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Archive for March, 2007

Thieves Discover Asbestos

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Two thieves at a Pinellas Park (FL) defunct mobile home park got more than they bargained for when they decided to steal a few windows from the remaining homes in the park. When the two unidentified men ripped 25-30 windows and doors from the trailers last week, what they found was lots of damaged asbestos insulation.

Doug Summers, owner of the former Summers Mobile Home Park in this Gulf Coast town, told police a “serious incident” had occurred at the park on March 17th and that the thieves “caused the release of asbestos-containing materials.”

The asbestos was used as insulation around the windows and became exposed when the caulking that sealed it was stripped away by thieves, said Mike Gustafson, Pinellas Park City Manager. He added that this wasn’t the first case of theft at the decrepit park but was the only one that involved asbestos and asbestos exposure.

“Right now, you have a waiting period,” Gustafson added. “The asbestos likely does not threaten any neighbors,” he said. “I can’t believe there’s any asbestos floating around.”

Gustafson said that Summers will be financially responsible for the abatement, which should occur soon, immediately followed by demolition of the remainder of the mobile home park. The city now owns the land, which will be used for a retention pond connected with drainage improvements along Park Boulevard, but Summers was leasing it until the city takes control.

Building Owner Fined for Hiring Unlicensed Asbestos Contractor

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

A group of Hayward, California building owners who renovated an old hospital complex seven years ago have been ordered to pay $149,000 in fines as per a civil suit brought against them by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Bay Area Daily Review notes that building owners Cheng, Chow, and Chu were charged with violations of the Federal Clean Air Act when they ordered more than 31,000 square feet of asbestos-containing material removed from the old Levine Hospital located in downtown Hayward. The work was done in 2000 by an unlicensed contractor that negligently exposed workers to clouds of the airborne fibers, said EPA spokesman Mark Merchant.

“The building owner hired some folks to rip out the interior and they didn’t do it the right way,” Merchant said.

The company in question, Sincere Contractors, removed large amounts of asbestos-containing materials from the five buildings that make up the complex, including acoustic ceiling, tiles, linoleum, insulation, fire-proofing and stucco.

Merchant said the violation was more “egregious” than most because of the size of the building, the number of employees involved and the scope of the job. Though no one has yet to report any health-related problems caused by the improper abatement procedures, illnesses caused by asbestos exposure usually do not surface for several decades.

“That’s why (asbestos) is so insidious,” Merchant said. “You go in there; you work, you breathe in the dust and figure, no problem. Years later, you get sick.”

The Bay Area Quality Management District began investing the demolition about 2 months after the project began. According to court records, inspectors found workers with inadequate protection, open-topped trash bins and “clouds of dust throughout the inside and immediately outside” the building.

Cheng has already been charged in federal court with violations to the Clean Air Act and was previously sentenced to four months home detention and a $5,000 fine. Sincere Contractors will also pay a fine in this latest civil suit.

Widow of Insurance Co. Employee Sues for Asbestos Exposure

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

The widow of a Taverham, England man is suing the insurance company for which her husband worked, claiming he was exposed to asbestos while performing his duties as a valuer.

Sally Paramour, age 59, says her husband worked for Norwich Union for 26 years and often visited shops, offices, and factories where he came into contact with asbestos. According to an article in The Norwich Evening News, Mrs. Paramour claims that the company “failed to keep machinery, apparatus, work benches, plant and equipment in a clean state and free from asbestos waste and dust” while Mr. Paramour worked there. The writ also states that Norwich Union “failed to make sure all loose asbestos was kept in suitable closed containers to prevent asbestos dust from escaping.” Paramour died of mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer, in early 2004 at the age of 64.

This is the second such case in Norfolk County in just a few weeks. Another widow, Irene Harris, is suing Norfolk County Council for £150,000 after her husband died of mesothelioma, contracted while working as a custodian at a primary and middle school in the county during the 1980s.

FDA Approves MESOMARK Test

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the sale of the MESOMARK® Assay, the world’s first in vitro test for managing patients with mesothelioma. The test was designed and manufactured by Fujirebio Diagnostics, Inc. of Malvern, PA. The test is also currently being evaluated in Europe and awaiting approval there.

