Pipefitter Wins $3.5 Million in Asbestos Settlement

A man who worked as a pipefitter in Nevada and Northern California has won a $3.5 million settlement after developing mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs and is caused by exposure to toxic asbestos.

According to a recent press release by the lawyers who represented Franklin Ham, the plaintiff was able to recall the names of the manufacturers of many of the products and also the names of the companies that supplied the products to his employers. Suits were filed against several of these companies, resulting in a total compensation reward of $3.5 million. All but one company settled out of court before the start of a trial, according to the release.

The remaining company, a Nevada insulation supplier is an inactive corporation. However, they are still liable for harm. The law firm representing Mr. Ham has filed a default judgment against them in the amount of $2.6 million. The insurance company for the inactive corporation refused to participate in the lawsuit even though it was given ample notice and opportunity to do so.

The plaintiff is a retired union pipe fitter who worked for various companies throughout western Nevada and Northern California prior to the asbestos warnings of the mid 1970s. He was recently diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a disease which strikes about 3,000 Americans each year. The disease is always fatal and patients usually die within 3 to 6 months of diagnosis.

Fear of Asbestos Exposure Closes Ohio University Building

A construction accident at Brasee Hall on Ohio University’s Lancaster Campus closed the building last week due to fears that those who entered might be exposed to airborne asbestos fibers.

According to an account in the Lancaster (OH) Eagle-Gazette, workers for an outside contractor were installing new stair treads in a stairwell of Brasee Hall late Friday morning, August 24, when they accidentally sanded some floor tiles. The sanding could have released asbestos into the air, said Jennifer LaRue, a spokeswoman for the university.

“Immediately, activity stopped because we did not know what we were dealing with,” LaRue said. “Dean Janosik made the decision to close the building because she wanted to be cautious and allay any concerns.”

Though there were no classes scheduled for the hall on Friday or over the weekend, the university posted warning signs at the building’s main entrance and sent emails to the entire student, staff, and faculty population, informing them of the potential asbestos contamination.

The school immediately notified a private environmental company to begin performing air quality tests. Those tests revealed the material did contain asbestos but found no evidence of the mineral in the air. The new stair treads should stop this problem from happening again because they will contain the asbestos, according to LaRue.

“I am pleased that the air quality tests came out negative,” David Hopka, assistant vice president of safety and risk management, said in a press release Monday.

EPA Conducting Asbestos Sampling at Superfund Site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that they recently completed activity-based asbestos sampling work at the South Bay Asbestos Superfund Site in Alviso, California, in the San Francisco Bay area.

“We are sampling in order to determine if there is any potential for significant exposure to asbestos from normal dust-generating activities, such as driving a vehicle or bicycling said Eric Yunker, the EPA project manager for the site.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that “the testing is rekindling memories of 24 years ago, when asbestos was first found in levees, parking lots and former dump sites in the small, largely Latino community on the city’s northern edges. The discovery eventually led the EPA to declare all of Alviso a federal Superfund site in 1986.

Though the EPA reports that most of the clean-up was completed by 1993, the tests conducted last week were done with modern equipment that is more sensitive and can measure asbestos levels more accurately. The EPA also notes that if persistent levels of asbestos are found in the air, the tests could “trigger years of new cleanup efforts.

Instead of taking soil samples as in the past or sampling air from stationary monitors, explains the newspaper account, EPA crews rode ATVs, raked dirt, ran on sports fields behind George Mayne Elementary School, and rode bicycles, all while wearing sensitive measuring devices.

“We’ll be basically kicking up dust that’s found in town, ”Yunker said last week. “We aren’t introducing or concentrating materials that aren’t already here. We won’t be doing anything that increases health risk.” “We’re here to confirm that the clean-up activities we did are still protective of public health,” Yunker stressed.

Deutsche Bank Employee Says Boss Said OK to Asbestos Gear

A former Deutsche Bank building asbestos worker told the New York Daily News that she quit her job at the site near the former World Trade Center because her boss berated her for wearing an asbestos mask to protect herself.

