W.R. Grace tries to define its way out of asbestos poisoning

April 17, 2008

This important news involving WR Grace and asbestos illustrates why the definition, diagnosis, and treatment of asbestosis and asbestos cancers should be on a clinical basis rather than a geological basis. W.R. Grace is trying to escape its liability for poisoning an entire city by claiming that what is asbestos now was not legally asbestos then.

This type of semantic gamesmanship clearly shows why asbestosis and asbestos cancers are what should define asbestos fibers, not a Congressional definition or legislative fiat. When certain materials cause death under defined clinical conditions, they are asbestos. The industry’s disingenuous claim, that even though the substance kills it belongs (or should belong, or might belong, or once belonged) to a different mineralogical nomenclature and is therefore beyond the reach of regulation, is horrific.

Anything less than a complete ban on asbestos continues to hold open the door for death motivated by greed. The asbestos industry plays to win. So must we.


Death rattle for Canadian chrysotile industry?

April 15, 2008

This story from yesterday’s Sherbrooke Record is a must-read for anyone interested in the pathos, misinformation, and outright dishonesty that still drives the asbestos industry. With mere annual sales of 200,000 tons per year, and unable to compete with paragons of worker safety like Russia, Brazil, China, and Zimbabwe, the chrysotile mines in Canada are slated for closing.

This article briefly touches on the dangers of chrysotile, notes that it has been banned worldwide with few exceptions, and closes with a moving discussion of the industry’s efforts to save asbestos mining through the most cynical ploy imaginable: as a crucial aspect of workers’ rights! There are no discussions of other workers’ rights such as health, occupational safety, or the right not to be exposed to lethal carcinogens, which the article grudgingly admits that chrysotile may perhaps possibly be.

For anyone who thinks that the global asbestos industry is dead, this article clearly lines out who the major players are, their strategy for selling in poor countries, and their attempt to circumvent science with fraudulent pretensions to concern for the job security of laborers. Incredible!

California soccer mom in tough match with meso

April 7, 2008

Gloria Serrins is a 54 year-old mother of three beautiful daughters who lives in Mission Viejo with her husband, Phil, to whom she has been married for 31 years. Outgoing, vivacious, and completely dedicated to her family, Gloria now finds herself in a scenario that on one could have predicted.

In July, 2007 Gloria realized that something was wrong with her health. Vigorous, athletic, and normally full of energy, she could feel that something was out of synch, but didn’t know what it was. At first Gloria thought it might be the flu, but that didn’t explain the constant discomfort she felt whenever she was seated.

The discomfort caused her to fidget, and ultimately to have problems sleeping. Since Gloria always slept on her right side, it was too painful to lie down.

Trouble in paradise

Gloria and Phil were approaching their 31st wedding anniversary and he had set up a cruise to Alaska. Normally engaged and excited to be doing things with “the love of her life,” Gloria simply couldn’t muster any excitement about being away from home. The trip was extremely important to Phil so that they could celebrate their marriage, and also because Phil’s father had died at an early age after a lifetime of hard work. “I made up my mind early on that I’d take those extra minutes, hours, and days to be with my family. I miss my father every single day, and vowed that the only thing we really have in life—time—I would share with Gloria and the girls.”

Phil Serrins adores his wife, and he had sacrificed an 80-hour week career track to lead a lifestyle that would let him be there for them. Whether it was the school play, a family weekend trip, or traveling for soccer games, Phil and Gloria pulled together for thirty-one years, always in the same direction, always with the same goals in mind, always bound together by love.

Gloria vowed not to say anything to Phil about the pain because she knew that if he had any inkling, he would cancel the cruise and have her in front of a doctor immediately. The cruise was terrible, with Gloria’s discomfort descending into misery, compounded by an inability to sleep more than a couple of hours each night. Gloria was still afraid to say anything because Phil had developed a pain in his right eye during the trip and she was petrified that they would both be sick at the same time. Unable to withstand the pain any longer, she told Phil when they returned to California, after having endured almost unbearable pain and sleep deprivation on an ocean-bound cruise.

Web detective

Just as she had known he would, Phil whisked Gloria to St. Joseph’s, where a CT scan, MRI, and x-ray revealed spots on her lung. Dr. Brian Palafox was unable to conclusively diagnose, so Phil took charge. He got on the Internet and began consulting with doctors who he knew through his chiropractic practice.

Dr. Palafox affirmed that the only way to get a conclusive diagnosis was via a tissue biopsy. On Oct. 15 Gloria went in for surgery and, and the surgeon performed the biopsy and a talc pleurodesis. Subsequent immunohistochemical staining confirmed mesothelioma, biphasic type. When the Serrins learned that the oncologist recommended by Dr. Palafox only saw one mesothelioma case per year, they decided to continue looking.

