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Pipe repair method could release harmful chemicals

New Jersey plumbing construction workers may have a growing reason to be concerned about a popular method of repairing water pipes. Studies have shown that the method could release toxic fumes with as-yet-unknown health effects on the workers who frequently use it.

The repair process, called cured-in-place pipe repair, includes the insertion of a fabric tube impregnated with resin inside a damaged pipe. After the tube is inserted, it is "cured" with pressurized steam, hot water or even ultraviolet light. This results in a new, solid plastic pipe. However, researchers carried out studies of air quality at seven locations where CIPP was used to repair pipes with steam curing, including both storm-water pipes and sewer pipes. Plumes were released during the process, which had been previously considered to consist of steam. They were found to actually contain both organic compounds and vapors, including carcinogens and endocrine disrupters.

The researchers urged more testing to look at the potential impact of workplace exposure to the gases created during the process, especially during the use of steam. There has not yet been any research on exposure to the chemicals produced during the process in this mixture, and there are potential concerns about both inhalation and skin contact.

Toxic exposure and chemical side effects over time can be some of the most devastating forms of occupational diseases. Workers' compensation benefits can be available for illnesses that have been contracted on the job. However, in many instances it is far more difficult to demonstrate the connection between a workplace environment and a disease than is the case with a nexus between an accident and an injury. This is why it might be advisable for an affected worker to have legal representation throughout the process.

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