Articles Posted in Companies & 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.

The surviving son of a deceased Frito-Lay employee has filed a proposed class action lawsuit against his father’s former company alleging that his father passed away from cancer due to asbestos exposure at the factory where he worked. The claim filed by the Texas man seeks to recover compensation not only on behalf of his deceased father but also on behalf of any other Frito-Lay workers who may have developed asbestos related cancer while working at the facility in Mississippi where the plaintiff’s father was employed.

According to the mesothelioma cancer lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, the victim worked as a machine operator and pest control worker at the Frito-Lay plant in Jackson, Mississippi from 1974 until 1999. The plaintiff claims that his father worked with pesticide spray, which led to his cancer diagnosis, and that there was asbestos in the facility about which the company knew but chose not to provide any warning to workers.

“Families have gone through tremendous debts behind losing their loved ones. Some of these people had to pay for their own funerals, because they didn’t have any money. These families need to be financially compensated but also have some appreciation shown. Frito-Lay has made billions of dollars off the backs of these employees and then they just discard them like tools,” the plaintiff said to local media earlier this December.

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.

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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