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Monthly Bulletin of Case Reports & New Toxicological Studies
28 years of noteworthy & celebrated forensic toxicology cases
William R. Sawyer, Ph.D., Toxicologist
  • Diplomate, American Board of Forensic Medicine
  • Diplomate, American Board of Forensic Examiners
About Us
TCAS, LLC, provides a wide range of professional services including review of chemical, alcohol, pharmaceutical or radiological exposures within civil and criminal litigation matters.  Dr.  Sawyer has considerable expertise in matters pertaining to alcohol intoxication assessment,  intentional poisoning homicides, occupational and community exposures to carcinogens, medical malpractice involving pharmaceuticals, pyrolysis products, heavy metals, organic chemicals, dioxins and drugs of abuse. Forensic toxicology and toxic exposure investigations include analytical protocol and referral of autopsy material for analyses.  Environmental and occupational health risk assessments include site-specific assessments, dose measurement and causation determination. Final work products include scientific method references, method validation, forensic chain-of-custody and written reports.  Reports and expert witness testimony have been provided  to multiple clients in over 30 states.
Please Note
We routinely work throughout North America from the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas to Alaska in addition to providing expert international testimony as far away as Hong Kong.  We have offices in the states of New York and Florida.
Contact Us
Toxicology Consultants & Assessment Specialists, LLC

6450 Pine Avenue
Sanibel, Florida 33957

29 Fennell Street
Skaneateles, New York 13152

FL: 239-472-2436
NY: 315-685-2345

Toll free (U.S. & Canada): 
800-308-0080
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American Board of
Forensic Medicine

Issue No. 10
 
Welcome to the latest edition in our series of short summaries of forensic toxicology matters taken from actual TCAS, LLC, cases over the past 28 years. Each case summary is factual, although identifying case information has been removed unless revealed through jury verdict reports. While interesting to read, the purpose of these case summaries is to show how the application of toxicological principles can be used in forensic matters. On occasion, we will also be releasing summaries on new toxicological studies and regulations.

TCAS, LLC, sends this newsletter to our past and present clients with the hope that it is of value in their professional endeavors.

In the event you have an interesting case you would like to discuss, please feel free to call or email us for a prompt, confidential teleconference.

Sincerely,
Dr. Sawyer 
_______________________________
PAHs and PCBs Create Residential Hazard
 
This case study reviews a residential contamination case involving local residents exposed to water contaminated with PAHs and PCBs flooding their properties. It illustrates the importance of applying generally-accepted, peer-reviewed toxicological assessment methods and the steps necessary to present scientifically-credible findings in litigation.

A family living adjacent to a creek began experiencing severe health problems, including several unusual types of cancer. The creek, which also ran through a nearby 30-acre manufacturing site, had been infiltrated by a local storm sewer system. Although the site had supposedly been "cleaned up" by the manufacturing company, further investigation revealed the presence of numerous chemicals in the soil including PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), cyanide, solvents and heavy metals.

A family who lived adjacent to a creek began experiencing severe health problems.

Several previous lawsuits alleging toxic contamination on the site had already been settled by the company. In this instance, residents whose property was regularly flooded by this water were still experiencing health effects long after remediation had supposedly been performed.
  
Water and sediment samples from the creek subsequently confirmed persistent PCB and PAH contamination. Tests by the state health department revealed contamination in sump pump water and in residential yards, as well as ground water contamination.

Residents filed a $500 million lawsuit for health injuries and property damages. The company denied any wrongdoing and strongly disputed the medical claims. The case was initially thrown out, but an Appellate Court reversed this decision when it was disclosed that defendants had introduced into evidence "an uncertified, unsworn document" containing misleading cancer incidence rates.

To help put the case back on an objective footing, TCAS, LLC, was retained to conduct an independent toxicological assessment.

Assessment Strategy
  
Since the plant was in operation over a period of decades, it would have been difficult to arrive at a scientifically-credible assessment of the scope of contamination. Instead, Dr. Sawyer calculated the exposure and dose from the time at which the plant had closed down (15 years earlier). By assuming the pollutants were only released thereafter, this approach had the effect of underestimating both the exposures and dose assessment.

Dr. Sawyer and his professional staff collected residential soil samples at various depths as contaminated soil had been covered over during prior cleanups. He applied the USEPA values for PAH and PCB half-life decomposition in soil and the depth of penetration in undisturbed ground. He also underestimated the half-life decomposition time by assuming that contamination dated back only 15 years, rather than the decades of actual plant operation. As a result, Dr. Sawyer was able to present a scientifically-credible range of contamination for the period following plant closure.

