Possible Asbestos Exposure at Indiana High School

Indiana’s Department of Labor (DOL) has begun an investigation to determine whether or not workers at Muncie’s Central High School were exposed to asbestos during renovations that took place last year.

According to an article in The Star Press, the DOL is conducting a “health-related investigation centered around work practices and procedures of contractors at Central High School,” said DOL spokesman Sean Keefer. “It will be two or three weeks before the investigation is closed.”

The DOL notes that an asbestos complaint was filed on May 14th but does not state by whom it was filed. The notice complained that employees of contractors were not provided results of air sampling for asbestos and that these same employees were not allowed to observe air monitoring for asbestos. Also, air sample results provided by the school’s representative were falsified. For example, notes the complaint, results were provided for April 16 and 17, but no samples were collected on either of those days.

For now, construction has been halted in some of the rooms, and spare rooms are being used for classes originally set to take place in those rooms that are currently unusable. However, school officials maintain that students are not in danger.

There’s no reason to believe any students were exposed, said Marlin Creasy, superintendent of Muncie Community Schools. There was never any allegation that students were exposed to anything.

“It’s a safety issue,” said principal Dick Daniel. “They (workers) are saying there is one area where more (asbestos) abatement needs to happen before they continue working.”

The labor department is not accusing the school system of any violations, said Bill Reiter, director of facilities and operations for the school system. “In fact, they indicated they were very satisfied with us in terms of our records and information,” Reiter said.

Testing last week showed no asbestos in the air at Central High School, Reiter said, adding that testing is now being done by a different company to eliminate any further problems with falsification of test results.

Asbestos-Laden Subway Cars Dumped in Ocean

More than 600 New York subway cars will find a new life in the Atlantic Ocean, many near the Jersey shore, New York City Transit officials announced last week.

According to a report in Newsday, these 17-ton cars, all of which are lined with asbestos and some of which have been in use for more than 40 years, will be finding a new home as artificial reefs deep in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Garden State and several other states along the Eastern Seaboard.

“They create a cave-like structure that let young hatchlings mature,” said Mike Zacchea, a self-described reef dean for New York City Transit who is also an assistant chief of operations. “Within 30 days, marine life attaches to the car body.”

NYC Transit has been participating in this practice sine 2001, though “ in the beginning“ there was much debate with environmental groups in regards to the dumping of asbestos-containing vehicles into the ocean. So the state EPA took some time to study the impact the submerged cars would have on aquatic life. The department announced last week that the cars offer a durable habitat and pose negligible impacts on the environment, a spokeswoman said.

However, environmentalists still aren’t convinced. Transit officials, on the other hand, see the dumping of the cars as a great money-saving strategy. If transit otherwise scrapped them, the agency pointed out that removing asbestos from those cars would cost $27 million in additional funds.

Firefighter’s Wife Dies of Asbestos Disease

The wife of a firefighter in Nunthorpe, Ireland has died of mesothelioma caused by secondhand exposure to asbestos.

The Sunday Sun reports that Kathleen Thompson, age 54, developed the aggressive asbestos-caused cancer due to her exposure to asbestos dust brought home on the clothes of her husband Alan, age 56, who has worked most of his adult life as a firefighter in the town.

An inquest stated that Mrs. Thompson’s disease was almost certainly caused by exposure to asbestos dust from the firehouse. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a cancer which attacks the lining of the lungs and causes a quick and painful death.

In a statement read at the inquest, Mr. Thompson said that at the fire station in Middlesbrough, where he previously worked, there was a large pipe in the basement which was lagged with asbestos. He added that the firefighters used to hang their gear in the basement, where they would spend a lot of their time.

Mr. Thompson also reported that the lagging on the pipe was ripped and left hanging, and that workers would often sweep up the asbestos left lying around on the floors. The dust also gathered on other items stored in the basement.

Mr. Thompson said he was not surprised at the outcome of the inquest, assuming that his wife had developed the disease due to his work at the firehouse.

Asbestos Organization to Hold Conference on Asbestos Products

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) has announced that it will hold a press conference next week to discuss landmark findings from ADAO and the Scientific Analytical Institute that reveal asbestos in everyday products including children’s toys, appliances, hardware & household goods and home & garden items.

According to a press release from the organization, the conference will be held at Washington D.C.’s National Press Club on Friday, October 5th and will include statements by expert speakers including Sean Fitzgerald, president of the Scientific Analytical Institute; and Richard A. Lemen, Ph.D., Former Deputy Director and Acting Director, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Assistant Surgeon General. Linda Reinstein, the co-founder and executive director of ADAO will also speak.

