Family of Meso Victim Gets $30.3 Million in Asbestos Case

The family of a man who died of mesothelioma at age 50 has been awarded $30.3 million by a New Jersey jury. According to an article in Newsday, the award to the family of Mark Buttitta, who died in 2002, is the largest in the state of New Jersey for a mesothelioma case.

Moshe Maimon, the attorney for the Buttitta family, said his client was exposed to asbestos while working summers at “giant GM warehouses” throughout New Jersey, handling auto parts that contained asbestos. Buttitta’s brother worked at the warehouses during the summer as well and the plaintiff’s father was a full-time employee for General Motors.

According to Maimon, who specializes in asbestos cases, “the three men wore the same work clothes for several days, bringing home cancer-causing fibers every day from work, unknowingly letting the microscopic fibers fragments waft throughout their home and settle.”

“Worse yet, as a young boy Mark would sit on his dad’s lap – or next to him on the sofa – every night to watch TV, and was innocently exposed to asbestos,” he said.

The six-person jury sided with the Buttittas in a trial that ended on Tuesday but took several weeks to complete. The jury found against Asbestos Corp. Ltd. of Canada, which provided material for GM brakes, and BorgWarner Inc. of Michigan, which made clutches. The jury deliberated for four hours before reaching their verdict, Maimon said.

Both companies indicated that they would appeal the verdict.

USVI Contractor Gets Jail Time for Asbestos Violations

The owner of a U.S. Virgin Islands asbestos removal company has been sentenced to three years in prison and an additional three years probation for his role in the improper removal of the material at a housing project in St. Thomas.

According to an Associated Press article, Cleve Allen George, the owner of the Virgin Islands Asbestos Removal Co., was convicted of breaking federal environmental laws, including violations of the Clean Air Act, and making false statements about air monitoring at a St. Thomas housing project that was demolished in 2001. His partner, Dylan C. Starnes of Atlanta, was given an identical sentence last July.

According to reports, the two men used a power washer to strip thousands of square feet of asbestos-containing materials from the structures. Fibers from the material washed out over the ground and, in many cases, made their way into the sewer systems. George, a licensed abatement professional, was aware that this was an illegal way to remove asbestos from the soon-to-be-demolished homes, but continued nonetheless.

George knew “how to safely remove asbestos and chose to ignore those safe methods in lieu of a bigger profit,” said Ronald J. Tenpas of the Justice Department’s environment and natural resources division before he pronounced the sentence at a court in the capital city of Charlotte Amalie.

EPA Testing Big Tex Site for Asbestos

For the last several days, investigators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been canvassing the “Big Tex” site in San Antonio to determine how much asbestos waste was left behind at the old industrial site.

According to an article in the San Antonio Express-News, workers in “moon suits” have been all over the site, situated on the banks of the San Antonio River, making their way through dilapidated metal buildings full of debris. This is the next step, say officials, in determining what needs to be done to the site in order to begin development of a mixed-use multimillion dollar complex at the location.

Big Tex, named for a grain company that operated nearby, was owned by embattle W.R. Grace and Company, currently in bankruptcy and undergoing trial in a Delaware courtroom to determine the company’s liabilities to asbestos creditors. Grace faces thousands of lawsuits from individuals sickened by asbestos exposure due to Grace’s myriad asbestos-containing insulation products.

“W.R. Grace & Co. now is known to have sent millions of tons of vermiculite ore from its mine in Libby, Mont., to 200 locations throughout the country despite, according to federal court documents, company officials’ knowledge that the ore was tainted with tremolite asbestos,” the article points out.

The San Antonio site was one of the company’s largest plants, processing 124,000 tons of the tainted ore from 1961 to 1989, the article adds.

The EPA crews are currently taking dirt samples from 320 “holes” they’ve made at the site. Shafts underneath the facility are also being tested. The EPA estimates that testing should be done this week. After that, samples will be sent to a laboratory to be analyzed. Results should be available in three to four weeks. In addition, testers will return to the site after the results are received to measure how much asbestos dust is kicked up by normal activity.

Developer James Lifshutz hopes that all cleanup tasks will be completed by the end of the calendar year.

Large Number of Asbestos Deaths at San Francisco Office Building

A small building on the east edge of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park may hold a nasty secret, one that’s becoming more and more apparent as those who work there succumb to cancer.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, in the last several years, individuals who’ve worked in the small offices at the Kezar Pavilion, all employees of the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department, have died of or been diagnosed with cancer. The workers and their families want to know why.

“Since the 1990s, out of approximately 40 Rec and Park employees who have worked a significant amount of time in the Athletics Division offices at the back of the old gymnasium, five have died of cancer,” the article states. “Three others have developed tumors – in two of those cases the growths were malignant – and a fourth worker continues to be monitored for growths found in his lungs.”

