Secondhand Smoke Cases
For nearly a decade, CAG led a campaign to eliminate secondhand smoke exposure. In California’s 1998 prohibition of smoking in the workplace, hotels received a specific exemption. We prosecuted over 60 hospitality entities for exposing their employees and the public to excessive amounts of secondhand tobacco smoke without providing adequate warnings pursuant to Proposition 65. According to the Surgeon General, secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually, and an estimated 62,000 deaths from coronary heart disease annually in the United States. By offering to forego any financial settlement, including a claim for attorneys’ fees, we encouraged over 100 hotels to become completely smoke-free establishments. Our efforts also resulted in a reduction of the number of smoking rooms in hundreds of hotels.
CAG’s prosecution of the hospitality industry was met with extreme resistance by the California Hotel & Lodging Association. A hotel defense attorney even tried to undermine CAG’s effort to reduce the incidence of secondhand smoke exposure by forming his own, for-profit organization and filing a copycat case agains the hotels. This copycat case was purportedly in the public interest. However, it sought minimal penalties and no reduction of exposure. When the CHLA colluded to settle the case with such nominal penalties, the California Attorney General joined CAG in an appeal to stop the collusion and dismantle the settlement. We won a victory on behalf of the public in Consumer Advocacy Group, Inc. v. Kintetsu Enterprises of America, 141 Cal. App. 4th 46, which changed the law to ensure that settlement of citizen enforcement actions are just and serve the public interest.
Air emissions from roofing work can cause dangerous air quality conditions. Low slope hot tar roofs often use a built-up roofing system that is manufactured on site using layers of felts and hot-applied asphalt or coal tar pitch. The hot tar is typically heated at the job site in a kettle and is the major source of fumes. Rubber roofs are another type of low slope roofing system. Adhesives used during rubber roofing projects can give off large amounts of volatile organic chemicals. These dangerous activities can cause dizziness, headaches and burning eyes in the short term, as well as cancer and reproductive toxicity in the longer term. The dangers are not limited to workers, but extend to anybody in proximity. CAG discovered that roofing companies were not warning their employees or the public of such dangers as required by Proposition 65. Therefore, CAG notified hundreds of roofing entities of their violations and brought the entire industry into compliance.
Heated asphalt produces fumes that can irritate your nose, throat, or lungs. People can get bronchitis or emphysema by inhaling asphalt fumes repeatedly. Mixed with the asphalt fumes may be hydrogen sulfide, a very toxic gas. Breathing too much can cause dizziness, convulsions, coma, or death. Chemicals in asphalt products also produce vapors, which can damage the liver, kidneys, and nervous system (including the brain).
Coal tar is similarly hazardous. Numerous studies have identified coal tar sealants as a major source of PAHs, toxic chemicals that can cause cancer and other health problems. The latest U.S. Geological Survey research estimates that annual emissions of PAHs from the application of coal tar-based sealants exceed the amount from vehicle exhaust.
CAG investigated the paving industry and found that neither workers nor the public were aware of all the dangers. CAG went into action, notifying the paving companies that they were required by law to warn their employees of the occupational hazards of being in close proximity to these chemicals, while warning the public of the dangers to our health. CAG succeeded in not only enforcing the warning provisions of Proposition 65, but also in getting many large pavers to reduce the temperature at which they mix the asphalt, thus limiting the amount of toxic chemicals released through the fumes.