With the Flint, Michigan, water situation so prominently in the news, the question of what qualifies as toxic exposure is on many minds. The Detroit Free Press reports that over 6 million Michigan residents drink or otherwise use water that may be contaminated with either unregulated substances or quantities of chemicals and materials that fall within regulated levels, including trihalomethanes and the heavy metal hexavalent chromium. This chemical was involved in one of the largest toxic tort cases in U.S. history, in the famous suit pitting Erin Brockovich vs. PG&E on behalf of the town of Hinkley.

A toxic substance is any substance that poses a significant and lasting health hazard on exposure, or “toxic exposure.” In the case of toxic exposure in the workplace, the Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to provide employees with a safe environment that ensures adherence to occupational health and safety standards while minimizing exposure to toxic substances that might cause mental or physical impairment. Employers must also ensure appropriate access to medical tests capable of determining adverse effects from exposure to toxic substances and health hazards. Employers are also required to advise employees of exposure to potential toxic substances in the work environment, and maintain accessible records of past exposures.

The employee must not be required to pay for the costs of personal protective equipment, medical examinations or other necessary tests. If an employer fails to protect workers from toxic exposure, contact with harmful substances could have long-term effects on victims’ health and quality of life.