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Researchers question safety of water pipe repair method

When a sanitary or storm sewer line breaks in California, utility workers need to get it fixed, and they often turn to the cured-in-place pipe repair method. A research study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters now raises serious concerns about the chemical plumes released during the procedure.

The process requires workers to insert a fabric and resin tube into the damaged pipe. Workers then complete the installation by curing the tube with hot water, ultraviolet light or pressurized steam. Air test studies conducted by researchers during this process detected plumes of chemicals that contained vapors laden with carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. It had previously been thought that it was merely harmless steam. The possible effects on workers and the public are not known.

Organizations using this method had assumed it was safe, but a co-author of the study said that he not seen any studies about the effects of exposure to this mixture of chemicals. Without any studies investigating what the chemicals could do to the skin or lungs of workers, a professor commenting on the study said that workers should wear chemical-resistant gloves and report illnesses if they arise after exposure.

Even a brief exposure to toxic materials can be hazardous to a worker's health. Workers' compensation insurance provides coverage for occupational diseases just as it does for workplace accidents. However, sometimes the nexus between an illness and a workplace environment is difficult to prove. Accordingly, it might be advisable for a worker in this position to have the help of an attorney when preparing a claim for benefits.

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