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.

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Disease likely to increase thanks to mass poisoning by W.R. Grace

March 24, 2008

Workers exposed to low levels of vermiculite from Libby, Montana more than two decades ago are at an increased risk for lung disease, according to research from the University of Cincinnati (UC).

An article in Science News Daily reported today that:

Workers with low-level exposures to Libby vermiculite ore may not have obvious health effects right away, but the past exposure is something of which their physicians should be aware. Once inhaled, these fibers are very persistent and stay in the lung for a long time. They lodge in the lung tissue and the tissue that lines the chest wall and cause inflammation, which can lead to chronic lung problems and diseases. Records show that until the Montana mine was closed in 1990, it provided up to 80 percent of the world’s vermiculite supply–which was widely used in both commercial and residential applications, including home insulation, packing materials, construction materials and gardening products. Vermiculite ore is now mined from other sources that reportedly do not contain similar asbestos-like mineral fibers.

The chest X-ray changes associated with the low cumulative fiber exposure are a public health concern. The Libby vermiculite ore was widely distributed across the United States for residential and commercial use, which means it could impact not only the workers who processed it but also consumers who used it for home insulation.

The full story is posted here.


Asbestos defendant tries new tack to evade criminal charges

October 8, 2007

Associated Press – October 7, 2007 3:25 PM ET

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) – W.R. Grace is challenging a federal appeals court ruling that restored criminal charges of “knowing endangerment” to the government’s asbestos case against the company.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed or revised six decisions handed down by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula.

Molloy’s decisions dealt a blow to the government’s case and gutted its theory of knowing endangerment — which lies at the core of allegations that top executives intentionally concealed the dangers associated with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mined near Libby.

But a week after the panel ruled in favor of the federal government, attorneys for Grace filed motions indicating the company will fight the decision.

Attorneys for Grace requested more time to petition the court for a rehearing. The extension was granted, giving Grace until November 5th to submit documents arguing the panel erred in its findings of fact. Grace will request a rehearing before the same three-judge panel, before the whole court, or both.

Grace spokesman Greg Euston declined to say what legal basis lawyers are using to develop their argument. He says the company’s petition will speak for itself.

Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com


Asbestos study reveals exceptionally high mortality rate, mesothelioma among women

August 16, 2007

Click here for full Asahi Shimbun story

It was shocking enough to learn two years ago that dozens of workers had died of asbestos-related diseases at the former Kanzaki plant of Kubota Corp. in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture.

Then came word that many residents living or who had lived near the plant were dying from asbestos-related mesothelioma.

There was worse to come.

In May of this year, the Environment Ministry issued its first report on the health hazard, resulting in another “Kubota shock.”

Survey results showed that the mortality rate for women who lived near factories in Amagasaki that used asbestos was an incredible 68.6 times the national average.

Factory risk

Amagasaki has a population of 460,000. As an industrial hub, the city experienced rapid growth in the early Showa Era (1926-1989), during which Japan experienced devastating war and vigorous economic recovery.

The former Kubota plant was located in the Oda district near JR Amagasaki Station, which sprawled 3.3 kilometers east to west, and 2.3 km north to south.

The district is a melange of factories, residential homes and commercial facilities. It is one of the city’s busiest commercial districts.

According to the government survey, the ratio of Amagasaki residents who died from mesothelioma from 2002 to 2004 was 14.5 times higher than the national average for women and 12.1 times higher for men.

The figures were especially high for residents living in the Oda district: 68.6 times the national average for women and 21.1 times that for men.

The figures for the Chuo district, neighboring Oda, were 18.3 times for women and 5.7 times for men. There was a marked tendency for the mortality rate to be higher in areas closest to the factory.

Mesothelioma is an extremely rare form of cancer that can take 40 years to develop after inhaling asbestos fibers. For people who have never been exposed to asbestos, the rate of infection is roughly one or two in 1 million.

The Environment Ministry survey covered some 180,000 people who were tracked down from address records. During the three-year period, 42 had succumbed to mesothelioma.

Doctors suspected that at least 10 deaths were caused by “environmental exposure”–inhaling asbestos particles through the general environment high in atmospheric asbestos concentration.

The fact that women, who rarely work in jobs that expose them to the toxic substance, and who live in the Oda district, had a high mortality rate strongly suggests that the general atmosphere was filled with deadly asbestos fibers.


Baucus threatens EPA subpoenas over Libby asbestos information

August 7, 2007

Montana Sen. Max Baucus threatened Monday to subpoena the Environmental Protection Agency over why asbestos poisoning in Libby, was never declared a public health emergency. Baucus has requested five year-old documents from the agency detailing deliberations over whether it would declare such an emergency. Baucus said such a declaration would have lead to more extensive cleanup and health protections for the town, which is home to the now-closed W.R. Grace & Co. Vermiculite mine. In a speech during a visit to Libby on Monday, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said he would get the documents to Baucus by Aug. 31.

Read the whole story here, including intervention by the White House to prevent EPA from acting: Associated Press, August 7, 2007.

Information about mesothelioma medical and legal options provided by the Law Office of Roger G. Worthington, P.C., www.mesothel.com.


Feds reject board of supervisors’ specious claim, investigate asbestos health claims of SF residents

August 3, 2007

After the Board of Supervisors ruled yesterday against residents’ complaints about health hazards from construction on a former asbestos-containing shipyard site being converted into residential housing, the federal government stepped in to evaluate their claims. Adamant assertions by public health director Mitch Katz that the construction, which kicks up airborne asbestos, is safe, were rejected subject to further investigation.

Residents have suffered adverse health effects, and their suspicions were increased by the fact that compliance was overseen by a consulted employed by the construction firm.

Read here for details: San Francisco Chronicle, August 3, 2007.

Information about mesothelioma medical and legal options provided by the Law Office of Roger G. Worthington, P.C., www.mesothel.com.


Owners of asbestos removal school charged with scam

August 2, 2007

Associated Press, August 2, 2007

A Queens technical school that was supposed to have been training laborers to safely remove asbestos helped hundreds of students cheat on their state certification exams, prosecutors said. The Queens district attorney said the husband and wife owners of the Senagryph Training Facilities gave out answers to anyone who needed them during the tests, including undercover detectives posing as students. In addition, foreign laborers in the country illegally were encouraged to use fraudulent Social Security numbers to obtain their asbestos removal licenses, the prosecutor said.

Information about mesothelioma medical and legal options provided by the Law Office of Roger G. Worthington, P.C., www.mesothel.com.