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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra recently secured a ruling from a U.S. District Court to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to improve its data collection practices accounting for the importation of asbestos-containing products into the United States. The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California will require the Environmental Protection Agency to amend its Chemical Data Reporting rule to improve what the court deemed to be “information gathering deficiencies” created by the agency’s voluntary reporting process for asbestos importers.

“Asbestos kills thousands of Americans each year. It is a known public health hazard,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “The EPA can’t run from those truths. And it can’t run from reasonably available data to evaluate whether certain uses of asbestos pose an unreasonable risk to human health and the environment. Today’s ruling is a critical first step toward eliminating exemptions that allow this unsafe chemical to harm our communities, including our workers and children.”

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that kills thousands of people every year. It was once used in thousands of industrial, commercial, and military applications for its heat-resistant properties and ability to be molded to fit a variety of uses. Unfortunately, this seemingly versatile mineral is also directly linked to developing serious forms of cancer, including mesothelioma, a disease for which there is currently no definitive cure.

A recent study commissioned by an advocacy nonprofit group has determined that the methods used by cosmetics companies to test the safety of the talc in their products are inadequate and that as many as 15% of talc-based consumer products could contain deadly asbestos fibers. The study, commissioned by the Environmental Working Group found that the testing method which the cosmetics industry has voluntarily adopted is not sensitive enough to screen talc for asbestos and lacks the precision of electron microscopy which can properly detect asbestos fibers in talc.

Environmental Working Group’s vice president noted that the nonprofit has identified more than 2,000 consumer cosmetics products containing talc, which means contaminated talcum powder products could potentially put thousands of innocent Americans at risk of asbestos exposure. Both talc and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals that can be found in deposits side by side one another, which means that if companies sourcing and processing talc do not take reasonable safety precautions then their products could be carcinogenic.

The analysis was conducted by the Scientific Analytical Institute, with the results published in the journal Environmental Health Insights. The study used a method known as electron microscopy to analyze talc samples, which is far more advanced than what cosmetics companies currently use. As of right now, the Food and Drug Administration does not require any testing at all of talc, a practice that only compounds the risk many consumers face when shopping for safe products on store shelves. Instead, the nation’s largest drug regulator recommends solely that companies sourcing talc to carefully select mines in order to avoid cross contamination between the desired talc and deadly asbestos fibers.

The Montana Supreme Court recently took up oral arguments on the appeal of a $100 million judgment that ordered an insurance company to pay the state for damages that it itself was ordered to pay to victims of asbestos exposure at a vermiculite mine. The state of Montana is seeking payments from National Indemnity Company, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, to cover settlement claims from residents of the town of Libby, who were exposed to deadly asbestos fibers emanating from a mine owned and operated by WR Grace since 1963.

Libby residents had filed lawsuits against the state of Montana, claiming that the state knew for decades about the environmental health risks from the asbestos fibers coming from WR Grace’s vermiculite mine but did not warn the victims of the danger. National Indemnity Company had underwritten the state of Montana for a period of years during the 1970s, the time during which much of the town of Libby was exposed to the carcinogenic asbestos fibers from the mine.

In 2019, a state district court judge ruled that National Indemnity Company was required to reimburse the state of Montana for the settlement it had reached with the plaintiffs, per the terms of the policy that existed between the insurance company and the state. Lawsuits against the state of Montana over the asbestos exposure from the Libby mine have been ongoing since 2002, and National Indemnity Company has resisted its contractual duties to underwrite the state for liability in such lawsuits.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has hit all facets of our society hard, but some already long-suffering communities in our country are being especially impacted due to a decades-long health crisis. One such place is Libby, Montana, where a now shuttered vermiculite mine has poisoned the soil, air, and water of local residents who have received diagnoses for asbestos-related health conditions by the hundreds and thousands, which makes them especially vulnerable to complications from COVID-19.