Helen Rocos claims that she and other employees who were chosen to search for bone fragments amid rubble on the top of the building were assured that the roof had already been cleaned of asbestos. So, she says, they sifted through the rubble in ordinary clothes without benefit of respirators or other standard-issue asbestos gear.

“They told us they got rid of the asbestos, but as I’m digging, I’m thinking, ‘How did they magically get rid of the asbestos, but still leave all this healthy dirt behind?’” said Rocos, 57, a tough-talking certified asbestos handler with haz-mat training.

Rocos claims that after working at the site for several hours during the first morning of the job, she came back after lunch with an asbestos mask on her face. She describes her boss as furious.

“He yelled, ‘Helen! Take that mask off your face! You are spooking everybody, spooking the people from the medical examiner’s office!’” Rocos recalled.

“I said, ‘No!’ I said I doubted they could clean the asbestos on the roof and leave all this other dirt untouched. You had people picking through the dirt for bones, then getting up and eating a Dunkin’ Donut, licking their fingers,” she said. “It was insane.”

Her supervisor at Bovis Lend Lease then referred to her as a loudmouth and troublemaker in front of her fellow employees and suggested she switch to a cloth mask rather than a respirator.

Rocos claims other working conditions were substandard as well, including the lack of running water, which made it impossible to wash up before lunch, and the lack of working toilets. She says the mask incident was the last straw, so she quit.

Shortly after Rocos quit, the Environmental Protection Agency suspended the search for bone fragments because the roof was “not properly cleaned” and asbestos particles were discovered in the dust, officials said.

Judge Trying to End Stalemate in WR Grace Asbestos Case

An article in the Washington Post reports that a bankruptcy judge on Thursday cut off W.R. Grace’s exclusive control of the bankruptcy case, opening up the possibility of competing Chapter 11 proposals for the specialty chemical conglomerate.

According to the article, Judge Judith Fitzgerald of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., granted a motion by lawyers for asbestos claimants, who have been unable to reach an agreement with company. The Columbia, Md.-based company has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy since 2001 and faces myriad asbestos exposure claims.

“Termination of exclusivity will facilitate moving the case toward conclusion by changing the dynamics for negotiation while permitting (Grace) to continue to operate their business, resolve claims and participate in negotiations,” the judge wrote.

W.R. Grace reports that it has already spent in excess of $23 million during the second quarter of 2007 for legal defense in the federal case against 7 Grace executives who are accused of failure to warn employees of the risks of working at Grace’s various facilities, where hundreds were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis. Many of these employees have filed lawsuits as have scores of people who live in the communities surrounding Grace’s vermiculite mines and Zonolite plants, who were also affected by the inhalation of asbestos fibers that permeated the air.

Virginia Apartment Complex Evacuated Due to Asbestos

Four buildings at the Oyster Point Place Apartments in Newport News, Virginia have been evacuated after apartment owners discovered they were contaminated with asbestos.

A story on WWEC-TV stated that tenants in all four buildings in question found a letter hanging from their doorknobs Thursday that told them their walls and ventilation systems were clogged with asbestos, a known cancer-causing agent.

There was no knock on the door, like, Hey we need to talk about this, recalled Twane Shelton, who has only lived at Oyster Point for three weeks. “It was very, very, very sneaky.”

Shelton and his roommate say they aren’t very surprised at the turn of events. They say management placed them into a filthy apartment when they moved in on July 10th.

An inspection of the complex by the TV station revealed an unlocked apartment downstairs where they found plastic sheeting and asbestos warning signs just feet away from the rooms Shelton and his roommate Ryan Spiker call home.

The young men say they believe they were duped into moving into an unhealthy building and complex.

“If they know about it now, they knew about it before, said Spiker. “It’s not right we weren’t warned about this before we moved in here.”

Spiker and Shelton say they scrimped to gather enough cash to move into Oyster Point Place and now don’t have enough to live elsewhere.

“We’re gonna be homeless, you know, said Spiker.

Management at Oyster Point Place said they had no comment about the situation.