Despite the presence of asbestos in the building, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) official says the toxic mineral can’t be blamed for the deaths and illnesses.

Employees disagree. The building, which hosts high school basketball games, a summer pro-am basketball league and a variety of other events, contains plenty of asbestos and was also recently found to have high levels of lead in its water supply.

“There’s something in the building, in the environment, that’s getting us sick,” said Sandoval, 48, who has been diagnosed with Stage III testicular cancer that has spread to his lungs, sternum and near his liver. “With the small staff we had, it’s way beyond normal.”

The union officials that represent the Park & Rec workers are also beginning to take notice and have told city management that they believe Kezar Pavilion is an unsafe place to work.

“We have workers in an environment they shouldn’t be in,” said Margot Reed, an organizer with SEIU Local 1021. “We don’t want our women and men working in a place that they honestly believe is unsafe, and we have language in our (collective bargaining) contract that addresses that.”

Experts tend to agree with the union’s assessment of the building. However, these same medical experts also agree that it’s difficult and rare to link cancers to a common exposure, even within a small work space.

“Anytime you see a grouping of cancers, it causes concern,” said Dr. Robert Hiatt, chair of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF. “But it’s very unusual to find a cause for a cluster of cancers. It’s one of these disconnects between public concern and scientific finding.”

New York Shipyard Worker’s Family Gets $2.25 Million in Asbestos Suit

The family of a New York man who once worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard has been awarded $2.25 million by a New York City jury in compensation for his pain and suffering due to exposure to asbestos at his workplace.

Leonard Shafer, who worked at the shipyard in the 1950s, died at age 73 from malignant pleural mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs. There is no cure for this cancer and victims usually die within a year or two of diagnosis.

“Mr. Shafer endured pain and suffering that spanned an eighteen month time period from the time he was diagnosed until the time of the death,” said Carmen St. George, attorney for the Shafer family. “Many years ago, nobody knew the affects of being exposed to asbestos in the workplace and unfortunately today, we are being faced with the dangers.”

Because Shafer was unaware of the hazards of working with asbestos, he and his co-workers never wore protective gear, St. George explained.

A press release issued by the attorney notes that the defendant, John Crane Inc., manufactured and supplied an asbestos-containing stuffing-tube packing material to the U.S. Navy for use on its ships. In this asbestos exposure lawsuit, the jury determined that exposure to the John Crane packing material caused Mr. Shafer’s mesothelioma, and that his illness was “reasonably foreseeable to the company.”

DEQ Fines Homeowner for Improper Asbestos Removal

The New York Department of Environmental Quality has fined an Albany woman more than $8,000 for allowing an unlicensed individual to perform asbestos abatement at a home she owns in the state’s capital.

According to an article in the Albany Democrat Herald, the fine of $8,417 was levied in early January against Wanda Fay Scheler in regards to work done at a rental property she owns at 3755 Knox Butte Road.

“In August 2007, she reportedly hired two workers for a renovation project and they removed about 293 square feet of siding that was put into trash bags and placed into dumpsters. They also removed an old stovepipe that included insulation tape,” the article points out.

An inspection by the DEQ on August 16th revealed “pieces of siding waste scattered along the sides of the residence” and inspectors saw that the insulation tape on the old stove pipe was in “very poor condition.”

Samples taken from the site and analyzed in a laboratory showed that the siding waste contained 10 percent chrysotile (white) asbestos and the insulation tape contained 50 percent. The DEQ regulates handling and disposal of any materials that contain more than 1 percent asbestos.

The DEQ inspectors also noted that workers broke the siding while removing it from the home, creating a scenario which could include the release of small asbestos fibers into the air. The insulation tape was in a friable state as well.

The DEQ also charged that the workers did not “properly label and package the friable ACWM (asbestos containing waste material) generated by the renovation project in leak-tight containers.”

Scheler plans to ask for another hearing, claiming that the project was supposed to be painting only, but the workers “pulled off a few shingles at the top of the house.”

Asbestos Closes Boston Subway Station

Asbestos-contaminated smoke from a fire at an old Boston retail landmark resulted in the closure of a nearby subway station for 2 hours and the evacuation of some 50 people.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, a fire in the old Filene’s Basement store last evening prompted the treatment of several people for smoke inhalation and caused fears about the presence of asbestos in the air during and after the fire, which is currently under investigation.

The 8-story building, which is presently being redeveloped, has been a fixture in the Downtown Crossing area for decades, notes the article, but the fact that it is quite old meant that there was most certainly asbestos inside the structure when the fire began around 7 pm on Wednesday evening, Feb. 13.

