Former Rutgers employee sues for exposure to hazardous chemicals

<p>Jacob Moskowitz was a former glassblower in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.</p>

Jacob Moskowitz was a former glassblower in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.


Jacob Moskowitz, a former employee in the Rutgers Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, has filed a lawsuit against the University, saying he was knowingly exposed to hazardous chemicals, according to an article from NJ Advance Media. This exposure caused him to have two major seizures and to develop extreme anxiety.

Court documents were filed in May 2019, where Moskowitz said he was hired by the University as a scientific glassblower, according to the article. He said while he had no prior experience in the position, he was still tasked with handling chemicals that pose serious health risks.

Moskowitz was responsible for creating and repairing laboratory glassware, according to the article. He also had to seal vials that contained “hazardous source materials” such as thorium, a radioactive metal.

He spent two years as an employee in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and said he suggested ways to make the sealing process safer multiple times, but was repeatedly ignored by University officials, according to the article.

“He was repeatedly exposed to hazardous radioactive thorium compounds known to be carcinogenic and that caused him to suffer major epileptic seizures and permanent epilepsy,” the court documents stated, according to the article.

Moskowitz named two professors in the suit whom he has never directly communicated with: John Brennan, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology chair, and Anna Kornienko, an associate research professor, according to the article. He said he warned Kornienko in an email about the importance for glassblowers to understand the substances they are handling.

Moskowitz also said a chemical hood was never installed in his workshop even though he told Kornienko hazardous chemicals should not be handled without one, according to the article. He said he inhaled vapor, powder and liquid chemical samples when sealing vials.

Just months after sealing multiple batches of thorium for Brennan, he was hospitalized for two “major epileptic seizures” in September 2017, according to the article.

He was told by a neurologist it was “extremely rare” to begin having seizures at 29 years old, according to the article. Muscle spasms, hallucinations, dizziness and fainting spells were among the other things he had experienced.

“Mr. Moskowitz continues to have anxiety over whether and when he will develop one of the various forms of cancer caused by radiation from thorium and thorium compounds,” according to the documents, according to the article.

After suffering from his seizures, Moskowitz continued sealing thorium vials, according to the article. The suggestions he made for making the process safer were still not being implemented.

Moskowitz was originally hired in 2016 with a one-year contract and was renewed twice, according to the article. He was fired just after the second renewal in May 2018.

He then filed a complaint with the Rutgers Office of Employment Equity (OEE) and claimed he was fired for complaining about the laboratory's safety violations. 

“Since I started at Rutgers, I’ve been dealing with unsafe working conditions in a lab that is not safe, doing an experiment that is not safe to perform there,” Moskowitz said in the OEE complaint, according to the article.

After this complaint, an investigation found that Brennan was aware of Moskowitz being exposed to thorium but believed it was not enough to be hazardous, according to the article.

Moskowitz is asking the University to cover costs of blood tests and attorney fees, as well as compensatory and punitive damages, according to the article.


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