Feeling the Effects of Air Pollution

By Dana Lillard, Administrative Assistant – Underwriting Division

Air is something we breathe without thinking. We do it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the span of our lives. Along with the air we breathe, we also take in many hazardous chemicals. These chemicals range from Carbon Monoxide and asbestos to Sulfur Oxides. The amount of polluting chemicals depends on where you live and spend your time; some areas such as large cities have higher densities of certain chemicals (chemicals in smog) while other areas that are less populated have high densities of other chemicals (methane pollution from farm animals). Monitoring typically occurs on a regular basis and air quality warnings are issued based on these readings. Particularly hot days can increase the amount of pollutants in the air by increasing the air density and pulling the upper air chemicals down to ground level.

Pollution is defined by the U.S. government as “unwanted chemicals or other materials found in the environment. Pollutants can harm human health, the environment, and property. Air pollutants occur as gases, liquid droplets, and solids. Once released into the environment, many pollutants can persist, travel long distances, and move from one environmental medium (e.g., air, water, land) to another.”1 The mobility of air pollutants causes a serious threat to safety of living beings. Containment of these chemicals or materials is very difficult and requires a great deal of work to control residual effects.

All of this air pollution can be just as harmful as a storage tank leaking into ground water or a chemical spill in a river. If a company burns oil or gas products, sulfur is a component that can be released in the air, causing major effects for miles. “Studies show a connection between short-term exposure and increased visits to emergency departments and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses, particularly in at-risk populations including children, the elderly, and asthmatics.”1 It is important that companies protect themselves and the environment from possible consequences arising from this type of emission.

Considering all of the hazards associated with air pollution, it is crucial for an organization to protect itself from emissions and the repercussions associated with this type of exposure. Environmental insurance is a key part in protecting the company, population, and environment.

Air Pollution Facts:

  • It can cause illnesses like cancer of the lungs in highly polluted areas.
  • Sulfur is a chemical released when coal and oil are burned . It can cause serious health effects.
  • People are developing ways to manage and detect air pollution because typically gaseous emissions are hard to detect unless there is a color or odor. Chemicals can be measured and detected by:
    –  Spectroscopy – using light to determine the chemicals and quantities and
    – Air sampling- both passively (letting wind and air movement move air) or actively (using a fan to take in air).
  • More information on Air Pollution Click Here <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/airpollution.html#cat42

Claim Scenarios Relating to Air Pollution

  • The Department of Energy (DOE) hired several environmental contractors to assist in operating one of its facilities. Following an accidental release of air pollutants, local residents filed a class action nuisance suit against the contractors, alleging emotional distress and diminished property value. The case was settled in the residents’ favor, for whom an $80 million trust fund was established. Both the government and the contractors were required to contribute to the fund.
  • An environmental firm was operating an incinerator to burn hazardous waste at a remote site. Due to cold, inclement weather at the project site, a makeshift tent was constructed to enclose the incinerator, on-site equipment and office space. When a power failure caused the incinerator’s air pollution control equipment to shut off, a plume of hazardous air emissions entered the tent. Personnel from various on-site subcontractors were subsequently overcome with fumes and required medical attention. Settlement costs amounted to $635,000.
  • While performing building renovations, a general contractor used gas powered generators and equipment. The contractor failed to properly vent or contain the emissions from the equipment during operations. Employees working in a nearby area of the building complained of headaches, nausea and respiratory problems. The results of an air quality study concluded that the increased carbon dioxide levels in the building resulted from the construction equipment. The contractor was liable for causing building-related illnesses that resulted in 30 bodily injury claims totaling over $100,000.
  • A mechanical contractor installed a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system in a new commercial office building. After three years, mold and mildew growth caused the release of airborne bacteria throughout the entire building, resulting in poor indoor air quality. Claims against the contractor for bodily injury and loss of property use exceeded $500,000. In addition, the contractor was responsible for decontaminating the HVAC system.
  • A chlorine gas release at a wastewater treatment plant resulted in toxic air emissions. Area residents and businesses were evacuated and several people were hospitalized for inhalation of fumes. A total of 12 businesses were forced to shut down for the better part of a day. Bodily injury claims amounted to $70,000 and business interruption claims totaled $120,000.

Talk with a PartnerOne Environmental representative about pollution coverage for your contractor clients who may have an air pollution exposure. Having this discussion may help you bind a challenging account, as well as provide better insurance options for your insured.

Learn more about other types of environmental exposures.