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Toxic Exposure Risks from Business Pollution: Can I Sue?

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If you’re a Turkey Leg Hut fan, you may enjoy the unique flavor their 14-hour smoking process brings to each bite. The neighbors of the Third Ward restaurant, however, don’t like the technique at all. They’ve banded together to file a lawsuit against Turkey Leg Hut for polluting their community. After preliminary hearings, the judge slapped the restaurant with a temporary restraining order restricting the use of their smoke pit. The restaurant is only allowed to smoke meats between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. (they were allowed a brief return to their typical schedule in recognition of Thanksgiving).

The neighbors, some of whom lived in the area before Turkey Leg Hut moved in, are concerned about the health risks of constant smoke exposure. The restaurant, they claim, needs to moderate their smoke output to protect locals’ lungs. One complainant has noticed, since the business moved in, “increased shortness of breath, increased wheezing, headaches, and a depletion of energy.” Together, the group hopes to prove that the restaurant’s outdoor cooking method has negatively affected their quality of life and introduced dangerous pollutants into their air.

When Does an Environmental Nuisance Become a Toxic Exposure Case?

For now, the plaintiffs have decided to give Turkey Leg Hut a chance to fix their business practices before continuing their court battle. However, they are right to be worried. The wood smoke released by Turkey Leg Hut likely includes dangerous chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). It also includes particulate that, when inhaled, can damage children’s lungs, worsen existing lung diseases, and increase one’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

Though we’re unfortunately used to relatively high pollution levels in Houston, there’s no question whether smog hurts our health. When manmade disasters increase the levels of pollution, sometimes adding more toxic chemicals to the air, people may see serious effects. Inhaling these compounds can have short- and long-term consequences.

For example, in the Deer Park fire of 2019, nearby residents were exposed to Naphtha, Xylene, Toluene, and benzene. The potential complications of exposure to these chemicals include cancer, kidney and liver damage, and brain damage. After events like chemical fires, the question isn’t only whether people were laid up for a few days after inhaling dangerous compounds. It’s whether they will incur long-term medical costs or perhaps even suffer premature death because of a company’s failure to keep their environment clean.

Do You Know What Toxic Pollutants Are in Your Air?

Sometimes, as in the Baytown Exxon plant explosion, it’s easy to know when a chemical incident may be exposing you to toxins. Other times, businesses may pass off their pollution as a harmless side-effect (like Turkey Leg Hut) or trickle, rather than flood, dangerous compounds into the air or groundwater. Industrial pollution can cause a range of side effects, and you need to know if you’re at risk.

  • Particulate Matter: Released by burning fossil fuels and diesel or consisting of fine dust formed by chemicals, particulate matter can make it through your lungs and into your bloodstream. Larger particles may affect your ability to breathe, and smaller ones are linked with heart disease, lung disease, and cancer.
  • Black Carbon: Another type of particulate, black carbon comes from burning fuels such as wood—so Turkey Leg Hut might want to listen up. Long-term exposure can increase the risk for heart attack and stroke; it has also been linked to respiratory illnesses including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and bronchitis.
  • Nitrogen Oxide & Dioxide: Created by cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles, nitrogen oxides aggregate along transportation corridors and can cause or worsen lung conditions. Exposure has also been linked to increased risk of heart disease.
  • Ozone, or Smog: When nitrous oxides interact with other compounds in our atmosphere, they may create ozone. The particle, which protects us from UV radiation, isn’t beneficial when it’s at ground level: Brief exposure can cause coughing, throat irritation, and chest pains. If you habitually inhale ozone-saturated air, you may develop impairments to lung function or COPD.
  • Sulfur Dioxide: When compounds containing sulfur are burned (including coal, diesel, and fuels for ships, smelting, and other industrial machinery), they release sulfur dioxide into the air. Aside from causing acid rain, high concentrations of this compound may cause irritated eyes, respiratory infection, and long-term cardiovascular effects.

These pollutants are common across cities and industrial areas; other industries may cause smaller, localized pockets of air toxins that harm those in the immediate vicinity. These toxins include perchloroethylene, methylene chloride, asbestos, cadmium, mercury, and more.

Proving Your Case Isn’t Easy

There’s a large difference between smelling pollutants in your air and facing demonstrable harms from chronically high levels of toxic chemicals. Often, the problems do not present immediately; some may not be diagnosed for years, or even decades, after the original exposure. A valid lawsuit requires proof of causation. If you think you have a claim, don’t go it alone—work with an experienced chemical exposure attorney who can help you gather evidence and connect with doctors and specialists to strengthen your cause.

Whether Turkey Leg Hut will make big changes to their operations and/or reimburse Third Ward residents affected by their high smoke output remains to be seen. However, the lawsuit challenging the restaurant is a great reminder that citizens are not powerless against negligent or reckless corporations that pollute their air, land, and water supply. Toxic chemicals should always be heavily regulated and kept away from the general public. If you think a company or other entity has failed in their duty to protect you against dangerous waste, come in for a free consultation. Our team is happy to evaluate your case and advise you on your options.

Reach out now! You can find us online or speak to one of our team members at (888) 273-1045.

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