Gloria was diagnosed with bi-phasic pleural mesothelioma on October 16, 2007.

Following her diagnosis, Gloria consulted with Dr. Cameron in Los Angeles, and Dr. Rusch and Dr. Pass in New York. All three surgeons determined that Gloria as not a candidate for surgery because of the cell type and advanced stage of her disease. Gloria began treating with one of the nation’s leading medical oncologists, Dr. Vogelzang at the Nevada Caner Institute in Las Vegas.

Despite an aggressive and arduous regimen of chemotherapy, Gloria consulted with Dr. Cameron again after her doctors determined that the Alimta/cisplatin regimen was not working. Unfortunately, she was still ineligible for surgery. Although a different chemo cocktail showed no progression of the tumor, it failed to show that the tumor had shrunk, either.

Chemotherapy has been discontinued, and five weeks from now she will do another CT scan to look into additional treatment. Gloria is struggling her hardest to keep the cancer at bay.

An American family

Gloria was born in 1953 in Goeppening, Germany, the daughter of a U.S. WWII army veteran and a German national. Her father, Francisco “Frank” Carillo, brought the family to the U.S. that same year, and the family relocated in southern California.

Gloria and Phil’s first daughter, Ricki-Ann, was born in1980. The family moved to Mission Viejo because Phil was studying to be a chiropractor. Gloria and Phil’s second daughter, Stacy, was born in 1981, and their daughter Lindsey was born in 1984. After Lindsey’s birth, Gloria became a full time housewife.

The dynamic and loving Serrins family has been built in large part by the unstinting love and devotion of Gloria. The unique character of each daughter was carefully nurtured so that each grew up to be a mature and responsible adult. Ricki-Ann loved being outside, and never played with dolls but liked sports, bikes, and action. Ricki-Ann played little league baseball as the only girl on her team, and later became an accomplished soccer player. Stacy loved play with Gloria’s jewelry, makeup, and clothing. At age three she entered dance school, and learned tap and ballet. Gloria would drive Ricki-Ann to soccer practice and Stacy to dance class and had to coordinate the transportation so no time was wasted. Stacy danced until she was twelve. The family never missed going to one of Stacy’s recitals.

Like her older sisters, Lindsey was always busy with sports and dance, and Gloria spent all her time taking care of the three girls. Gloria would volunteer at the girls’ elementary school until eventually she was at the school every single day. With three daughters at the same school at the same time, she helped the teachers any way she could. Gloria took care of other children as well, and when she became familiar with the kids and their parents she’d set aside Friday as the day to take her daughters and their friends to lunch at Taco Bell. The kids loved having Gloria in the classroom, and Phil would often come by the school on his lunch break. The daughters loved having their parents around at school.
Ricki-Ann graduated from the University of Maryland on a soccer scholarship.

Ricki-Ann is an assistant soccer coach at Tulane University in New Orleans. Stacy attended Santa Barbara City College where she studied art and dance. Stacy graduated from beauty college and works as an esthetician at the Montage Resort at Laguna Beach. Lindsey was recruited to UCLA for their crew team, and graduated in 2005 as a history major. She now works as an elementary school teacher in New Orleans, near her older sister. All three daughters attribute their success to their nurturing, involved, and tireless mother. Gloria’s devotion and dedication to her family, and her extraordinary toughness, are exemplified best when she says, with no trace of pride, “All three of my girls were natural childbirths. I didn’t want it any other way.”

After thirty-one years of marriage, Gloria and Phil have grown together spiritually and emotionally. They both love to garden and spend their weekends together in the yard. With numerous flowers in the yard, the centerpiece is Gloria’s rose garden. Gloria loves crafts, decorating, wildlife, and dogs. She has a blue-gold macaw that chatters gregariously in their home, and two Australian shepherds, Berkeley and Mac. She and Phil love to take their daily promenade around the neighborhood, and they enjoy walking along the nearby nature trails and wilderness areas.

“Gloria always kept things in check and kept me on track,” Phil says in disbelief, shaking his head at the catastrophic calamity that has befallen his family. “She was the one who was reasoned and even-handed with the kids. She never rushes to judgment or breezes past things. Gloria sees life, where most people just run through it. If she’s on skis, she won’t race down the mountain, but will stop and look at the trees and the animals, and even at the snow. We go to movies all the time. While the kids were growing up it was about Gloria being there to see them and raise them. We went to every school function, not just to be supportive but to be together. And now…” his voice trails off, “…this.”

