Recent Asbestos News
The Department of Energy, which oversees the Hanford Nuclear cleanup in Eastern Washington, got slapped with a $115,000 fine for violations in its asbestos disposal. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced earlier this week that its inspectors at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation found improperly managed asbestos in 19 of 22 samples taken at demolition sites.
Based on samples taken at six demolition areas, the EPA said waste containing asbestos was improperly disposed at a Hanford waste facility and there may be as many as 35 more sites where asbestos has, or is suspected to have been, released to the soil.
According to an NPR report by Anna King
the alleged violations occurred during building demolitions in 2009 and 2010 when federal stimulus money sped up deconstruction projects.
Dennis Faulk, a manager with the EPA, says the federal contractor failed to document and label truck shipments of asbestos debris.
The Hanford cleanup which includes the demolition of hundreds of buildings at the site, which processed materials for construction of nuclear weapons for World War II and the Cold War.
Last month, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury returned its verdict awarding $26.6 million to Michael Sutherland, a former drywaller, diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos. and his wife Suszi.
As a drywaller in northern San Diego County from 1967, Mike was still attending Madison High School. Then, through 1993, he often took extended surfing trips to Hawaii and Mexico. As a contractor, he made a living for numerous residential and commercial jobs during the construction “boom” in the 1970s. During this period, cancer-causing asbestos was a common ingredient in popular construction products. Such products include joint compound, fire-rated drywall, caulk, stucco, roofing mastic and asbestos cement pipe.
“With all the trades working on top of each other trying to finish one job and move on to the next, it was always dusty,” Mike recalled, “It wasn’t until I became a lead maintenance mechanic at UC San Diego and attended a class on job safety in 2003 that I learned that so many of the materials used on the jobs back then contained asbestos.”
The Sutherlands’ case (LASC case # BC486980) was filed on June 20, 2012. Over 30 defendants were named in the case. They had settled most of the defendants before trial. However, Stucco manufacturer, Highland Stucco and Lime Products, Inc., refused to settle. Thus, Highland was the only defendant at trial, claiming that other companies and even Mr. Sutherland himself were responsible for his exposure to asbestos. Disagreeing with Highland, the jury ultimately found the company responsible for its role in subjecting Mr. Sutherland and other members of the public to its dangerous products.
At a Boeing hammer shop, white powder was flaking and falling from overhead pipes. So maintenance workers re-wrapped the overhead pipes to contain the absestos insulation. These workers wore protective clothing that the hammer shop workers called “moon suits.” But those hammer shop workers, including Gary Walston, did not wear any protective clothing or respirators. While the moon suited workers wrapped the pipes, visible dust and debris fell on Gary Walston and his colleagues. To protect their tools from accumulating dust, they covered them with plastic. When Gary asked his supervisor if he could wear protective gear too, he was told “get back to work.”
Roughly 25 years later, Gary Walston was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He sued Boeing, his employer, alleging that he contracted mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos while working at the hammer shop. The trial court denied Boeing’s motion for summary judgment, and Boeing appealed.
Despite the fact Boeing’s previous involvement in workers’ compensation claims with claimants suffering from asbestos-related injuries, Boeing denied that it had any “actual knowledge” that Mr. Walston’s injuries would be “certain” as a result of the visible asbestos in the hammer shop.
Mr. Walston claimed that he presented evidence raising a material factual dispute about whether Boeing had (1) actual knowledge that he was certain to be injured and (2) that Boeing willfully disregarded such knowledge. Mr. Walston argued that he—like the employees in Birklid, Hope, and Baker—was injured as a result of being exposed to a substance at work that his employer knew was certain to injure him.
The three panel appellate court reversed the trial court’s denial of Boeing’s MSJ. Judge Marywave Van Deren wrote that Boeing workers like Mr. Walston “were not immediately or visibly injured by the exposure to asbestos.” “Nor did they complain of injuries caused from their exposure to asbestos. Walston was not diagnosed with an asbestos related disease until 25 years after the ‘moon suit incident’ in the hammer shop.”
What this ruling shows is that asbsestos injury lawyers have a steep hill to climb to educate judges and the larger public about the extreme hazards of asbestos exposure. Simply because someone is not immediately coughing or showing visible injury does not mean that their bodies have already been exposed to dangerous amounts of asbestos. Mesothelioma and other asbestos related injuries can take decades to detect, as illustrated by Gary Walston’s case. If you are ever in a situation such as Mr. Walston, please think about the longterm consequences and do everything you can to educate your employer. Keep a written journal and records of all written correspondence. Hopefully, however, you will not need these in a claim against your employer.
Despite its awareness, according to U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler, CSR put its employees in danger by allowing them to be exposed to airborne asbestos fibers, known to cause mesothelioma and asbestosis. Ms. Loeffler stated that the CRS employee, the manager who gave the demolition instructions, did not know about the presence of asbestos. The employee did not recognize the presence of the material either and went ahead with the demolition, hence putting himself in danger of inhaling airborne asbestos fibers, which can cause asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Once the Environmental Protection Agency learned of the activity, they sent an inspector to the property. The inspector determined that “Copper River Campus negligently placed employees of Copper River Seafoods and others in imminent danger of serious bodily injury, as they had no specialized training on asbestos removal, nor were they wearing personal protective equipment.” Anyone involved may have suffered serious illness due to asbestos exposure, the inspector added.
