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From West, Texas, to Baltimore: dangerous chemicals in the workplace

More than 50 years ago, the best-selling book Silent Spring" warned of the dangers of pesticides not only to fish and wildlife, but to human health. The book struck a chord with the public, and some of the worst pesticides were banned.

But dangerous and toxic chemicals continue to threaten public health and put many workers at risk. Only two months ago, a terrible explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas killed 15 people. This explosion was a devastating reminder of just how dangerous and highly combustible chemicals can be — and how important it is to have proper workplace safety protections for workers against toxic chemicals.

In Maryland, the Baltimore Sun has been keeping track of chemical incidents in our state. Going back to June of 2001, the Sun has identified 102 instances in Maryland in which an emergency response was necessary.

There have been six deaths caused by these chemical incidents. And the number of hospitalizations stands at 156.

Of the 102 incidents, nine have affected schools. One of the most serious of these incidents was in 2009 at a middle school in Glen Burnie. The school had to be evacuated after chemical fumes from roof adhesives and coating came into the school due to a ventilation system that had been turned on by accident. Eighteen students had to be hospitalized in that incident.

There were even more hospitalizations required after a chemical spill at medical production plant in 2007. In that incident in Elkton, Maryland, 35 people had to be hospitalized after the top broke off of a container holding heptane and butanol.

Obviously dangerous chemicals put workers at risk of workplace accidents. An incident like the West, Texas, explosion should therefore be a catalyst for more attention to the dangers of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

Source: Baltimore Sun, "Maryland Chemical Incidents," June 19, 2013

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