Asbestos Still in the Air at Suburban Philadelphia Site

Recent air samples collected at the now defunct BoRit plant in Ambler, PA – a suburb of Philadelphia – still show measurable levels of asbestos, but the state’s Environmental Protection Agency says they’re not concerned.

Dawn Ioven, toxicologist for EPA’s Superfund program, recently told the Ambler Gazette that residents would have to be exposed “on a daily basis, 24-hours a day, for 30 years to cause alarm.”

The most recent results available came from air testing in August and September. Of 78 total samples taken, three showed detectable levels of asbestos, one from the August testing and two from September. No airborne asbestos was detected off-site in the community, the article points out.

According to EPA spokesman Roy Seneca, a concentration of 0.00049 fibers per cubic centimeter of air was found in a sampler located at the pile in August. September’s detectable levels showed a concentration of 0.00048 at the pile and 0.00098 at the park, which is no longer open to the public.

The third sample, says Seneca, is “hovering around EPA’s acceptable cancer risk range.” But it’s still a “very conservative figure,” Ioven points out.

“We looked at the highest detected level of asbestos we found and ran a very conservative risk estimate,” she said. But because it was found at a park and not in a residential area, consistent exposure is unlikely, the toxicologist stressed.

“It doesn’t pose concern in terms of risk because no one is exposed under the conditions considered,” said Ioven.

Widow Challenges Ohio Asbestos Suit Law

The widow of a man who died in 2003 after being exposed to asbestos is challenging an Ohio law which states that all plaintiffs in asbestos-related suits must present evidence by a medical expert who “personally” treated them and can verify that the plaintiff’s health was substantially impaired by exposure to asbestos.

Danny Ackison never personally saw a local physician but was diagnosed by a non-Ohio doctor, working from an X-ray, who told him he was suffering from a thickening of the pleura, a result of asbestos exposure. By the time he died, his illness had not developed into a malignancy and he was never diagnosed with mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer. That means, under the new jurisdiction, his widow is not eligible to sue those responsible for his asbestos exposure.

When Linda Ackison filed the suit in May of 2004, the law was not yet in place. However, it was passed about 4 months later in hopes of easing the backlog of some 40,000 asbestos cases pending in Ohio courts at the time.

Ackison’s lawyer, Vincent Green, told the Supreme Court yesterday that Ohio lawmakers have “unconstitutionally stripped a widow of her right to sue over her late husband’s asbestos-related illness.”

According to an article in the Toledo Blade, the court’s decision could affect potentially “tens of thousands of cases already in the judicial pipeline at the time the more restrictive law took effect.” The case has also drawn the attention of the U.S. and Ohio Chambers of Commerce, as well as manufacturers, insurers, and labor groups.

“By closing the courthouse door, [Danny] Ackison’s rights have been violated …,” said Green. “If it has the effect of destroying a vested right, it is violative of [the Ohio Constitution].”

Asbestos Found in Kid’s Toys, Household Products

An asbestos watchdog organization recently published the results of a study that noted the presence of asbestos in a popular children’s toy as well as several frequently used household products.

According to an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit, two brands of children’s clay, powdered cleanser, roof sealers, duct tapes, window glazing, spackling paste and a few different small appliances were among the products in which asbestos was found by at least two of three labs hired by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.

The group, which is made up of volunteers who are either victims of asbestos diseases or members of victim’s family, says they spent in excess of $165,000 to hire the labs that performed the testing. The government-certified labs examined literally hundreds of products throughout the last 18 months.

Most of the funds spent on projects such as this come from contributions from group members themselves. Little outside funding is provided. When asked why they spend their own money for such programs, Linda Reinstein, the executive director of the group said it was a must.

“We had to. No one else was doing it,” said Reinstein, who is also the group’s co-founder. “This is information that consumers and Congress must have because asbestos is lethal and we naively believe that the government is protecting us, when it’s not.”

Of the utmost concern, Reinstein stressed, is the fingerprinting kit, which she says is a big seller during this holiday season. The kit, which is made in China, is one of several items licensed by CBS after its popular “CSI” science-crime shows. This toy contains tools, inks, and three types of very fine powders — white, black and glow-in-the-dark. High levels of two types of asbestos were found in the white and the glow powder.

CBS Consumer Products Division is currently examining the situation. “We’ve asked our licensee to immediately conduct an independent test in the U.S. for asbestos. If the toy is determined to be unsafe, then we will insist that the licensee remove it from the market,” a statement from a CBS spokesman said.

The article explains that tested products which contained less than one percent asbestos were not red flagged. The fingerprinting kit contained five percent of the hazardous material. The highest reading belonged to a roof sealer, which contained thirty percent asbestos.

New Mesothelioma Research Center to Be Built

In order to honor the memory of a simple working class man who worked diligently to bring the plight of asbestos-related disease victims to the general public in Australia, a new research center dedicated to finding better treatments for mesothelioma will be built. The center will bear the name of Bernie Banton, the Sydney-area man who did so much for so many people who were stricken with serious diseases after being exposed to asbestos.