Illinois Judges Say Asbestos Cases on Rise

The docket in Madison County (IL) Circuit Court is quickly filling up with asbestos cases, reports the Madison County Record. The circuit court, which is home to many cases filed by out-of-state cases, has seen a significant rise in asbestos cases this year as compared to the 2006 calendar year.

Circuit Judge Daniel Stack, the county’s presiding asbestos judge, said he has no idea why asbestos cases are increasing this year and is not concerned with the upsurge just yet. But he does note that 227 cases were filed in Madison County prior to June 30th of this year while only 325 cases were filed during the entire 2006 year.

“No judge wants his docket to increase,” Stack said. “As long as the (asbestos) cases are appropriate and belong here, the increase does not bother me,” he adds, noting that such cases topped 800 in 2002 and reached nearly 1,000 in 2003.

Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis also did not express alarm at the apparent increase in asbestos filings, noting that Stack is handling the huge docket with skill.

Stack notes that he believes the increase is caused by the filing of more secondary exposure cases, which allege that a plaintiff who may not have worked with the toxic material directly was exposed due to their relationship with someone who perhaps brought home toxic dust on their clothes.

PBS Show about Asbestos-Ridden Libby to Air

The Public Broadcasting System has announced the airing on their popular show P.O.V. (Point of View) of a documentary entitled Libby, Montana, profiling the worse case of community-wide exposure to a toxic substance in U.S. history.

The film, which will air on August 28th at 10 pm, has been touted by Mother Earth magazine as An incisive and unrelenting portrayal of a small northern mining town’s codependent and ultimately tragic 40-year relationship with the company that sustained it. (Colin Chisholm) and the Illinois Times dubs it worthy of Oscar consideration.

Libby, Montana takes a long working day’s journey into a blue-collar community, and finds a different reality one where the American Dream exacts a terrible price, reads the description of the documentary on the PBS website.

The film does an effective job of showing what the company and the government knew about the health threat but failed to reveal to the residents, continues the Illinois Times review by Marc Sigoloff. Because vermiculite is used in so many products, including insulation, Libby’s story affects millions of Americans who may have been or will be exposed.

The documentary will be released in theaters on a very limited basis but will eventually be available nationwide on DVD.

Airport Worker Receives Asbestos Payout

A British man who was employed at London’s Heathrow Airport for more than 30 years has received a six figure sum in compensation for his recent mesothelioma diagnosis and the expenses that accompany the disease.

According to an article in Legal and Medical Online Magazine, the man, who remains unnamed, was from the Middlesex region of England and worked at the airport as a maintenance fitter and boiler house supervisor from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. His lawyer notes that during this time, he was exposed to asbestos dust and fibers from pipe and boiler lagging, which he handled frequently. The gentleman was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a fatal asbestos-caused cancer, in 2006.

The British High Court found that the airport failed to provide the man with adequate respiratory protection and had negligently exposed him to asbestos. In return, he was awarded a sum of £165,000.

Helen Jones, a representative for the plaintiff, said: “Mesothelioma is a devastating disease…it is only right that people who develop it are fully and fairly compensated.”

The victim replied: I have been able to gain some benefit from the compensation and I can now be sure my wife will be finally secure in the future.

Illinois Senator Wants Answers about Asbestos-laden Beaches

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), concerned about the recent story questioning the safety of local beaches, has asked to meet with federal, state and local officials to discuss asbestos pollution at Illinois Beach State Park near Zion and possible contamination at other area beaches.

The senator was tipped off about the asbestos-ridden beaches when a local news station revealed a report from an official of the Environmental Protection Agency, stating that “significantly elevated” levels of asbestos were discovered on the park’s beaches during air monitoring tests last summer.

According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, Durbin issued a press release which stated that he wants a clear understanding about any potential threats of asbestos [at Illinois State Beach.

Others are also concerned about the state of the beach. The Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society says that park officials are shirking their duties and failing to clean up the asbestos debris that washes up on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

An official with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the park, told the newspaper that one person, one day per week, currently clears the beach. Last year, an attorney general’s task force recommended the beach be swept three times per week during heavy summer beach traffic.