chlorine compounds during the fire. Numerous claimants, some nearby, some distant from the event, sued the warehouse owner. With a careful medical record analysis and dose reconstruction, we were able to show convincingly that minor transient irritant effects were the worst injuries and that most claimants suffered none.

"Danger PCBs" and Cancer Concern

During a fire at a university building in a large Louisiana city, firefighters saw a sign near a transformer that had exploded, stating, "Danger PCBs." Fearful that they had been exposed to PCBs, they sought care with local physicians, who told them they were at risk for cancer. Once this information became known, others involved in the control of the fire, including police officers who directed traffic away from the burning building, as far away as three quarters of a mile, also sought medical care. The city government was under fire, with all of its fire, police and first responders demanding action and treatment. A California organization had offered treatment to "detoxify" those exposed; a few of the firefighters had already undergone this "treatment" when we were contacted. This extensive "treatment" required six weeks in the California facility for what amounted to "therapeutic spa" sessions. Facing huge potential medical expenses, inflamed city employees and a sympathetic public, the city asked us to evaluate the exposures, the risks and the treatment and explained these to the firefighters, police officers and the public.

Our investigation revealed that blood levels of PCBs in the first responders were no higher than background and bore no relationship to the individuals' area of activity whether in the building or blocks away. Evaluation of the California facility revealed that several of its facilities had been under investigation by the state for questionable medical practices. Moreover, fat biopsies of the firefighters who had undergone the "detoxification" process revealed that there had been no effect on the levels of PCBs, or any other substances stored in their fat. When those levels were compared with those levels found in the EPA's NHANES study of background levels of chemicals in body fat conducted across the US, there was essentially no difference.

Private meetings were held with the firefighters, police and other first responders, informing them of their actual (non) exposure to PCBs and the absence of any risk of cancer. Our physician and toxicologist addressed all of the concerned workers, reassured them and answered all of their questions about possible health implications. In addition, the "detoxification treatment" and its lack of benefit were explained.


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