According to a story aired by the Australian Broadcasting Company, the center won’t be up and running for about a year, but when it opens, its first goal will be to insure that all patients with mesothelioma have access to the latest treatments.
“He was keenly aware that something good that could come from the suffering, and he saw in this center the hope for the future that one day we could find a cure,” New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma said of Mr. Banton.
On November 29th, just a few days after Banton’s death, his grandson Jack turned the first sod at what will become one of the world’s first dedicated asbestos research centers.
“What it will mean down the track is a cure for this insidious disease of mesothelioma, it really is a horrible way to die,” Bernie’s wife Karen told the media.
The Banton family says that Bernie forgave the executives at James Hardie Industries for his illness. (He was exposed while working there more than 30 years ago.) However, they remain angry.
“I guarantee not one of these Hardie people have stood next to the bedside of a person diagnosed with these diseases …and witnessed them die. It’s a terrible death,” Jack Banton said.

Minnesota University Faces Asbestos Fines

Minnesota’s Winona State University is facing a hefty fine for “seven serious workplace safety violations” related to asbestos removal from dormitories and other buildings on campus earlier this year.

According to an article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, a complaint from the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that the university repaired or replaced insulation without taking the necessary precautions to protect workers from asbestos exposure.

According to an OSHA spokesperson, Winona State has contested the allegations and talks are currently underway between OSHA and the university.

Cristeen Custer, assistant vice president of marketing and communications at Winona State, said: “We take it seriously, and we do believe that we’ll come to a very positive result with our discussions with OSHA.”

When asked whether students may have been exposed to asbestos during any of the repair work, Custer said: “Obviously student safety is of critical importance to us and we would never jeopardize or take liberties with student or worker health. If there was a concern we would have alerted students.”

The following violations were listed on the OSHA complaint:

• Asbestos work was not properly supervised in Lourdes Hall and Richards Hall, dormitories where plumbing work in a women’s bathroom and a water softener replacement occurred last February and May.

• Air was not monitored when asbestos was removed from piping, “resulting in employee exposure to unknown concentrations of asbestos fibers.”

• Workers did not use filtration or collection systems to clean asbestos-contaminated air.

• Workers were not wearing required protective clothing during asbestos removal.

• There were no signs warning workers about asbestos-containing materials at entrances to mechanical rooms, tunnels and other places on campus;

• Although employees have been repairing and removing asbestos for more than 10 years, the university has no monitoring records regarding exposure from any of that work from September 1995 through September 2005.

Australian Asbestos Campaigner Dies

The Australian factory worker who forced an entire country to sit up and take a look at its growing asbestos problem has died.

According to multiple sources, Bernie Banton, age 61, succumbed to mesothelioma on Tuesday, November 27th at his home, surrounded by his family. Reuters News Service called him “the face of a global campaign” for compensation for employees of James Hardie Industries, who were exposed to dangerous asbestos dust during their work at the international building products company’s Australian factories.

“We were known as the snowmen because the only part you could see that wasn’t white were your eyes. They never told us that it would kill you,” Banton told Reuters in 2004.
The company used asbestos in the manufacturing of wallboard and other products until the mineral was banned in Australia in 1984. The dangerous substance was widely used at Hardie due to its fire resistant qualities.

Reuters reports that Banton worked the night shift at Hardie’s Sydney plant for six years, where it was his job to make molds of cement, silica and asbestos. Of the 137 fellow workers at the plant, including Banton’s two brothers, fewer than 10 are still alive, most having developed asbestos-related illnesses.

Coincidentally, Banton’s death came in the middle of Australia’s National Asbestos Awareness Week. His family members say he was satisfied with his accomplishments, which included helping to set up a $4 billion compensation fund for Hardie workers who develop asbestos-related diseases, and campaigning for the availability of the drug Alimta to treat those suffering from mesothelioma.

“He was a very happy and gregarious sort of person with a great sense of humor but he was also quite angry about what had happened to him,” said labor leader Greg Combet. “But more important than that, he was angry on behalf of all others and he wanted to ensure that justice was done.”

The New South Wales government has offered the Banton family a state funeral to honor Bernie. They have accepted the honor and the funeral will be held next Wednesday at the Olympic Park.

Japan Says Most Citizens Ignore Asbestos Laws

According to a recent survey of local governments conducted by a Japanese daily newspaper, dozens of buildings across the nation are demolished or renovated with little or no regard for the proper removal or encasement of asbestos materials.

The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun found that most individuals agree with a building owner they cited in a recent article. The man said proper asbestos removal in Japan is just too expensive to consider. Government officials recently found this gentleman removing asbestos ceilings from a condominium building he owns, using only a putty knife and wearing just a raincoat and no protective gear such as a face mask or respirator.

“It would’ve cost 10 million yen if I’d asked a repair company [to do the removal],” the owner said.

It turned out that more than half of the material he removed contained blue asbestos – one of the most toxic forms of the mineral.