PHLBI announces position on asbestos ban legislation

April 4, 2008

The following announcement was released by the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute today regarding the pending asbestos ban legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives:

The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute unanimously supports a complete ban on asbestos-containing products and adequate funding for research on asbestos-related diseases. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s draft bill, currently referred to as the “committee print,” is the best vehicle to address a true ban and provide meaningful funding.

Public health concerns should prevail

We support the committee print’s ban on all asbestos containing products. We explicitly reject the “less than one-percent” exemption, which would allow the continued use of asbestos as long as this toxic mineral is less than one percent by product weight. Such an exemption would allow industry to include one pound of lethal asbestos in a 100-pound bag of insulation. This one-percent exemption would perpetuate the misery of the asbestos disease epidemic and is indefensible on public health policy grounds.

We support the committee print’s broad, effective asbestos ban as the first federal legislation that recognizes what scientists have known for decades: there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. The committee print’s broad ban also reinforces the fact that there is no scientific or public health basis for allowing the one-percent exemption. The committee print also authorizes government-funded compliance testing of products in American markets, which will safeguard against machinations by industry to dodge the ban.

The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute supports the existing committee print as the most effective, science-based standard for effectively banning asbestos. Asbestos is responsible for the worst occupational health epidemic in our country’s history. We have seen no compelling health-based reason to support an exemption that would, in our view, only perpetuate the asbestos health epidemic. Sadly, the exemption is a stark reminder of the asbestos industry’s dark history of fabricating scientific research, stifling work safety regulation, and putting profits over people.

Research funding for treatment and a cure

The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute supports asbestos ban legislation that includes funding for asbestos disease research. A ban must be accompanied by significant resources for public awareness, for better treatment and for finding a cure.

We support unified efforts to draft meaningful research legislation that will be merged with the committee print’s current ban provisions. The committee print, with its ban provisions and its still undrafted research provision, offers an unparalleled chance for advocates and scientists to obtain, for the first time ever, enormous financial resources to better treat and ultimately cure asbestos diseases. The House subcommittee responsible for drafting these research provisions is already at work. The time is ripe for advocates to unite and work with the House to consolidate and strengthen these crucial research provisions.

The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute supports provisions that:

1.    Establish a competitive peer review grant program with targeted research priorities such as biological therapies, multi-modal therapies, prevention, biomarkers, and pain management;
2.    Fund centers of research and treatment excellence from coast to coast;
3.    Fund a database, registry and tissue bank;
4.    Create an asbestos surveillance and public awareness program;
5.    Appropriate $100 million over the first five years, divided between the National Institute of Health, the Center for Disease Control, and the Veterans Administration. We note that about 1/3 of all victims of mesothelioma in the U.S. were exposed while serving in the navy or naval shipyards.

The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute believes that the opportunity for a united front is extraordinary. By working together with victims and their families, groups such as the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, doctors, advocates, cancer research institutes, and national centers for excellence, we can—here and now—draft legislation to fully fund mesothelioma research while also supporting an effective ban as spelled out in the existing committee print.

Now versus later

The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute supports the committee print’s statutory approach to an asbestos ban, and rejects the rulemaking approach used in previous attempts to ban asbestos. Statutory bans have a proven track record with toxic materials such as PCBs and DDT.

We urge all stakeholders to join with us in helping influence research funding provisions, which have yet to be crafted in the House’s draft bill. Working together to write an improved bill in the House will provide a superior version to the Senate bill, which will face robust opposition in conference committee due to its unconscionable one-percent exemption. After a century of death and disease, the time for delay is past. Our board supports an immediate, unambiguous ban with research funding commensurate with the scope of the asbestos health epidemic today.


The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute is a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation composed of physicians, patients, and advocates dedicated to the eradication of diseases of the heart, lungs, and blood. PHLBI conducts innovative research to benefit future generations.

Phone: (310) 478-4678 | Fax: (310) 988-2693
1615 Westwood Blvd., Suite 204
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Email: info@phlbi.org

Extraordinary presentation by Terry Lynch, international VP, heat and frost insulators’ union

April 3, 2008

Click here to read this moving speech and powerful, powerful presentation that was given at the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s 4th annual conference in Detroit. The PDF file opens on the last page, so be sure to scroll up to the beginning.

More summaries from ADAO’s annual conference

April 3, 2008

Thanks to Jessica Like of the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute for these additional summaries.

