Articles Posted in Asbestos

Wildfires ravaged forests in the state of Montana are putting a so-called SuperFund site contaminated with asbestos at risk of spreading carcinogenic particles in the air, which could endanger the lives of not only the fire crews battling the blaze but also residents nearby. The perils faced by the nearby towns are just the latest chapter in a decades-old story surrounding the vermiculite mine once owned and operated by W.R. Grace & Co., which has contaminated the nearby town of Libby and led to years of litigation surrounding mesothelioma diagnosis as a result of asbestos emanating from the mine.

The vermiculite mine outside of Libby operated for nearly 70 years, and provided the substance to create insulation material and gardening products, all the while spewing out deadly carcinogenic asbestos fibers into the air and water. Both vermiculite and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals that can be found side by side one another. If companies sourcing and processing vermiculite do not take proper safety precautions, or survey whether it is even safe to operate such a mine, then innocent workers and residents can be at risk of serious health complications like mesothelioma cancer.

As a result of the decades of toxic asbestos contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency designated the area a Superfund site. Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, a Superfund trust can be set up by Congress to handle emergency and hazardous waste sites needing long-term cleanup such as the one in Libby. Despite the designation by the federal government, W.R. Grace & Co. has still not followed through with efforts to abate the area of asbestos and create a safe environment in which to work.

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.

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.

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.

Less than a year after being hit with an asbestos exposure lawsuit by city employees, the City of San Diego continues to grapple with the safety of its municipal workplaces and the health and safety of those employed by the city. The latest issues with the city stem from asbestos abatement in buildings owned or occupied by the city, and whether the city rushed both the abatement process and moving workers back into the renovated space before it was safe.

According to local media reports, the City of San Diego began moving city employees into a downtown building with several documented asbestos violations, which were discovered by the county’s Air Pollution Control District in the summer of 2019. One of those violations read in part, “Specifically, visible emissions were found on various floors inside the building that were exposed to the outside air.” City employees began moving into the building at 101 Ash Street in December 2019 — 1,100 in total according to local news stations.

Documented air pollution violations continued even after city employees moved into the building. The latest occurred the day after Christmas, just under two weeks after city workers moved in. While city officials continued to insist the building was safe, public outcry eventually led to those workers being evacuated and the premises closed to the public. The asbestos-related issues for the city continued.

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.

The Philadelphia school system recently agreed to a settlement in an asbestos cancer lawsuit with a long time teacher who claimed she developed a serious form of asbestos-related cancer as a result of working in dangerous conditions in the school system. As part of the settlement, the 30-year special education teacher will receive a total of $850,000 dollars to compensate her for her lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering of living with the disease.

According to the mesothelioma cancer lawsuit, filed in September 2019 in a Pennsylvania court in Philadelphia, the plaintiff worked in two 90-year-old, dilapidated school buildings with damaged asbestos pipe insulation. The plaintiff’s lawsuit recalls an instance where she came in direct contact with crumbling asbestos pieces, which she claims was one of the instances in which she was exposed to the deadly carcinogen which caused her mesothelioma cancer diagnosis. The plaintiff had hoped to continue working for at least another seven years but has been forced into retirement while she contemplates her treatment options moving forward in order to fight the disease.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral and was once commonly used in a variety of industrial, construction, and military applications due to its heat resistant properties and ability to be shaped to fit a variety of needs, particularly in insulation for pipes. However, asbestos is also carcinogenic and is directly linked to developing mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer which affects thin linings of tissue surrounding vital organs such as the lungs, heart, and abdominal cavity. Mesothelioma is often not diagnosed until decades after exposure, which often leaves patients with diminished treatment options to fight the disease.

A group of seven California plaintiffs recently signaled their intention to a federal court to refile their talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuit against pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson in order to include additional defendants who may be at fault for causing their asbestos-related conditions. The federal district court judge hearing the case granted plaintiffs their motion to dismiss the case and include plaintiffs such as Claire’s and Valeant Pharmaceuticals over those companies’ negligence for not placing appropriate warning labels on their products.

The plaintiffs sought the request after the judge hearing the case disallowed the group to make any further amendments to the complaint originally filed only against Johnson & Johnson over claims that it negligently marketed its talc-based products such as Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. The plaintiffs originally filed their complaint in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, claiming that the group developed serious, asbestos-related medical conditions as a result of using Johnson & Johnson’s talc products.

The judge hearing the case allowed the group to dismiss their claims, without prejudice, with the added condition that they pay for the legal fees incurred by Johnson & Johnson in the first iteration of the lawsuit. However, the judge cautioned Johnson & Johnson against “overlawyering” in an attempt to inflate the costs of the case as a retaliatory measure against the plaintiffs. The federal judge himself will decide the total amount of legal fees owed to Johnson & Johnson.

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