Japan’s Air Pollution Control Law states that any planned repairs or demolition of buildings containing asbestos are to be reported to local governments. It also obliges owners to take measures to prevent asbestos from becoming airborne, such as sealing the building in plastic sheeting, reducing the interior’s atmospheric pressure and spraying fluids, explains the article.

But, officials note, it is difficult to track serious violators of the law and unless these violators are reported by other concerned citizens, little can be done to stop them. Experts point out that the surveillance system currently in place “lacks teeth” as it relies on the voluntary will of companies. As a result, some local governments have begun their own surveillance systems in hopes of cutting down on the number of illegal demolitions and renovations.

Mining Company Trying to Lower Air Quality Standards

Northshore Mining Company in Minnesota has petitioned the federal courts in hopes of lowering the standard for asbestos fibers in the air near the company’s Silver Bay taconite plant, but the government and local watch dog groups are fighting back.

According to a story of KARE 11 News, the state attorneys general in Minnesota and Wisconsin are joining environmental groups in the area in an effort to stop the petition. The two states and the groups they’ve joined all vehemently oppose the company’s motion to drop the standard, set in 1974, for asbestos-like fibers in the air near the taconite plant, which is located along the shore of Lake Superior.

Recently, studies among those who are employed in the so-called Iron Range show that the inhalation of taconite fibers can cause diseases of the lungs, particularly mesothelioma. The rate of mesothelioma in the area is significantly higher than in other portions of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Last year, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and state courts refused to drop the fiber comparison requirement, prompting Northshore to ask the federal court to intervene, the story explains. A hearing is set for Thursday in federal district court in St. Paul.

Currently, the standard set for the area endeavors to keep fibers in the air near Silver Bay at or below the average level of fibers in St. Paul (MN) air. Company officials say that’s unfair. Northshore claims their taconite does not contain any asbestos, and they believe that updated pollution control equipment has reduced fiber levels enough to comply with court orders without the comparison standard. They also contend that dropping the standard won’t result in increased fibers in Silver Bay, but would end an unfair comparison to fluctuating St. Paul fiber levels.

Many disagree. “Northshore’s motion is nothing more than a subterfuge to collaterally attack … efforts to reduce Northshore’s excessive asbestos fiber emissions,” says the document filed by the attorneys general.

Hardie Settles Claim with Asbestos Activist

Lawyers for Bernie Banton, Australia’s leading advocate for the ban of asbestos, have announced that they’ve reached an agreement with James Hardie Corporation, the company responsible for Banton’s asbestos exposure. The 61-year-old currently lies in a Sydney area hospital, just days from death.

The Australian Newspaper reports that Banton reached the confidential agreement with Hardie’s compensation fund just hours before prominent witnesses, including former Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Greg Combet, were due to present testimony in the case.

Banton’s lawyer, Tanya Segelov, said the settlement was acceptable. Mrs. Banton agreed though no figures were released to the media.

“I am very relieved that it is all over and [I’m] satisfied, but certainly not happy,” Mrs. Banton said. “My husband’s dying,” she added.

She said her husband’s case, as with his role in the campaign to make Hardie meet its responsibilities to its asbestos victims, was not about money.

“It’s about justice,” Combet said.
According to the news article, Mr. Banton’s case was the first against Hardie to seek not only financial compensation but exemplary damages as well. The awarding of exemplary damages means that Hardie would be punished for “knowingly exposing its workers to potentially fatal levels of asbestos dust.”

Ms. Segelov said the fact that Mr. Banton had brought the case for exemplary damages and achieved a settlement could enable other asbestos victims to follow the same approach.

“I think it will help other people. This is what Bernie had in mind from the start,” she said.

CT Scan May Be Useful for Early Meso Detection

According to an article posted on, researchers from Italy have reported that CT screening of persons exposed to asbestos can be useful in the detection of mesothelioma. The details of the study recently appeared in the November 2007 issue of The Oncologist.

While the researchers already understood that CT scans were more successful than x-rays in detecting lung cancer among high-risk smokers, the present study sought to determine if screening by CT could detect early mesothelioma and lung cancer in a population exposed to asbestos.

More than 1,000 individuals who were exposed to asbestos were involved in the study. According to the specifics of the study, the median duration of exposure to asbestos was 30 years, and the median age was 58 years. Sixty-six percent of participants were smokers with a median of 18.5 pack years. Results of CT were compared to routine chest X-rays. Eight-hundred thirty-four non-calcified nodules were detected in 44% of participants on initial CT compared to 43 nodules in 4% of participants by chest X-ray.

There were nine cases of lung cancer detected by CT and none by chest X-ray. Eight lung cancers were Stage I and one was Stage IIA and all were treated with potentially curative surgery. In addition, one person had a thymic carcinoid detected by CT. There were 11 false positive results. No cases of mesothelioma were detected in this study but the researchers nonetheless concluded that CT scans could be of benefit when screening a high-risk population for the disease.