The press conference will present the first findings of the study and will include specific product examples, analyses on the dangers of asbestos exposure, and data on the new, younger profile of asbestos victims, notes the press release.

The ADAO, formed in 2004 by asbestos victims and their families, continues to work with members of Congress, including Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash), to fight for a total ban on asbestos in the U.S. The organization is staffed by volunteers and funded by voluntary contributions.

Widow of Air National Guard Member Wins Asbestos Compensation

A state Supreme Court ruled that the widow of a Connecticut Air National Guard member who died of an asbestos-related disease will receive workers compensation benefits.

Rita M. Fredette, from Windsor Locks, CT, won the right to the benefits after a long struggle with the state. Her husband had worked for 32 years as an aircraft mechanic for the Guard, reports an article in the Journal Inquirer. He died in 2003 at age 65 of complications caused by asbestosis.

“The case turned on the interrelationship of two provisions in the state’s workers compensation law setting different deadlines for filing claims,” explains the article. “The issue was technical and legally complex, but the state Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Rita Fredette filed her claim on time because it came less than three years after her husband’s diagnosis with asbestosis of the lung.”

Whether or not asbestos was the cause of Fredette’s death was also an issue in the compensation claim. The aircraft mechanic, for years a heavy smoker, was suffering from both emphysema and pneumothorax. Smoking is the major cause of emphysema, though Fredette says he quit in 1990. On his death certificate, asbestosis was listed as “Other significant conditions: Conditions contributing to death but not related to cause.”

Secondhand Asbestos Suits Continue to Increase

An article posted on Law.com points out that the number of lawsuits stemming from “take-home” or secondhand asbestos exposure continues to grow, especially as states pass laws which allow families of workers who inadvertently bring asbestos home on clothes to file their own claims against the employer.

According to the article, the increase in number is largely due to lawsuits brought about by women who were exposed while performing household tasks, such as laundry, for husbands, fathers, and grandfathers who worked with asbestos-containing materials on a daily basis.

“We are absolutely seeing more of these take-home cases,” said James Nowak, who defends companies in toxic tort cases and is currently handling a number of lawsuits concerning asbestos taken home from the workplace.

“I think that in regard to the take-home cases, [the courts] are leaning towards the plaintiffs bar,” Nowak said.

Attorney Timothy Corriston of New Jersey says that “at the heart of these cases is determining whether secondhand exposure is sufficient enough to cause a disease.”

Meanwhile, he added, employers are concerned about this new frontier of asbestos litigation “because it opens up a whole other class of potential plaintiffs.”

Other attorneys, however, say the admission of guilt in secondhand cases is important and that the suits are long overdue.

“Essentially, this is an emerging issue within toxic tort litigation,” said Matthew Bergman, who recently won a take-home case appeal in Washington.

“In Washington, prior to this latest ruling, different trial courts had reached different results. A number of trial courts had said an employer has no legal duty to family members of employees, even if it should know that the employees’ families face a risk of exposure.”

Bergman’s case involved a man who worked at a paper mill and his wife, who washed his clothes daily and died in 2004 of mesothelioma. The lawsuit blamed her death on cancerous materials brought into the home from her husband’s workplace.

According to Bergman, Kimberly Clark Corp., the owner of the mill, had successfully argued in a lower court that it had no duty of care to the woman because the potential for harm was not foreseeable.

But the Washington Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s ruling, holding that “Kimberly Clark had a duty to prevent injury from an unreasonable risk of harm it had itself created.”

“It is clearly an issue of first impression in the state of Washington,” Bergman said of the ruling. “It paves the way for more meritorious claims.”

Pemetrexed Shows Promise in Treating Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Data presented at the 14th Europe Cancer Conference demonstrated that the chemotherapy drug pemetrexed alone or in tandem with a platinum agent shows good overall response and disease control rates in patients with peritoneal mesothelioma.

According to an article in Doctors Guide, the study for which the data was reported included 109 patients with “a histologic or cytologic diagnosis of peritoneal mesothelioma that was not amenable to curative surgery and was treated with pemextrexed alone or in combination with a platinum agent.”

“Malignant peritoneal mesothelioma is a rare cancer, with a yearly incidence of about one or two cases per million in the U.S. and Europe, while the incidence of pleural mesothelioma is 3- to 30-fold higher in different countries, said study presenter Giacomo Carteni, MD, Director, Oncology Division, Cardarelli Hospital, Naples, Italy.

Dr. Carteni noted that few studies have been done specifically regarding the peritoneal type of mesothelioma so, historically, doctors treating peritoneal mesothelioma patients have had to rely on data gathered for trials featuring patients with pleural mesothelioma.

