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New York workers suffer mercury exposure

Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors often drop in on businesses unannounced to look for workplace safety hazards. Sometimes, though, OSHA inspections are carried out because an employee has filed a complaint about work conditions.

Employees of a hazardous materials remediation contractor located less than two hours due north of Newburgh filed a complaint with OSHA. The workers said they were being exposed to mercury at a Superfund site in Schenectady.

As you likely know, exposure to high levels of mercury can lead to damage to a person's brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and immune system. Medicine.net says symptoms of mercury poisoning include a loss of coordination, and impairment of vision, speech, walking and hearing, as well as muscle weakness.

The workers cleaning up the Superfund site were removing both liquid mercury and soil and wood contaminated with mercury.

OSHA found that several workers had been exposed to excessive levels of mercury through inhalation or absorption through their skin. Inspectors also found that workers had symptoms consistent with mercury exposure, including tremors, neurological impairments, skin damage and fatigue, among others.

OSHA said in a statement that the employer, Environmental Remediation Services Inc., failed to provide essential items such as protective equipment and ventilation. The firm also failed to monitor possible exposure to the concentrated toxin. The federal agency issued 13 citations for serious and willful violations of safety standards and proposed a fine of $142,000.

Workers who are exposed to toxic substances on the job, or who suffer injuries in the workplace, are typically due workers' compensation benefits. Those employees denied deserved benefits can speak with a workers' comp attorney about an appeal.

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