Asbestos-containing pipe insulation and other materials caught fire in one of the building’s sub-basements, said Steven MacDonald, a fire department spokesman. Authorities are investigating the possibility that asbestos was released into the air during the fire, added Deputy Chief Steve Dunbar. But for safety purposes, fire officials decided it was best to evacuate the Downing Crossing MBTA (Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority) station.

As a precautionary measure, 18 firefighters and five civilians went through asbestos decontamination, MacDonald said.
“The biggest problem wasn’t so much the fire. The problem was the smoke that it generated,” he added.

Officials Knew of Asbestos at Ohio Prison

A recently obtained state prison report suggests a Chillicothe, Ohio prison was filled with dangerous asbestos despite an official’s claims otherwise.

According to an article in the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, a May 2007 survey recently acquired by The Columbus Dispatch newspaper shows that prison officials voiced concerns about the presence of asbestos in floor tiles and pipe insulation at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution (CCI) but nothing was done to address the situation.

The article notes that a recently-filed federal lawsuit accuses the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction of “lying about efforts to remove the asbestos” and says officials showed “a deliberate indifference to a known health risk at the prison.”

The suit was filed on behalf of 33 inmates and four former inmates, who say they found powdered asbestos on the floors on the prison. The inmates suggest they were exposed to the material on a regular basis which, in its powdered state, presents a serious health risk.

Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Lyons said the state has spent $375,920 since 2005 to remove or contain the asbestos at the prison and maintains that there are no asbestos hazards in the dormitory or common areas at this time. The only known asbestos, she states, is in the tunnels under the complex.

Prisoners still disagree with the findings, even though a January 2007 inspection by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee stated that the last remnants of asbestos in a CCI housing unit was removed two years ago.

“At the time, all above ground asbestos in this area was encapsulated,” says Warden Robin Knab.

Family of Asbestos Products “Poster Girl” Receives Compensation

The family of a British woman who literally served as a “poster girl” for a large asbestos products manufacturer in the United Kingdom was recently awarded compensation for her pain and suffering, more than 5 years after the woman died from exposure to the very products she helped promote.

According to an article in the Manchester News, Martha Charlson helped promote the acceptable image of Turner and Newall Manufacturers at its heyday during the 1950s and 60s, when her photo appeared in a booklet detailing the firm’s history.

”She was pictured working at a spotless-looking asbestos spinning machine on the factory floor at Turner Brothers premises in Rochdale in 1957,” the article points out. “But the photo was hardly a reflection of the real conditions she and hundreds of fellow workers endured.”

Mrs. Charlson retired in 2002 at age 64. She died just a few short months later. She had been employed at Turner and Newall – once the world’s biggest asbestos producer – since the age of 16, handling asbestos-treated yarn.

“My mum died while waiting for this compensation. She knew she would not see the money in her lifetime but it was important to her to fight for a sense of justice,” said Charlson’s daughter, Louise Keefe.

“She felt very angry that she had worked with such a dangerous substance but had never been warned about the consequences.”

“My mum retired on Saturday and became ill on the Sunday. She did not get a retirement and she was very angry about that – we all still are. She became ill because of her work. At the time she was on good money, but when she realized she was ill she said it was danger money,” Keefe added.

The article notes that all compensation claims against Turner and Newall were frozen in 2001 after the company went into bankruptcy in the UK.

”Claims were suspended while administrators reached agreement with the company’s insurers and parent company Federal Mogul. The payouts now come from a trust set up by the administrators after the High Court approved a deal which allowed claimants to receive a share of their entitled awards,” the article explains.

EPA to Burn Asbestos Houses

More than two years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, officials are still trying to determine the most efficient way of demolishing storm-damaged homes containing asbestos. Thus far, the process has been costly and tedious, notes an article in The Times-Picayune.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently determined that the most cost-effective way of ridding the city of these eyesores is to incinerate them while monitoring the air to make sure that no toxic emissions escape into the atmosphere.

The article points out that EPA officials convinced parish council members during three months of negotiations that a test of the procedure poses no health risks for residents. However, approval of the plan is contingent on the renewal of a waiver exempting the parish from strict asbestos abatement procedures for demolished homes.

According to Parish President Craig Taffaro, without the waiver, the parish would have to remove all asbestos from the 5,000 remaining homes slated for demolition before they could be torn down.

“That’s a monumental task,” Taffaro said at Thursday night’s council meeting. “If we don’t get an extension, it will cripple our recovery.”
The waiver, however, allows asbestos to be left in homes that are scheduled for demolition, as long as the structures are wetted while being torn down and the debris is sealed in plastic-lined trash bins for proper disposal. The process of wetting means dangerous asbestos dust won’t escape into the air during demolition.

Lab tests have shown that burning asbestos at high temperatures transforms it into a harmless material, said Bob Olexsey, an EPA program manager in Cincinnati.