The Hamilton Spectator

Former worker who says toxic formaldehy­de is making him sick sues Maple Lodge Farms

In $600,000 lawsuit, Brian Korz says the company failed to protect him and fired him for raising the alarm over toxic gas


A former Beamsville chicken hatchery employee, who claims he suffers neurologic­al problems from long-term formaldehy­de poisoning, is suing his former employer, saying the company deliberate­ly punished him for raising the alarm over the toxic gas.

Brian Korz, 68, is suing Fleming Chicks in Beamsville — and its owners Maple Lodge Farms and Maple Lodge Hatcheries — for nearly $600,000 for failing to protect him in the workplace, and firing him when his health began to fail.

“The defendants have callously applied reprisals, including but not limited to financial pressure, on Mr. Korz because (he) continues to pursue the workplace health and safety issue of formaldehy­de exposure in the workplace with them and advocate for safer and healthier working conditions in hatcheries and/or their industry,” reads Korz’s statement of claim, filed by the St. Catharines law firm of Sullivan Mahoney.

In the document, Korz claims he was placed on paid leave when he became ill, but was then “unilateral­ly” fired for speaking out and asserting his rights under provincial employment and workplace safety laws.

“Such harm was especially egregious and deserving of punishment by this court in punitive damages as one or more of the defendants and their controllin­g minds were aware that Mr. Korz was suffering and would continue to suffer from the workplace harm,” the claim says.

Korz’s claims have not been proven in court. Maple Lodge has not yet filed a statement of defence. The company did not respond to an interview request for this story.

Korz worked at the Fleming Chicks Hatchery in Beamsville from 2015 to 2021 as a hatchery manager, where he was directly exposed to the formaldehy­de fumes used to disinfect eggs.

In November, a Spectator investigat­ion found inspection­s of the facility revealed levels of formaldehy­de gas to be an order of magnitude above provincial safety standards, sometimes more than 300 per cent beyond the allowed limits. One sample in 2021 was so extreme it buried the needle in an air testing device.

Elevated levels of formaldehy­de fumes were even found in the building’s administra­tion offices, far from the sealed incubator rooms where eggs are gassed.

Third-party inspection reports privately commission­ed by Maple Lodge Farms and obtained by The Spectator show in addition to high levels of exposure, the facility lacked adequate air filtration systems to protect employees. That report ultimately recommende­d the company stop using formaldehy­de.

Korz claims exposure to the gas — which is commonly used in Ontario hatcheries as a disinfecta­nt — caused a degradatio­n of his motor skills, including a loss of his grip strength in his left hand, balance and ability to walk. He also suffers from tremors and a loss of basic co-ordination.

Korz has never had a positive diagnosis of formaldehy­de poisoning, The Spectator learned, but experts say it is very difficult to connect toxic exposures to specific illnesses.

However, Korz’s symptoms mirror those found in scientific research on the impact of high levels of formaldehy­de exposure.

“As a result of (Korz’s) exposure to improperly regulated levels of formaldehy­de in his workplace during this employment, Mr. Korz became ill commencing in or about January 2018,” the statement of claim says.

In his statement of claim, Korz claims he told the hatchery about his concerns, but “despite these warnings, the defendants failed to take adequate action to protect the plaintiff.”

“The defendants declined to invest in the recommende­d formaldehy­de detectors in wanton disregard of one or more of their duties as an employer,” the claim says.

A Maple Lodge spokespers­on told The Spectator in November that it is committed to worker safety and “ongoing formaldehy­de monitoring ensures levels stay within safe limits.”

That same spokespers­on claimed a third-party inspection report found the hatchery’s safety program was not being properly implemente­d by the hatchery manager, who was Korz.

However, the report, obtained by the Spectator, does not conclude that Korz failed to implement a safety program. Maple Lodge did not respond to followup questions about their claim at the time.

The Spectator investigat­ion found that while the hatchery would eventually invest in protective equipment and some improved air filtration systems, during Korz’s employment this was not the case. To be effective, respirator­s have to be specifical­ly fitted to each employee, but for a time the same mask was shared between multiple staffer without being properly fitted.

Much of Korz’s statement of claim focuses on an allegation that Maple Lodge was informed of the risks and Korz’s health, but instead of improving safety and helping him the company deliberate­ly harmed him by wrongfully ending his employment.

 ?? BOB TYMCZSZYN METROLAND FILE PHOTO ?? Former Fleming Hatchery employee Brian Korz has developed neurologic­al problems that he believes are from formaldehy­de exposure at the hatchery. He is suing the company for nearly $600,000 in damages.
BOB TYMCZSZYN METROLAND FILE PHOTO Former Fleming Hatchery employee Brian Korz has developed neurologic­al problems that he believes are from formaldehy­de exposure at the hatchery. He is suing the company for nearly $600,000 in damages.

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