Israel Begins Large Asbestos Removal Campaign

Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has approved financial assistance in the sum of one million shekels to local authorities for the removal of asbestos-cement roofs from public buildings, reports a press release issued by the agency. The approval of funds follows public outcry earlier this year about the amount of hazardous asbestos that remains in some of the country’s older facilities, including numerous schools.

“The ministry approved the requests of 17 local authorities for the removal of asbestos-cement roofs from 96 public buildings throughout the country, spanning a total area of some 38,000 square meters,” reports the agency.

The agency also notes that preference has been given to all educational institutions and any other public facilities that welcome large numbers of visitors on a regular basis.

Ministry officials will see to it that all asbestos abatement follows the country’s Safety at Work Regulations (Industrial Hygiene and Public Health for Workers and the Public Exposed to Hazardous Dust), which states that asbestos can only be removed by a professional contractor equipped with a permit for asbestos work, which must be granted by the technical committee for hazardous dust. The permit is granted following compliance with the criteria published by the committee.

EPA Launches Project to Clean Up Vermont Asbestos Site

For nearly a century, reports a story on Vermont Public Radio, workers mined asbestos from Vermont’s Belvidere Mountain, located in remote Lamoille County. While the asbestos mining did not cause great concern during those 100 years, what has raised much controversy is the more than 70 million tons of rock waste the mine left behind when they closed.

Local officials have claimed for years that the asbestos fibers from the waste are washing into the headwaters of the Lamoille and Missisquoi Rivers. Finally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing something about it. The agency recently launched a $2 million project to stabilize the site. A complete clean up, they estimate, would cost $500 million.
“Every site has its unique characteristics but just the volume of material here – it’s pretty overwhelming,” said Gary Lipson, the EPA coordinator on the site.

The EPA has told area officials that eight wetlands suffer from asbestos sediment that runs off the site. “The muddy material smothers the bugs and other organisms that make up the base of the aquatic food chain,” Lipson explains.

Because Belvidere Mountain straddles the divide between the Missisquoi and Lamoille River watersheds, he stresses, the asbestos waste has the potential to wash into two major rivers that flow into Lake Champlain, an issue that has implications much more wide spread than just rural Lamoille County.

Asbestos was first mined at Belvidere Mountain in 1899. Old reports show that in the 1920s, the mine produced almost all the asbestos in the country. It was closed in 1993.

Pipefitter Wins $8.2 Million in Asbestos Suit

A 73-year-old pipefitter from Texas City, Texas and his wife of more than 50 years were awarded $8.2 million in a lawsuit against two large corporations who he blames for his development of mesothelioma.

According to a press release by the plaintiff’s lawyer, Oliver D. Smith and his wife Peggy Ann received the award in Galveston District Court. It included $7.93 million in damages against Houston-based Union Carbide Corp. and Columbus, Ohio-based Hexion Specialty Chemicals Inc. Jurors also assessed $275,000 in punitive damages against Hexion.
“I’m very proud of our work on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” said lawyer Russell Budd. “These companies knowingly exposed Mr. Smith and workers like him to dangerous asbestos, which caused him to develop the cancer mesothelioma. While we can’t undo the harm they caused, we can hold them accountable.”

Smith was exposed to asbestos while working as a pipefitter throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Hexion owned the chemical plant where Mr. Smith worked from 1957-1964. Mr. Smith also worked at a Union Carbide facility.

District Wants Asbestos-Ridden School to Close

A report released yesterday by the superintendent of the Pittsburgh (PA) Public Schools presses for the closing of the city’s Schenley High School, noting that a whopping sixty-eight percent of the materials tested in the dilapidated building contain asbestos.

According to an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, AGX Inc. Environmental Consultants collected 406 samples from the plaster, ceiling, tiles, carpet and other areas of the school, which is located in the Oakland section of the city, and found that 277 contained asbestos.

