Investigative Analysis for Personal Injury Litigation

Identifying the Source of a Child’s Chemical Burns

Problem:

A lawyer received a complex case which required the identification of an unknown substance thought to have produced chemical burns on a two year old child. Identifying not only the hazardous chemical but its source required a deeper investigation as evidence would be necessary to substantiate any allegations.

Solution:

The marks in question were on the child’s upper inner leg and an initial trip to the emergency room ruled out the possibility that this injury could have been caused by an allergic reaction. Instead the girl’s doctors concluded that the marks in question were severe chemical burns caused by contact with a hazardous chemical. Avomeen’s experienced litigation support chemists were called upon to determine what caused this mysterious injury to the young child.

The day the marks were discovered, the child had only been to a neighbor’s home and to her daycare. The child had been to the same neighbor’s house a number of times before and upon a detailed search no chemicals were found in or near the room in which she had been playing. The daycare, however, had been sprayed by an exterminator earlier that day. Questions addressed to the pest control company revealed that they had sprayed the powerful pesticide inside the classrooms.

The chemical burns appeared on the child’s legs and were consistent with what one would expect if a child had straddled an object contaminated by a hazardous chemical. Additionally there was an orange stain found on the outside of the child’s diaper. The girl’s family provided Avomeen with the diaper and pants the child was wearing that day. Avomeen’s chemists used multiple testing methods and advanced instrumentation to identify any residual chemical components that may be present on these items that could have caused such a burn.

The samples tested consisted of:

  • The plastic diaper’s cover, which had an unknown orange stain
  • The diaper’s elastic binding, which had secured the diaper around the child’s legs
  • A stained area of the pants the child was wearing that day

Each sample was prepared separately by placing them in laboratory glassware and appropriately coating the samples with hexane for a cold extraction. The soluble hexane extract was then removed from each sample and analyzed via Gas Chromatography / Mass spectroscopy (GC-MS).

To develop definitive results and a defensible conclusion, additional samples were prepared and tested through the same method including:

  • A positive control for the diaper’s cover was prepared by covering part of the diaper’s plastic exterior layer with a standard of the pesticide in question
  • A positive control for the elastic banding was prepared using a solution of the pesticide on the elastic banding from the diaper
  • A blank of 66% hexane and 33% pesticide in question
  • A 100% hexane sample

 

While the chromatogram revealed only non-hazardous ingredients that were commonly found in many cosmetics on the diaper’s plastic exterior layer and the pants sample, the extraction performed on the interior elastic banding included a peak identified as the main ingredient in the pesticide. This was confirmed as the same chemical as it was identified in the positive control of the elastic band sample spiked with 10 ppm of the branded pesticide in question.

These analytical results revealed that this chemical was present in the elastic band of the diaper where the diaper contracts around the leg. This chemical is a pesticide synergist and is present at approximately 65% in the formulation of the pesticide used by the daycare’s pest control company on the day that the child received the mysterious chemical burns. Avomeen’s chemists concluded that the diaper elastic band was indeed contaminated with the same pesticide that was sprayed at the daycare on the day of the incident.

The conclusion of this investigative analysis definitively determined the source of the child’s severe chemical burns and provided the parents’ lawyer with adequate information to pursue legal action against the responsible parties.