In the trial, pemetrexed 500 mg/m2 alone or in combination with cisplatin 75 mg/m2 or carboplatin AUC 5 was given on day 1 of each 21-day treatment cycle as part of this Expanded Access Program (EAP). All patients received standard supplementation with vitamin B12 and folic acid, and dexamethasone for prophylaxis.

Patients were treated until they developed progressive disease or unacceptable toxicity, or until the investigator or patient decided to halt treatment.

According to the article, pemetrexed and platinum combination was associated with a 20% or greater response rate and a 76% or greater disease control rate. Patients in the single-agent platinum group had a 12.5% overall response rate, a 50% disease control rate, and a 41.5% survival rate at 1 year.

“This is in line with their worse prognostic factors like higher median age, higher percent of patients who had undergone prior chemotherapy, and lower performance status at baseline,” Dr. Carteni said.

Results proved to be similar in a pemetrexed EAP conducted in the United States by drug manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company.

Agency Says Asbestos Levels Low at Old Hunters Point Shipyard

A report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) say that grading operations at the former site of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in the San Francisco Bay area “do not pose a significant long-term health threat” to residents who live in the neighborhood.

According to an article penned by Associated Content, tests in the area showed that asbestos levels around the site were considerably low, according to the report. Residents had raised concerns about the dangers of the dust circulating through the air at the site, caused by the construction. The serpentine rock under the construction site is known to contain asbestos, so consequently, nearby residents believed that the construction was disturbing the rock and sending asbestos particles through the air.

The tests were conducted by both California Department of Health and the San Francisco Department of Health. An independent environmental consulting firm also took part in the testing.

The report contained several observations including:

– Major grading lasted only 18 months. In order for a person to develop cancer as a result of asbestos, that individual would have to be exposed daily, 24 hours per day for a period of 70 years to 16,000 asbestos f/m3 or higher.

– The air monitoring data that was collected at the site were well below the suspension level for airborne asbestos dust.

– According to some scientists, Chrysotile, the naturally occurring asbestos found at the site, is one of the least toxic forms of the mineral.

– The length of the asbestos fibers found in the dust at Parcel A are shorter than the 5 micron length usually associated with asbestos-related cancer.

More Asbestos Released from Boston Steampipe

The Boston Globe reports that the company hired to clean up the debris from a burst Boston steampipe last week was fired after a mishap they caused released yet more asbestos into the air. City officials also reported that they learned after the company was hired that they were not licensed to handle the toxic material.

According to the article, workers from Walton Systems International were using the wrong type of truck to vacuum asbestos from beneath Otis Street when city inspectors visited the site last Wednesday night, according to Steve MacDonald, a spokesman for the Boston Fire Department.

The visit by inspectors was prompted by a report that a faulty filtration system in a vacuum excavator released debris contaminated with trace amounts of asbestos during clean-up proceedings last Tuesday night.

A spokeswoman for Trigen Boston Energy Corp., which operates a 22-mile network of steam pipes beneath the city, said that Trigen had hired LVI Services to clean up the area after a pipe burst on September 11th, sending brown mud-like debris into the streets. The debris contained asbestos. In turn, LVI subcontracted the work to Walton Systems, who was not licensed to carry out the job.

“Trigen remains committed to addressing any asbestos containing material in the safest way possible,” said Nancy Sterling, spokesperson for Trigen. The company vowed last week to perform a safety inspection of its steam distribution network within 90 days.

Air tests taken in the neighborhood late last week did not detect asbestos, but all the surfaces have to be cleaned and retested, said Joe Ferson, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. Swab tests of surfaces around the manhole detected a minimum amount of asbestos last Wednesday, and Trigen immediately notified public health officials, Sterling said.

Asbestos Forces Evacuation of Chicago High-Rise

Asbestos found during a rehab project at a Chicago residential high-rise has forced the evacuation of all the building’s tenants.

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the building located on Sheridan Road in the Lakeview neighborhood – was closed on Thursday after building management was notified about the asbestos find the day before. State officials carried out the evacuation order and tenants were told that it could be a few weeks or more before they are allowed to return to their apartments for good.

During the renovation, a subcontractor “inadvertently disturbed pipe insulation” within the building’s walls, a flyer from the management office said. The insulation was confirmed Thursday morning to be asbestos, prompting the building’s evacuation, the article noted.

Management noted that tenants would not be allowed to move back into the building until air quality tests show that all areas are safe. A flyer distributed by the company stated that a “highly respected” environmental consulting company and a state-licensed environmental contractor would be performing the tests.

In the meantime, building owners must wait for state approval before they can begin to take the necessary steps to fix the problem. Once approval is granted, they believe it will take less than a month to remedy the situation. The management company has stated that tenants will be allowed back in for short periods of time to retrieve necessary items.