“This is the only building I know (in the district) where every ceiling, every wall on every floor has asbestos in it,” said Richard Fellers, the district’s chief operating officer, during a tour of the building with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The danger of asbestos and the cost of removing it and renovating the property has prompted superintendent Mark Roosevelt to recommend closure for the second time in just a few months. The school would remain open until the end of the 2007-2008 school year.
During the past four years, estimates for the cost of abating the asbestos and renovating the building’s mechanical systems have ranged from $42.4 million to $86.9 million. Roosevelt has told board members and the general public that $64.4 million is the best estimate.
“You’re talking about a basic gut job where every system needs to be replaced,” Roosevelt said at a recent news conference.
For now, Roosevelt says, air quality at the school is being tested once a week and falling plaster is inspected three times each week. He assured parents that the school is safe for students, staff, and faculty.
Vidya Patil, the district’s acting director of facilities, is in charge of maintaining the building and keeping it safe. His daughter, Oona, 16, is a junior at Schenley and she and her friends are unhappy with the proposal to close it.
“I’m very concerned about the deteriorating condition in the building — particularly the asbestos,” Patil said. “The amount of monitoring and dollars it takes to keep it safe is almost unbearable.”

Canadian Ferry Workers to Be Tested for Asbestos

According to an article in the Cape Breton Post, the Crown Corporation, which operates the ferries that link Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, has agreed to test more than 600 of its employees for exposure to asbestos.

The announcement of the testing comes on the heels of the discovery of asbestos aboard the MV Atlantic Freighter. Sue Irvine, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 4285, says crew members were unaware of the problem until after warning stickers were recently posted on the ship. She says Crown Corporation has also agreed to offer tests to hundreds of former employees.

Workers say they were “startled” to find the warnings posted around the ship last month. They had believed that the dangerous material was removed or enclosed in the 1990s, but a September inspection of the ship found that some of the sealed areas had been damaged through normal wear and tear.

In addition to the medical testing, Marine Atlantic spokeswoman Tara Laing said that individuals who worked onboard in the past will also receive questionnaires in order to help gather information about past exposure.

Marine Atlantic, a union representative noted, has informed Workers Compensation officials of the problem so, if a current or former member of the crew develops an asbestos-related illness, they won’t need to go through a lengthy process of proving exposure.

James Hardie Asbestos Fund Faces First Test

The $1.5 billion trust set up by building supply manufacturer James Hardie to compensate Australian victims of asbestos diseases will face its first test today as lawyers for the trust head to court in an attempt to overturn two recent rulings by the Dust Diseases Tribunal in favor of Bernie Banton, a long-time advocate for asbestos disease victims in that country.

According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. Banton – who family members say is “gravely ill” and near death – is seeking compensation to cover his medical bills, home-care expenses and loss of income.

“A second part of the claim is that Hardie was so negligent in looking after its workers,” says the article, “that Mr. Banton should receive exemplary damages, and that its conduct has affected him so much that he should receive aggravated damages.”

Last week, a judge said the claim for exemplary damages could proceed. He deferred ruling on whether or not the aggravated damages should be dismissed from the case.

Allianz Australia, the company that handles the workers’ compensation insurance for Amaca Ltd. – a subsidiary of James Hardie – made a settlement offer on October 31, but has to wait for Amaca to resolve the issues in relation to the exemplary damages before it can finalize the agreement.

Banton worked for Amaca in the 1960s and 1970s as a lathe operator. He has been credited as the individual who brought Australia’s overwhelming asbestos problems to light.

Home Renovation Causes Asbestos Death of 25-Year-Old

When of the youngest victims of mesothelioma died earlier this year and his parents are doing their best to warn others about the dangers of home renovation, which is what they believed killed their son.

The parents of Adam Sager of Queensland, Australia, who died earlier this year at age 25, want to warn people about the dangers of renovating older houses that could contain asbestos, says an article in the Courier Mail.

In 1983, when Adam was about 18 months old, explain the Sagers, they sanded and painted inside their new house in the neighborhood of Townsville. Little Adam would wander through the rooms, covered in a white dust. The Sagers thought it was cute when their son would take his little broom and pretend to sweep the floors. It wasn’t until after his disease was confirmed, however, that they realized the dust from two decades ago contained hazardous asbestos.

Now Adam’s parents speak out whenever possible about the dangers involved in renovating old homes that might contain asbestos, particular those in Australia built between 1940 and 1980. They hope they’re making a difference.

“This has to be Adam’s legacy,” said Mrs. Sager, 47, of Kenmore in Brisbane. “Adam always had a purpose in his life. Our purpose is to make sure we can help somebody save their babies. We can’t do anything for Adam now, but we can help somebody else.”

