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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.

A Delaware judge has ruled that the sworn statements of a plaintiff who died just days before he was scheduled to give a deposition in an asbestos injury lawsuit may be admitted into evidence in the case, despite the objections of defense attorneys representing the defendant. The ruling from the Delaware Supreme Court comes six years after the plaintiff’s passing and will allow the victim’s dying words to be entered into evidence about his work history and potential exposure to asbestos-containing products.

According to the mesothelioma cancer lawsuit, filed in a Delaware Superior Court, the victim worked for the Ford Motor Company and was exposed to asbestos during the course of his employment. As a result of his exposure to asbestos during the course of his employment with Ford, the plaintiff claimed that he developed an asbestos-related condition in his lungs. The lawsuit claimed that Ford was aware of the dangers of its workers coming into contact with asbestos fibers but provided no warning to the plaintiff about the health risks associated with such activity.

In 2014, the plaintiff provided a pair of sworn affidavits regarding his work history and potential exposure to asbestos-containing products during the course of his employment with Ford. During this time, his asbestos-related health condition worsened, and he passed away just two days before a deposition scheduled for a date in October 2014. The defendant subsequently sought to challenge the admissibility of the plaintiff’s sworn affidavits under Delaware’s rules of evidence.

Some of the biggest cosmetics companies in the world are beginning to remove talc from the list of ingredients in their makeup products, likely due in no small part to the slew of multi-million-dollar verdicts being handed down by juries across the United States. Some of the high-profile companies that are considering removing the mineral from their cosmetics products include Chanel, Revlon, and L’Oreal. Pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson, itself the target of thousands of talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuits, recently announced it would no longer use talc in its iconic Baby Powder.

Luxury beauty company Chanel has removed talc minerals from one of its face powders and discontinued a talc-based body powder altogether due to the negative publicity talc-based cosmetics has received in months and years. Revlon, for its part, has ceased using talc altogether in its beauty products. Further, L’Oreal is in the process of finding alternatives for talc in its products as well. Although talc itself does not contain asbestos, the two are both naturally occurring minerals which can be found in deposits near one another, which can lead to cross contamination if precautions are not taken.

Since 2016, Chanel has faced a handful of lawsuits brought by plaintiffs who claim they developed serious forms of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers in contaminated talc used in the company’s beauty products. In 2017, Chanel stopped producing a talcum powder body powder scented with its No. 5 fragrance, according to a deposition taken in a mesothelioma cancer lawsuit filed in a Los Angeles court.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released the sixth and final part of its year-long sampling assignment of testing talc-based cosmetics products for asbestos contamination, which was performed by an outside laboratory. Those testing services were performed by Lanham, Maryland-based AMA Analytical Services, Inc. (AMA) and commenced in September 2018. AMA was selected because of its expertise and knowledge in asbestos testing, as well as having conducted a previous successful survey for the FDA.

The FDA contracted AMA to test talc-based cosmetics products such as makeup and Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, which were selected and purchased by the FDA and provided to the laboratory as blinded samples. During the course of its testing, AMA found that nine of the 43 samples provided tested positive for asbestos contamination, including one lot of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, which was recalled in October 2019. Other cosmetics products which tested positive for asbestos included makeup produced and sold by Claire’s and City Color, some of which have been recalled.

The FDA selected the various products based on criteria such as the type of talc-based product, range of price, prevalence on social media and other advertisements, whether it was marketed as a children’s product, and whether the FDA had received third-party reports of asbestos contamination in the particular product. AMA’s testing procedures utilized Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) to detect and quantify mineral particles which were suspected to perhaps be asbestos fibers. According to the FDA, TEM is the most sensitive testing method for detecting and quantifying asbestos minerals.

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