According to a press release on Business Wire, the test is now available to physicians throughout the United States and will be used for monitoring patients who have been diagnosed with epithelioid or biphasic mesothelioma. With just a simple blood sample, the MESOMARK test will assist doctors in gauging the stages of mesothelioma and the progression of the disease in a particular patient.

Doctors and researchers agree that this new test will be significant in managing mesothelioma, as diagnosis and monitoring of the disease remain difficult despite extensive research in recent years. The MESOMARK will also be less invasive and much less expensive than current diagnostic and monitoring methods.

Technically speaking, the MESOMARK assay “is a manual enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) that identifies a group of molecular markers called soluble mesothelin-related proteins (SMRP). Released into the bloodstream by mesothelioma cells, elevated levels of these proteins are found in cancer patients,” explains the test’s manufacturer.

The approval was given under the FDA’s Humanitarian Device Exemption (HDE) program, which authorizes companies to market medical devices to treat or diagnose diseases which meet certain criteria.

Syracuse Man Pleads Guilty in Asbestos Case

Monday, March 26th, 2007

The contractor in charge of asbestos removal for the former Agway building in DeWitt, NY has pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Superfund law for his role in the improper disposal of asbestos at that site.

The Syracuse Post-Standard notes that Everett Blatche, age 44, faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for allowing asbestos fibers to “drain into public sewers, contaminate construction debris and collect in public spaces outside the building.”

Blatche “is willing to cooperate,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Benedict said. “We will see where that leads.” He noted that others connected to the project may be charged at a later date.

Workers “released lots and lots of asbestos outside without telling anybody about it,” Benedict said. “Mr. Blatche was aware that what he was doing was highly improper, but he continued to do it and instructed others to do it.”

Everett Blatche declined to comment. “I think he just wants to put it behind him,” defense lawyer Lisa Peebles said. “He’s looking forward to getting on with his life.”

Currently, asbestos is still being removed from the building but with the added presence of an independent consultant who is monitoring the work and reporting directly to the building’s owners. Labor officials also have imposed strict oversight on the project, the article points out.

The building is being converted into office space and was scheduled to open on April 1st. A spokesman for the contractor says the date will most likely be pushed back to sometime around the end of the summer.

British Government Makes Important Asbestos Announcement

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

This week, Britain’s Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, John Hutton, announced to the general population that the British government plans to introduce early benefit payments for sufferers of mesothelioma. The announcement was made at a special “mesothelioma summit” hosted by the Department for Work and Pensions.

“With deaths from mesothelioma expected to peak in the next five to ten years, the plan to introduce this financial support to those who most need it is a major step forward,” Martin Bare, vice-president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), told the press. “We hope the necessary legislative slot can now be found as quickly as possible, so the intention can become a reality without delay.”

Bare hopes the government can “maintain the momentum for reform” as more and more people in Great Britain are diagnosed with the disease.

“A lot of work has been done in the past year by lawyers, insurers, trade unions, government departments and victim support groups to try to bring mesothelioma sufferers some comfort in the last weeks and months of their lives,” he added. “But there is still work to do to ensure people receive the full compensation they need as quickly as possible, and it is hoped that the government can continue to work in a coordinated way to drive this agenda to its conclusion.”

“Among other things”, Bare explained, “we need an early legislative slot to enable the government to implement plans to stop companies which have gone out of business having to be ‘resurrected’ before a compensation claim can be made, which means considerable costs and delays to claims.”

Marco Island to Finally Remove Asbestos

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

The city council of Marco Island has finally chosen a company to remove the asbestos which has plagued the site of a future city park for months.

According to an account in the Naples News, the council voted unanimously to approve a contract with Naples-based road contractor Quality Enterprises that would authorize an Environmental Protection Agency-approved plan to remove asbestos-containing material from the site at Elkcam Circle and Park Avenue.

The asbestos landed at the site, the article explains, when it was used as a staging area during the reconstruction of a nearby road. Many questions arose as to how the asbestos got there and how the city handled the material. The controversy led to a criminal investigation and ultimately a lawsuit.

“This has been a long and arduous process,” Council Chairman Mike Minozzi said at the meeting. “I fully support this plan. I was anxious to get this done yesterday.”