His parents say Adam was a healthy young man before he developed the mesothelioma. He played hockey, swam, and held a black belt in martial arts. But over time he developed pain in his ribs. After being dismissed by several doctors who attributed the pain to his participation in the martial arts, he was finally diagnosed last year at a Brisbane hospital.

“The couple could not think how Adam could have been exposed to asbestos,” the news article points our, “until they remembered their baby covered in grey dust when they painted the Townsville house.”

Before his death Adam Sager had filed a compensation claim against Amaca Pty Ltd, a former subsidiary of James Hardie. His parents are continuing with the claim.

Top Australia Asbestos Campaigner Gravely Ill

The man who has long led the fight against asbestos in Australia now lies in the hospital “gravely ill.” Friends and family of Bernie Banton, a former James Hardie worker who has been the leading voice for asbestos reform in Australia, say that he is near death and “fading fast” and may not last long enough to see his latest bid for compensation realized.

According to articles in several Australian newspapers, lawyers for Banton believe the Dust Disease Tribunal case he filed after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma last August could drag on for too long or end up in the Court of Appeal. Amaca, a former subsidiary of James Hardie, and Allianz, the company’s insurer, are fighting Mr. Banton’s claim for aggravated and exemplary damages.

Banton, 61, has already received a compensation payment for asbestosis, a condition that is considered not necessarily life-threatening, from a $4 billion, 40-year asbestos compensation fund set up by James Hardie in 2000.
“Bernie is very ill. He wants to ensure that his family has some security … and obviously would like to see the legal issues resolved immediately,” said Banton’s friend, Greg Combet. “They are taking an appeal to the Court of Appeal over a legal point which is slowing things down.”
“I would like to see an out-of-court settlement; a man with terminal cancer doesn’t have time to be in court arguing technical points,” Combet added.

Mesothelioma Drug Wins Victory in Australia

By January, or perhaps sooner, thousands of Australian mesothelioma victims should be able to obtain the drug Alimta for little or no cost.

According to an article in The Age, both major political parties promised to subsidize the drug Alimta for sufferers of the asbestos-related cancer after the government’s drug advisory board recommended that it be listed on the country’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Some activists, however, were not totally pleased with the decision. Leigh Hubbard, executive officer of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Victoria, believes the subsidies should happen immediately.

“Mr. Hubbard said many sufferers had been forced to take out loans or find donations to pay for the drug,” notes the article. Alimta is extremely expensive, costing around $20,000 for an 18-week course of six treatments.

While Alimta does not offer a cure and only prolongs life for a handful of months, it gives mesothelioma patients “a soft landing”, says activist Barry Robson of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia. The drug is used for palliative purposes; to lessen the painful symptoms of the disease, which is a godsend for many patients.

The chairman of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, Lloyd Sansom, said the committee had recommended that Alimta be subsidized for mesothelioma sufferers after manufacturer Eli Lilly dropped the price, changed the way it was packaged to reduce waste and cost, and provided more data about how it improved patients’ quality of life. The drug was already approved for use by other cancer sufferers.

Farm Laden with Asbestos-Contaminated Fill

The owner of a former dairy farm in Frankfort, Kentucky got more than he bargained for when he ordered 6,000 tons of fill from a company in New Jersey. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the fill is contaminated with dangerous asbestos.

A story on WKTV- Frankfort notes that the owner was shocked to hear that the fill – and now his land – is contaminated with toxic asbestos. While he declined to appear on camera, he told news reporters that he shouldn’t be held responsible for cleanup of the area.

Environmental Protection Agency officials note that the fill covers a 50,000 square foot area and measures up to 20 feet high. The material, which the EPA says contains the chrysotile form of asbestos, is also laden with pieces of glass and other building materials.

Later this week, the EPA will begin installing a synthetic liner/cover over the entire area to prevent the asbestos from becoming airborne. In addition, a 6-foot-high fence will be put around the outside of the land. Neither the owner nor the EPA was willing to estimate the cost for cleanup, but until they decide who is responsible, the fence and cover should protect the general public from exposure to the dangerous mineral.

When asked about fines, EPA officials said they’re not yet sure who will need to pay. The owner of the land told the agency that he still had the paperwork from the transaction with the company in New Jersey and would gladly turn over copies to the authorities. He claims he did not know the fill contained asbestos.