Session 4: Global Contamination and Advocacy
Barry Castleman, ScD, Environmental Consultant
U.S. Developments: Legal/ Judicial

Dr. Barry Castleman is without doubt the utmost authority on asbestos – its use or rather abuse – and its hazardous effects on humanity.  Dr. Castleman quickly summarized the developments on the Ban Asbestos Act which was unanimously passed through the Senate in October 2007.  What later came to light were significant changes amounting to asbestos allowance in products up to 1% by weight and providing no limitations on liability for those companies using asbestos in products.  Giving the audience some enlightenment on the legislative process, Dr. Castleman speculated that the bans changes may have appeased the committee in charge of sand and gravel amongst other appeasements in order to pass unanimously.

He reiterated the need for reasonable substitutes to be enacted quickly and better analysis to determine the presence of asbestos. In a humorous aside to the audience, Dr. Castleman asked for any insight on two specific lines in the ban which apparently have everyone baffled as to what the language actually means.  Due to time constraints, Dr. Castleman summarized his points quickly and it was unfortunate there was not more time to hear his opinions on the ban.

Dr. Bishakha Ghose, Head, Department of Community Medicine BGC Trust Medical College Chandanaish Chittagong, Bangladesh
Asbestos in Shipbreaking: A Deadly Reality in Bangladesh

US citizens have a reputation from remaining unaware of how our actions affect people throughout the world.  Dr. Ghose brought the message home to us as she discussed shipbreaking, a common job for workers in Bangladesh which brings retired ships into the shallow harbors and ports in order to slowly break them apart and reuse the materials.  Images of shoeless workers with white dust up to their knees and in their hair standing on beaches in front of ships whose hulls had been cracked apart by the workers flew across the screen.

Clearly these laborers who perform no easy task are largely exposed to asbestos, but Dr. Ghose informed the audience that the country does not acknowledge asbestos-related diseases and maintains that the work is safe and good stimulus for the economy.   More emphasis should be placed on the far-reaching affects of asbestos products.  We may be well aware of first-hand and second-hand exposure to smoking but with asbestos, everyone who comes into contact is at risk – first, second, third, fourth-hand exposure, etc. is just as deadly.

Robert Jones, Environmental Researcher Rhodes University
Trail of Tears: South African Communities at Risk from Environmental Exposures

A few years ago Robert Jones transplanted his family from Maryland to South Africa, a mid-life crisis he jokes.  But Mr. Jones decided to study and bring awareness to the environmental exposures South African communities are facing with asbestos.

Poignant pictures of small children in asbestos-laden schools, walking along asbestos-contaminated roads, to return home to their asbestos-filled homes highlighted the health risks many of these communities face.  Crocidolite, blue asbestos, is visible among the paths that locals use daily.  The rampant asbestos contamination (strewn across thousands of square kilometers) is due in part to the poor containment strategies of local mines and also the inadequate planning of local communities.  As an example, Mr. Jones referred to a school with known asbestos contamination that was slowly deconstructed brick by brick, scattered among the soil which was the site of the new school that took its place, hardly effective removal of the asbestos from that environment.

Mr. Jones is working with the community to create a safer environment and a better knowledge of the extant of the environmental hazards.

Laurie Kazan-Allen, Coordinator, International Ban Asbestos Secretariat
Global Panorama 2008

It would be impossible to miss the energetic Laurie Kazan-Allen anywhere, and she was in her element at the conference.  Ms. Allen is the Coordinator for the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, providing a conduit for information exchange between groups and individuals working to achieve a global asbestos ban and seeking to alleviate the damage caused by widespread asbestos use.

Quick to point out how asbestos industries have controlled the information on asbestos-related diseases, Ms. Allen quoted an article where an industry employee reiterated that asbestos does not cause health problems.  Her passion to raise awareness about asbestos and the despicable actions by companies who knowingly cover up the harmful effects of asbestos is unmatched.

Killing the Future

Ms. Allen works tirelessly to bring about a global ban and she updated the audience on a recent successful conference in Brazil where she was instrumental in bringing groups together to discuss the problems of asbestos and brainstorm solutions.  She praised the work of Dr. Barry Castleman, as well, a well established authority on asbestos and outspoken advocate who may be glimpsed at any asbestos conference around the nation.  Ms. Allen’s latest compilation, “Killing the Future: Asbestos Use in Asia” exposes the far reaching devastation of asbestos throughout Asia and is an eye-opener for anyone who has never stopped to wonder what happens to asbestos-contaminated products circulated throughout the world or sent abroad to be destroyed.

Paul Zygielbaum letter to Congress regarding Ban Asbestos Act

April 3, 2008

Advocate, mesothelioma survivor, and businessman Paul Zygielbaum’s fax to the House Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials. Click here to read the Zygielbaum Letter to Congress.