The newspaper notes that a few asbestos issues remained unresolved, such as a final report on the remediation of asbestos from one area of the future park site as well as a conclusion to the criminal investigation into suspected asbestos planting on the site.

Japan’s Asbestos Compensation Falls Short

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

Though the Japanese government passed a law last year that would provide financial assistance to victims of asbestos-related diseases who are not covered by workers accident compensation, only 20% of those who’ve applied have received compensation, notes an article in the Daily Yomiuri.

Some say the strict requirements for eligibility, such as requiring applicants to submit medical documents and test results proving they have mesothelioma, has slowed the process, resulting in only a handful of the afflicted actually receiving aid.

Experts and asbestos-disease watchdog groups have called for an easing of the conditions, noting that the government promised “prompt and concrete relief measures.” The current situation does not conform to the new law, they add.

The Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency in Kawasaki, which accepts applications for the aid, said it had received 836 applications as of Feb. 28 from asbestos-related lung cancer sufferers and family members of those with the disease, but only 185 applicants were approved.

Those with the disease are entitled to receive aid such as medical allowances, while family members of victims are eligible to receive 3 million yen in condolence money.

The law restricts eligibility for financial aid to people who contracted asbestos-linked mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer while living near factories using asbestos. Mesothelioma victims need only submit a doctor’s certificate with their application. Asbestos-caused lung cancer victims, however, must go to greater lengths to prove that their disease was caused by asbestos and not other factors, such as smoking. That requires the submission of an x-ray and a sample of lung tissue.

In many cases, family members of those who died years ago are having difficulty obtaining the items they need to make application and collect compensation, experts say.

Yuji Natori, a doctor at Hirano Kameido Himawari Clinic, an expert in asbestos-related diseases, said the government should review the requirements for the aid as some types of asbestos are difficult to detect in a pathologic examination.

Developer Sued for Releasing Asbestos

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

The San Francisco Chronicle Reports that a development firm building 1,600 new homes at the old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard has been accused by two company executives of allowing clouds of toxic construction dust to escape from the site, exposing neighbors and schoolchildren to potentially harmful, airborne asbestos.

Gary McIntyre and Clementine Clarke say they were retaliated against by Lennar Corporation after they raised questions about toxic dust. McIntyre says he was demoted after talking to the company about their inability to control dust at the site and Clarke claims she was given a poor job performance rating after she complained.

Sam Singer, a spokesman for Lennar, said the allegations in the lawsuit were untrue and maintained that the company has gone to “great lengths” to protect public health. The city health department added that construction dust at Hunters Point does not pose a risk to nearby residents because Lennar has put proper safeguards in place.

The former Hunter Naval Shipyard is a Superfund site due to the presence of massive amounts of toxic contamination. Asbestos is also naturally present in the bedrock found at the site.

In their lawsuit, the executives alleged that after heavy grading of the site began in the spring of 2006, Lennar refused to shut down work, even when monitoring devices showed the asbestos content of construction dust was more than triple the state allowance. At other times, the lawsuit states, monitoring equipment wasn’t functioning properly, and the company had no idea whether it was in compliance or not.
The article noted that the dust often coated nearby homes as well as a small private school near the former base.

Lawyer for the executives, Angela Alioto, accused Lennar of “environmental racism,” saying the firm thought it would escape responsibility for pollution problems because the neighbors included poor people and members of racial minorities, the article quoted.

Foundation Awards $1 Million for Meso Research

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) has announced that it has awarded an additional $1 million in research funding aimed at curing the asbestos-related cancer known as mesothelioma, according to a press released issued by the foundation.

“In the past few years,” states the press release, “meso science has begun to progress rapidly, and there is now new hope for meso patients and those at risk. Researchers are discovering the particular genes and proteins involved in the disease. This is enabling development of powerful biomarkers, which can aid in detecting and monitoring the cancer. It also offers promise for development of targeted therapies, aimed at controlling the pathways that turn a normal cell into meso.”

MARF has supported such research since 1999. “Thanks to generous donors, this is now the third year in a row in which we have been able to support critically-needed meso research at the million-dollars-per- year level,” noted executive director Chris Hahn. “This consistent support is enabling brilliant investigators around the world to invest their careers in meso, and to pursue the detailed scientific studies needed to develop effective treatments. As a result, we are seeing the whole field make great strides forward.”