Lincoln County, which is home to the town of Libby, ranks near the top of the nation’s mortality rate for asbestos-related mortality rates. Hundreds in the county have succumbed to asbestos-related diseases, which include asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer. In Libby, at least one in 10 residents suffers from an asbestos-related illness. While Lincoln County was mostly spared from the coronavirus, the virus’ fall surge has led to an increase in cases amongst a population with preexisting conditions due to asbestos exposure.

Although the Libby vermiculite mine closed for good in the 1990s, in the decades prior the town and its residents had been exposed to asbestos spewing from the site. Vermiculite itself does not contain asbestos, but the two are both naturally occurring minerals that are often found side by side one another. If companies sourcing and processing vermiculite do not exercise due caution, innocent workers and nearby residents can be put at risk for exposure to the dangerous carcinogen.

Congress recently failed to pass a bill that would have amended an existing federal law to prohibit the manufacturing and sales of asbestos, or any other products that contain the deadly carcinogen. The impasse came after the bill failed to pass through the House of Representatives when partisan bickering arose over an amendment that would have preserved the right of asbestos cancer victims to hold negligent companies accountable in a court of law and seek compensation for the harm suffered.

The failure to send the bill from the House to the Senate was a blow to asbestos victims and advocates who had pushed hard for the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act to become law and help save countless lives. The bill had previously cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee by an overwhelming margin, by a vote of 47-1 and had broad bi-partisan support in the Senate. However, a late amendment by Democrats essentially killed the legislation after Republicans took issue with the prospect of litigation over talcum-powder asbestos cancer lawsuits.

The added language to the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act would not have changed the definition of asbestos as far as cosmetics regulations under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) and for determining whether a cosmetics product contains asbestos either as an ingredient or as an accessory mineral to an ingredient, such as talc. Companies like Johnson & Johnson are embroiled in legal fights with plaintiffs who claim they developed mesothelioma and other serious forms of cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos fibers in talc-based cosmetics products.

As we just recently observed National Mesothelioma Awareness Day, there is perhaps no better time than now for Congress to take formal action to finally and officially ban the use of asbestos across the country once and for all. While federal legislation dating back to the 1970s effectively banned asbestos for many uses, the substance is still not officially outlawed in the United States, which potentially puts thousands of innocent Americans at risk still for developing serious asbestos-related health conditions.

However, there is one piece of legislation making its way through the House of Representatives that would finally ban the importation of asbestos into the United States, the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act (ARBAN). In 2019, the bill passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee by a vote of 47 to 1 and is now poised to come before an up or down vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

“This bill will stop hundreds of metric tons of asbestos from entering the United States each year and will protect Americans from the daily threat . . . found in homes, schools, workplaces and on consumer shelves,” said Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, to a local Montana media outlet. The bill before Congress is named after her late husband, Alan, who passed away from mesothelioma.

In what was one of the first mesothelioma cancer trials conducted via videoconferencing, a California jury has handed down a multimillion dollar verdict in favor of a former Navy Admiral who claimed he developed a serious form of cancer due to asbestos exposure from products manufactured by the defendant. In their verdict, the jury found that exposure to defendant Metalclad Insulation Corp.’s insulation was a substantial factor in the plaintiff’s mesothelioma cancer diagnosis and awarded the victim $2.5 million in total compensation.

According to the mesothelioma lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of California for the County of Alameda, the retired Navy Admiral developed mesothelioma cancer after being exposed to asbestos fibers in insulation products manufactured by Metalclad Insulation Corp. Among the plaintiff’s claims were that Metalclad Insulation Corp engaged in negligent conduct for design defects in its asbestos insulation products, failure to warn the plaintiff about the dangers of its products, and failure to recall its asbestos products due to knowledge of the harm they could cause.

As is common in many asbestos cancer lawsuits, defendant Metalclad Insulation Corp tried many legal maneuvers to have the case thrown out rather than have a jury of the parties’ peers decide the merits of the lawsuit. Specifically, attorneys for the defendant sought a mistrial after the victim shared photographs with members of the jury and discussed how to change their virtual backgrounds over the videoconferencing software used to conduct the trial remotely. However, those attempts to throw out the case and begin the process of a new trial were rejected by the judge presiding over the case, and allowed deliberation to proceed.