Unfortunately, this is just one of many instances of an entity willfully disregarding the safety and health of its employees, in its failure to disclose and safeguard against exposure to harmful materials such as asbestos.
The victims of Superstorm Sandy have seen enormous loss and devastation. Now, survivors need to recognize the risks of asbestos exposure.
The storm has claimed over 100 lives in the U.S.–mostly in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Over a hundred houses and housing units were destroyed, as witnessed by many news reporters throughout the New York/New Jersey area. We are talking about $62 billion and counting in damage and other losses in the country because of this latest storm.
To put Superstorm Sandy in perspective, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 left $128 billion damage in its wake, adjusted for inflation in 2012 dollars. In the Caribean, Sandy left no less than $315 million in damage.
A 2011 tornado in small town Joplin, Missouri left behind 2,600 tons of asbestos debris.
Contrast that one little community with all of the large communities, including the greater Manhattan area and the sizable New Jersey cities hit by Sandy. Linda Reinstein, president of the nonprofit Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “Do the math, and we can recognize that we have a significant public health risk with Hurricane Sandy.”
Along with schools and buildings, thousands of houses have water and wind damage, causing a spike in risks of exposure to various toxins. Asbestos related injury is one of the greatest concerns. Construction debris and waste likely contain microscopic asbestos fibers. Because these particles are virtually impossible to detect to the naked eye, people can unwittingly breathe it and ingest it. After time, mesothelioma or other severe medical conditions is a common result.
Patients who believe that they may have mesothelioma may now have a new way of confirming their hunch via a blood test. US News & World Reports article earlier this month reported on the blood test, along with a lung fluid test. The lung fluid test looks for a protein in plasma called fibulin-3 that indicates whether a person has mesothelioma, often triggered by asbestos exposure.
The article quotes study author, Dr. Harvey Pass, a professor of thoracic oncology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City: “In the mesothelioma patients, fibulin-3 was four to five times higher than in asbestos-exposed individuals,”
Results of the study appear in the Oct. 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
This cancer originates in the lining of the heart, abdomen, chest, and lungs. Mesothelioma is a disease prevalent among individuals who have worked with asbestos or in locations where exposure to asbestos was likely. Smoking increases the risk of mesothelioma.
The deadly material has been used in manufacturing heat resistant materials, often used for construction/plumbing projects. Asbestos has also been used in automotive/truck parts–most notably the brake components, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Dr. Pass recognized that mesothelioma could take years, if not decades, to developer after asbestos exposure. Often, once diagnosed, mesothelioma patients would face grave prognoses of 1 year or less for survival. Symptoms are coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
An earlier detection by use of a “biomarker” may allow for more effective treatment of mesothelioma.
This week, the Huffington Post reports on the official conclusion of an epoch battle related to asbestos found in the Capitol Hill underground system. Employees who had been exposed to asbsestos for years
The Office of Compliance (OOC) closed out the administrative complaint it filed six years ago. The complaint included claims against the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) for its failure to eliminate safety and health hazards found in 2000. Excessive asbestos and heat as well as falling concrete were cited as hazards that had been discovered over a decade ago in the underground tunnel that provides steam and chilled water to Capitol Hill.
After well over $100 million, the OOC is content in AOC’s fulfillment of its obligations.
However, workers who continue to suffer from the years of exposure to asbestos do not find much to be happy about with the conclusion of OOC’s complaint. They point out that it took about six years from the time when the hazards were revealed before the OOC did anything.
The OOC’s general counsel, Eveleth, said, “Filing the complaint sent a message that we will not put people’s lives at risk in circumstances when employing offices offer no viable solution for abating a very serious hazard.”
A public school’s plans for asbestos abatement have the parents at Cobble Hill Elementary, a public school in Brooklyn ready to occupy the school until their claims are met. Parents were upset, when the school provided little notice about the plans to remove asbestos from the school structure.
Rather than conduct the abatement while the school children are on spring or summer break, the plan is to remove the asbestos after hours each school day. The concern is that the dust produced from the abatement project will needlessly expose the children to harmful fibers known to cause cancer and other serious illnesses.
This Friday, if the school does not change its plan, parents vow to sit in and occupy the school in protest and to prevent the start of this controversial project mid-school year.
In today’s Tri-City Herald, an article reported that the Department of Energy (DOE) is taking additional measures to protect Hanford workers from asbestos. It is heartening to see that the DOE responded to the many workers’ questions and concerns about their safety in Central Hanford.
This past Thursday, union officials and top Hanford officials communicated to all Hanford staff, explaining the steps that they have taken and will take to protect workers from additional asbestos exposure. Hanford employees had expressed worries over materials that containued asbestos but were not yet demolished during the environmental cleanup.
A number of the buildings at Hanford were built with asbestos laden materials pre 1976. Workers, however, voiced concerns about breathing in asbestos fibers that could cause cancer, lung diseases, and other serious illnesses that could go undetected for decades after exposure.
While replacing equipment at Sunny Hill Elementary School in Carpentersville, IL (outside of Chicago), workers identified asbestos in the glue that was used to mount whiteboards.
Officials say the asbestos at Sunny Hill Elementary in Carpentersville was “most likely” not airborne and students were not exposed to it.
“The good news is that the asbestos was not airborne at any time and can be completely and safely contained by putting up new drywall and repainting the four classrooms,” Superintendent Tom Leonard said in a letter to parents.
Thanks to the alert and well trained crew who identified the asbestos in time, to contain the dangerous substance before endangering the health of the students and staff at that school.