Demolition Site Filled with Asbestos

Demolition workers who’ve been tearing down trailers to make room for new homes near the former Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Aurora, Colorado report that the site is riddled with asbestos and they fear that their health has been compromised.

According to a story on KWGN News Denver, workers doing the demolition say they were exposed to the asbestos and never warned of its presence. One former resident of the mobile home park told news reporters that he was worried about asbestos in the trailers even before the demolition began. Now workers say the pile of debris that currently sits at the site has been definitely confirmed to contain asbestos.

“Everybody that’s ever worked here, been around this site, even been on the property, has been exposed to it,” said former worker Leo Wiegand, “The only real thing we’re trying to get people to realize is, it’s a contamination to breathe.”

But the supervisor for the contractor doing the demolition work says there’s no need to worry. “There is asbestos in there,” said Brad Lundy, “Very little–it’s only on the flooring. As far as airborne, nobody’s exposed to it.”

A local Health Department expert says they are “actively investigating whether any employees may have been exposed” at the site, but believes there is “absolutely no danger” to the public from any asbestos found at the site.

In the meantime, demolition work at the site has been suspended until a plan to remove the debris is finalized.

Oregon Woman Gets $5.6 Million in Asbestos Case

A 66-year-old Oregon woman who owned two small ceramics teaching and manufacturing businesses has received an award of $5.6 million in a suit against several talc mining companies.

Linda O’Donnell operated her businesses from 1973 until 1993 and was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma last year, allegedly caused by the inhalation of asbestos-containing talc products used at her ceramics studio. The contaminated talcs were mined by various companies in Death Valley, California, where asbestos was a common contaminant in the commercially mined talc deposits, says a press release by the law firm that represented O’Donnell and her husband in the proceedings.

Expert witnesses testified that the Death Valley talcs used by Mrs. O’Donnell “invariably contained a small percentage of tremolite asbestos,” a form of asbestos known to be extremely carcinogenic. Documents obtained from the talc mining companies showed that they were aware of their asbestos problem in the early 70s, and that they regularly tested their talc to monitor its asbestos content yet continued to sell the talc to companies that would include it in products sold to consumers.

The press release explains that “the talcs were mixed with dry clay and water to form ‘ceramic slip,’ a liquid clay mixture that was poured into molds to dry. The talc used in the slip usually came in 50 pound sacks, which were dumped into a hopper for mixing, creating clouds of dust and intense asbestos exposures. After the dried ceramic figures were removed from molds, they were sanded to prepare them for glazing and firing, resulting in additional exposure to asbestos dust.”

Mrs. O’Donnell, her lawyers say, engaged in these activities on a daily basis throughout her ceramics career, which lasted about 20 years.

Vinflunine Improves Response and Survival in Mesothelioma Patients

According to an article in Reuters Health, high doses of a new drug called Vinflunine, a novel microtubule inhibitor, has been shown to provide encouraging response and survival rates in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Results of a clinical trial involving vinflunine were recently published in the October 20th edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Dr. Denis C. Talbot from Churchill Hospital, Oxford, UK, and colleagues assessed the overall response rate, progression-free survival, and overall survival of 67 patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma in a Phase II study of first-line vinflunine therapy, explains the article.

The overall response rate, as assessed by an independent radiologist, was 13.8% (all partial responses), the authors report, and most patients either maintained (60%) or improved (13.8%) their baseline Karnofsky performance status.

The median progression-free survival was 3.2 months; the median overall survival was 10.8 months and the 1-year survival rate was 36.9%. Only 10% of cycles had to be delayed because of hematologic toxicity, non-study-drug-related adverse event, or other reasons, the report indicates.

“These results suggest that vinflunine is among the most active single agents in malignant pleural mesothelioma,” the authors conclude.

“The results of our study, in terms of response rate and survival, suggest that vinflunine should be further evaluated in malignant pleural mesothelioma after progression with cisplatin/pemetrexed because no other therapy is available in this setting,” the researchers added.

State Allocates Money for Libby Asbestos Victims

The state of Montana has allocated an additional $1.5 million for the victims of asbestos diseases in the asbestos-ridden town of Libby, where hundreds of individuals have been sickened or have died due to exposure to the toxic mineral.

According to a story reported by a CBS affiliate in Kalispell, Montana, Governor Brian Schweitzer presented the Lincoln County Board of Health with a check for the full amount on Wednesday and also spoke with the board of directors at Libby’s Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD) about their goals for the future and his continued plan to help Libby’s many asbestos victims.

The governor stated his hope that the extra money would help ease the pressure on those who are dealing with an asbestos-related disease by assisting with their medical bills and other expenses that often become overwhelming when someone is terminally ill.