A New York court recently denied an attempt by the defendant in a talcum powder mesothelioma cancer lawsuit to have the case dismissed, which paves the way for the plaintiffs to have their day in court and seek justice for the harm caused by the defendant’s alleged negligence. In its ruling, the court denied defendant Whittaker Clark and Daniels’ motion for summary judgement to dismiss the claim, as well as denying the company’s bid to have claims of potential punitive damages thrown out.

According to the plaintiff’s mesothelioma cancer lawsuit, filed in New York County Supreme Court, the victim developed mesothelioma for exposure to asbestos fibers in talcum powder products manufactured by defendant Whittaker Clark and Daniels. The plaintiff claimed that during his time working as a barber in New York City from 1961 until he retired in 2016, he frequently breathed in talcum powder dust from the Clubman talc he applied to clients, which he alleges the defendant knowingly manufactured with asbestos fibers.

In its motion to dismiss the case, the defendant alleged that the plaintiff’s mesothelioma diagnosis was not caused by exposure to talc in Whittaker Clark and Daniels’ Clubman talcum powder, but instead by exposure to asbestos in the victim’s native Italy where he lived until he was 25 years old until he immigrated to the United States. Specifically, the defendants claimed that the victim was exposed to asbestos in quarries found in Sicily, Italy. Countering that argument, the plaintiff’s lawyers contended that the victim lived almost 15 miles from the sites in question.

A Minnesota appeals court recently denied a motion by the defendant-asbestos manufacturer in a mesothelioma cancer lawsuit to dismiss the case on the grounds that the company had long since left the state. In its ruling, the Court of Appeals of Minnesota upheld the lower trial court’s decision not to throw out the case, determining that personal jurisdiction exists over the company and that the case may proceed and eventually be heard by a jury, if the matter is not resolved sooner.

According to the mesothelioma cancer lawsuit, filed in Ramsey County District Court, the plaintiff developed mesothelioma cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos fibers from the Conwed Corporation’s asbestos ceiling tile mill located in Cloquet, Minnesota. The plaintiff claims that his father, who worked at the mill from 1939 until 1975, would return home covered in asbestos dust. The plaintiff claims that he would see bags of asbestos fiber in the mill when he visited his father at work.

The plaintiff’s mesothelioma cancer lawsuit goes on to claim that the victim himself went to work at the same Conwed Corporation mill in 1963. The plaintiff claimed that as a result of second-hand asbestos exposure and from his own time at the mill, he developed mesothelioma cancer. The lawsuit alleges that a corporate memo from Conwed in the late 1950s identified the health risks of asbestos exposure but provided no warnings to the mill’s employees in order for the workers to decide if it was safe for them to work at the site.

A Pennsylvania federal judge recently denied motions by the defendants in a talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuit to exclude the testimony of several expert witnesses for the plaintiffs, thereby allowing the case to proceed as scheduled. Pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson had sought to derail the plaintiff’s case by claiming that the testimony which would have been presented by the witnesses in question was not proper on the grounds that the expert’s methods were not generally accepted by the scientific community.

In her ruling, the Philadelphia judge determined that Johnson & Johnson had failed to properly challenge the methods used by the experts to reach their scientific determinations and instead focused on those conclusions themselves. With the denial of Johnson & Johnson’s motion, the case will proceed as scheduled and it will be up to a jury to decide whether or not they agree with the scientific evidence, and ultimately the plaintiff’s case.

Johnson & Johnson’s motion to exclude the plaintiff’s expert witnesses comes not long after a New Jersey federal judge handed down a multidistrict litigation ruling allowing the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses to present evidence that the company’s talc-based products are linked to serious forms of cancer. The judge in those cases determined that the expert witnesses for the plaintiffs may testify that the talc Johnson & Johnson used in its cosmetics products was contaminated with asbestos and other substances which could cause the victims’ health conditions.

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