Dr. Sawyer on-site collecting contaminated samples for laboratory analyses.

Additionally, Dr. Sawyer focused upon the health effects of one particular family and conducted extensive tests in and around their property. The analytical results of the assessment revealed several preserved layers of contamination that had been covered over with sediment and soil. In some cases, the residual contamination was more than 100 times greater than the remediated soil. This fact refuted defendants' claim that the "only proper method" was to average all soil contamination measurements in the area. Dr. Sawyer pointed out that fresh, uncontaminated soil had been deposited within the creek and that residential property was regularly flooded by the creek. Uncontaminated soil would merely dilute the average and paint an inaccurate picture of the severity and location(s) of historic, persistent contamination.

Similarly, although some families had lived in the contaminated area for a considerable period of time preceding the plant closure, Dr. Sawyer elected not to include this time frame in his exposure assessments. These exclusions had the net effect of further underestimating the actual exposure dose, but added a degree of certainty and credibility that might otherwise have been challenged.

Assembling the Assessment

Assembling a detailed toxicological assessment is somewhat similar to reconstructing a crime scene. Not only must all of the relevant factors be presented factually without bias or distortion, they must also be well organized and paint a coherent picture in the mind of the reader. This essential step required the creation of detailed, individual exposure assessments, a complex and demanding process. It was necessary to (a) identify all of the toxic substances at issue, (b) document and characterize the circumstances under which exposures occurred, (c) identify the pathways, durations and conditions of exposure and (d) calculate the respective dosage of each chemical or substance. It was also necessary to compensate for age, body weight, gender, duration of residence, personal habits and other variables for each person.

The creek had been infiltrated by a local storm sewer system.

The half-life decomposition times for PCBs and PAHs are well documented in the toxicological literature. USEPA and the states have established recommended cleanup objective ("RCO") levels for different toxic substances. Dr. Sawyer determined that of the seven carcinogenic PAHs measured in the contaminated samples, all were far in excess of the RCOs for residential soil. His assessment cited numerous peer-reviewed studies which measured PAH levels in soil and household dust within homes, some of which noted soil levels similar to those to which residents had been exposed.

Dr. Sawyer cited studies noting that the contaminated dust loading levels within the homes from tracked-in soil could be harmful to young children. He further cited toxicological literature documenting exposures to the PAH combinations in the soil samples as historical causative factors for the unusual cancers experienced by some residents.

Presenting the Assessment

With valid exposure and dose data in hand, it became possible for Dr. Sawyer to compare the dosage to peer-reviewed studies, calculate cancer risk and offer a causative opinion. He applied generally-accepted, peer-reviewed methods throughout his report, based on recognized, accredited investigative techniques. To this end, Dr. Sawyer was able to offer a scientifically-credible opinion to reasonable toxicological certainty.

Dr. Sawyer's written report contained more than arcane calculations and a laundry list of findings. He carefully explained his findings in lay terms such that any reader could understand the implications of the contamination that had been uncovered. For example, in one case Dr. Sawyer correctly characterized one resident's chronic childhood exposure to PAHs (expressed as total benzo[a]pyrene) as equivalent to smoking approximately 640 cigarettes (32 packs) per day for 6 continuous years. He also cited numerous studies and documents from the toxicological literature and regulatory agencies (such as USEPA, WHO and others) to support his findings.

Dr. Sawyer also provided additional corroborative evidence from blood tests of family members and introduced the fact that at least two blood analyses revealed the presence of dioxin-like PCBs in excess of the CDC 95th percentile. This important finding not only demonstrated the reality of contamination in residents' bodies, but also validated deposition testimony of affected residents with respect to their usage of the property and periods of residency.

Courtroom Challenges

Dr Sawyer's report offered the opinion that residents were at a significantly increased risk of morbidity and mortality as a consequence of their exposures. Defendants vigorously discounted the medical claims and sought to minimize exposure and dose. Defendants tried hard to discredit Dr. Sawyer's toxicological assessment, which clearly itemized the latent toxic effects and malignancies resulting from the PAHs and dioxin-like properties of the PCBs to which residents had been chronically exposed.