Leroy Thorn, director of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease, says he hopes that extra funding will also be available specifically for the center, which was established a few years ago to help care for the hundreds of asbestos victims in this small town, where dozens upon dozens of residents worked for the W.R. Grace Company, whose vermiculite mine was contaminated with asbestos.

“We’re just on a month to month basis. We are a fee for service non-profit organization and it’s just tough. I mean, I look at how our staff does the budget every month and you know it is, it’s month to month,” Thorn told the media.

Controversy Continues Over Experimental Abatement Method

With the “experimental” demolition of a Fort Worth (TX) apartment scheduled for this Thursday, environmental activists and a number of experts are still unsure about the safety of the new method being used to tear down buildings that are laden with asbestos.

Despite concerns by a number of watchdog and other groups, local government officials are allowing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use the new updated “wet method” to take down one building in the now vacant Oak Hollow Apartment complex. Those opposed to the “experiment” have not been able to garner enough support to stop the project, notes an article in the Dallas Morning News.

“A successful test could help pave the way for federal approval of the first new asbestos abatement method in decades and potentially make it cheaper to demolish buildings that have become eyesores and neighborhood dangers nationwide,” the article points out.

However, opponents fear that people in this East Fort Worth neighborhood will be exposed to escaping asbestos fibers, which can eventually cause lung ailments. Most experts believe that the exposure will not be enough to cause concern. Others think the local government is allowing the experiment because the neighborhood is largely made up of minorities.

At a news conference Monday, members of the International Association of Heat & Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers said they had no doubt that the proposed demolition would release asbestos fibers into the air and that concerns them.

“You’re going to have a whole new generation of people who are going to be sick” if the technique becomes widely used, said Terry Lynch, the union’s at-large vice president.

Freddy Polanco, a peer review panelist and member of the Asbestos Advisory Committee for the Texas Department of Health, said this method “has the potential to be safe,” but he’s concerned that if it’s approved for widespread use, contractors who take shortcuts would put people at risk. He also had issues with the cost savings estimated.

“The EPA seems to inflate the cost of the standard NESHAP method to show that this alternative method is a fiscal way to do it,” he said.

No Asbestos Found near Arizona Mines

The Arizona Geological Survey (AGS) reports that there is no evidence of asbestos associated with mining operations in the Agua Fria River bed. The AGS was called in to investigate and explore the area because the Maricopa County Mining District Recommendation Committee worried that sand and gravel mines may be sending asbestos into the air.

According to an article in the Arizona Republic, Mimi Diaz of the AGS told members of the committee last week that six kinds of minerals that form long, fibrous crystals fall into the category of asbestos and “not all are bad and cause lung cancer.” Absolutely none of those crystals was found in the Agua Fria basin, she added.

One member of the committee said that area residents are concerned that mining companies are crushing used concrete that might contain asbestos. There are more than 20 mining operations in the Agua Fria, which is near communities such as Surprise and Sun City.

“Any time you demolish a building, you have to do an asbestos survey,” said board Chairman Frank Mendola. “If you find it, it has to be removed from the building and the material is sent to an asbestos landfill.”

Diaz explained that when companies manufacture concrete, it is generally transported to a building site within 20 miles because of the expensive cost of trucking it. So, if there no asbestos in the Agua Fria, the concrete from it is clean, she said.

“People who have gotten sick off asbestos had an occupational exposure to it,” Diaz said. “They are the ones who are sick, not the ones who drive by it or live by it.”

Arizona has a fairly low rate of asbestos deaths, coming in at number 31 of the 50 states in number of asbestos-related deaths annually.

EPA Releases Asbestos Report on Former Military Base

Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a report describing several options for clean-up at the North Ridge Estates site near Klamath Falls, Oregon, home to a former U.S. Marine barracks.

In the 1940s, the U.S. Navy constructed a Marine barracks on the land, consisting of approximately 80 buildings, all of which contained asbestos building materials. “In the 1970’s those buildings were demolished, and the North Ridge Estates, a residential housing subdivision, was constructed,” explains a story aired on KDRV 12. “Since that time, both the Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA have worked to completely remove the asbestos from the area.”

“On Thursday, crews simulated raking an area where the EPA has not observed asbestos yet. The activity-based sampling mimics what residents do at home to determine if there are asbestos fibers in the soil,” the story stated.

Officials say that though clean-up has happened at various parts of the site, there is still much work to do to make North Ridge Estates asbestos-free. They also stated the this week’s sampling is the last to be done before they finalize details for the remainder of the clean up process.

“Cleaning up asbestos to protect the health of people, we’ll do one of two things. One is to just fence off parts of the site so that people can’t come in contact with the contamination. Another way is to conceal it under a cap of clean soil,” says Public Information Officer Judy Smith.