As defendants could offer no reasonable explanation that would refute the blood evidence, defendants elected to challenge Dr. Sawyer's methods by filing multiple exclusion motions. These strongly-worded objections were overcome when, after reviewing the motions and Dr. Sawyer's rebuttals, the judge characterized defendants' arguments as "unpersuasive."

Ultimately, Dr. Sawyer's report and deposition testimony were admitted into evidence. Defendants elected to settle the case shortly thereafter.

Summary
  
We live in a litigious society and there is no substitute for a well-constructed, factual toxicological assessment in litigation. A good assessment offers compelling, scientifically-credible evidence by applying generally-accepted, peer-reviewed methodologies with integrity. In this instance, Dr. Sawyer's presentation objectively supported residents' health and property claims. His testimony significantly undermined defendants' credibility and position in litigation in spite of prior remediation.

(Disclaimer: Toxicology case studies are impartial and objective summaries of toxicological matters in which TCAS, LLC, was retained for the purpose of assessing health-based factors which, in some cases, led to a determination of causation. No names or identifying information have been provided due to privacy and legal considerations. In the above matter, Dr. Sawyer was retained by the plaintiff.)

Meet the Firm
Dr. William R. Sawyer is a professional toxicologist with a doctorate in toxicology from Indiana University School of Medicine. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Medicine and has more than 28 years of extensive experience in public health and forensic toxicology with specialized expertise in causation analyses (for plaintiff and defense) involving alcohol, drugs-of-abuse, pharmaceuticals, herbal products, dioxins, solvents, heavy metals, crude oil, radionuclides/NORM and other substances. Dr. Sawyer has testified at trial and/or deposition in more than 30 states including NY, MA, CT, PA, RI, NH, DE, NJ, WV, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, LA, AR, MO, KY, IN, IL, WI, MI, OH, MN, MT, WA, CA, TX and OK.   Additionally, he has provided international expert testimony as far away as Hong Kong. As a skilled scientist and communicator in the area of toxic tort, Dr. Sawyer provides services to governmental agencies, corporations and select plaintiffs or defendants.  Dr. Sawyer currently serves as the Chief Toxicologist forTCAS, LLC,  and also has been an Assistant Professor (adjunct) for 23 years with the Department of Medicine, Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York. Dr. Sawyer has approximately 14 years experience as a licensed clinical and environmental laboratory director in several states. Dr. Sawyer is a distance swimmer for the Gulf Coast Swim Team and recently completed the "Swim Around Key West" race in just under six hours. He is also a triathlete with the distinction of being a four-time Ironman. He loves to fish and SCUBA dive in northern New York State and the Gulf of Mexico.

 
Funmi Afelumo began working with Dr. Sawyer in March 2015. He recently graduated from the State University of New York - College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) with his master's degree which focused on Plant Science and Biotechnology.  His graduate research project was in the field of phytoremediation - specifically increasing plant tolerance to toxic heavy metal exposure. He has been performing research in the field of phytoremediation and environmental health and safety since 2010. He has presented his research at several conferences including those for environmental health and biotechnology. Funmi particularly enjoys that at TCAS he gets to use scientific knowledge and reasoning to help solve problems and make society better.  When not reading scientific journals and other literature, Funmi enjoys hiking through New York's beautiful parks and volunteering.

Jennifer Clark  (Jen) began working with Dr. Sawyer in 2007 after spending the previous 18 years as a full-time mom. With a background as a legal assistant prior to the birth of her two daughters, Jen spends a considerable amount of her time performing research for active TCAS cases. Not only does she have a special ability to ferret out information, she also has excellent grammatical skills which she applies to communications and report preparation. Jen loves a challenge and the fact that no two days at TCAS are the same! When not being an honorary toxicology investigator, Jen enjoys gardening, camping, reading and solving jigsaw puzzles. She is also a huge fan of the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York and spends several weeks each summer exploring the woods and lakes with her husband, Jim, and golden retriever, Gracie.


Carol Sawyer serves as bookkeeper for TCAS, LLC. By training, she is a dental hygienist and graduate from Indiana University School of Dentistry. She also has prior training and work experience in an accounting firm as a file room clerk and has managed company records since its inception in 1989. Carol enjoys preparing specialty foods, volunteering in her church and community, visiting barrier island beaches, reading and just being outdoors.

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This newsletter archive contains informational and instructional publications devoted to toxicology, compiled as a useful educational resource. Footnotes, image sources and references are cited where appropriate. Copyrighted material may only be reproduced and/or distributed with prior permission from TCAS, LLC.