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A California Hospital Burns Down – Should We Worry?

The sight of the long-abandoned military hospital burning near the intersection of Marina Village Parkway and Mariner Square loop in Alameda, California last week was cause for concern for Alameda residents. The hospital had been vacant for more than 30 years and had been slated for demolition. Firefighters, concerned with the thick smoke emanating from the building, asked nearby residents to shelter in place and to stay inside. Residents, complaining about ash falling in their yards, expressed their concern about exposure to potential hazards from toxins in the burning building.

Is this a legitimate concern? What are the health effects from substances such as asbestos released during fires?

As expected, there are both acute, immediate effects, and long-term effects. A rise in any fine particulate matter in a community’s air contributes to respiratory symptoms, particularly among children, the elderly, and those with respiratory impairments. And since asbestos doesn’t readily burn, any asbestos fibers in the destroyed building can get into the air and be widely distributed by air currents, slowly settling out over days or weeks and landing far from the original source, where they can be kicked back up into the air by cars, pedestrians, wind currents, etc. The effects of this have been studied in depth in the years following the attacks on the World Trade Center. A 2004 study by Landrigan and others at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Selikoff Center for Environmental Sciences showed significant adverse health effects, not only in first responders, but in nearby community residents. Increased and persistent cough, bronchial hyperactivity, and asthma have plagued many in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Long-term consequences are still being studied, and of course we know that asbestos exposure can take decades to produce disease. So, while we cannot be certain, we should be worried enough to take precautions!

Planet Toys Inc., CSI, and Amazon – Round Two

Last week we wrote about Planet Toys’ Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding, its role in selling asbestos-contaminated toys to our children, and Amazon.com’s quick response when we advised them that this very dangerous product was being advertised for sale on its web site. We praised Amazon.com for removing the specific fingerprint kit from its site.

On Saturday, I attended the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s 5th Annual Asbestos Awareness Day Conference, during which our efforts and Amazon’s response were praised by speakers. One of the attendees went online to confirm our account and came back and told me that a similar product was still on the web site. She was right!

CSI Field Kit

The very same fingerprint dusting powder that was part of the fingerprint kit is incorporated in a larger CSI Crime Scene Investigation Field Kit and that is still available.

I have just written to Mr. Hatch in the General Counsel’s office at Amazon.com asking them to take similar action with respect to this product. I hope to see results quickly, and will post again as soon as there is more news.

This raises a broader question about how online vendors like Amazon and online marketplaces like eBay can do a better job of protecting our children from known carcinogens and how we as consumers and citizens can most effectively bring such problems to their attention. We’ll be thinking about this subject, and invite suggestions from our readers.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Kudos to Amazon.com

Amazon.com has taken a principled stand, putting the health of America’s children before profits. Thank you, Amazon, for promptly removing the potentially dangerous "CSI fingerprinting kit" from your online store.

Parental vigilance is crucial in choosing toys for children. Asbestos is not the only problem that has been found in children’s toys. Toys have also been recalled because of choking hazards or because they contain lead-based paint. Even toys that have been removed from store shelves may still be available online. Parents should stick with reputable companies and always buy age and developmentally appropriate toys made of nontoxic materials.

Be particularly careful buying toys through resale shops or yard sales, or under any circumstances when you cannot examine the original packaging. Before you buy anything, go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and check the recall list. HealthyToys.org has done independent testing and posts their results for more than 1,500 toys and children’s products on their site.

In particular, see their "Take Action" page on steps that you can take to ensure that children in your community stay safe. If readers find the CSI kit or other asbestos-containing toys offered online, please let us know and we will do our best to get them removed.

Planet Toys Inc.: Facing a Potential Class Action Lawsuit

Planet Toys Inc., facing a potential class action lawsuit over its “CSI” fingerprint kits, filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in New York this week. The toys were pulled from store shelves in late 2007 after tests had revealed asbestos in the kits.

Planet Toys’ CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Fingerprint Examination Kit was found to be contaminated with tremolite asbestos. The kit simulates the fingerprint dusting process used by law enforcement agencies and encouraged children to blow on the powder, putting them at risk of inhaling airborne asbestos fibers. Tremolite asbestos was found to be as high as 7.2 percent in one of the powders contained in the kit, and was found in 6 out of 8 samples tested. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization sponsored the testing of this and other toys and household consumer products. The study was funded in part by a grant from the Kazan, McClain, Abrams, Fernandez, Lyons, Greenwood, Oberman, Satterley & Bosl Foundation and by Kazan Law clients Paul and Michelle Zygielbaum.

Surprisingly, although banned in some states and ordered off the market by the manufacturer and by CBS, which had licenced the use of its popular CSI series name, this kit is still for sale on Amazon.com and through Ebay.com, as well.

Late in the day on March 25, I alerted Michael Hatch, an attorney in Amazon’s General Counsel’s office, about the current availability of this dangerous product on his site, and hope by now it has stopped its sales. Presumably the folks at Amazon.com share our desire to protect America’s children from exposure to known carcinogens.

Stay tuned for additional news.

CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit

India’s Asbestos Time Bomb: Short Film

On September 25, 2008, I posted a blog entry announcing the publication of a fascinating monograph on developing asbestos problems in India, titled "India’s Asbestos Time Bomb." The full text of this book is available on the public interest informational site we sponsor, WorldAsbestosReport.org. I am delighted to announce that a fascinating and beautifully done short film with that same title has now been released, and it too is available to view online or download your own.

Emerging Trends in Asbestos Litigation

I am pleased to have been invited to speak at the three-day conference on Emerging Trends in Asbestos Litigation, sponsored by HB Litigation Conferences at The Four Seasons Los Angeles Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on Wednesday, March 11. I will be participating in a panel on issues relating to International Asbestos Claiming and Globalization. During the presentation, I will be discussing the global trends in mining and manufacturing of raw asbestos fiber, where it has been and currently is being used throughout the world, and how all of that global usage can impact American companies and the asbestos bankruptcy trusts set up as a result of the reorganization of those companies who have gone through Chapter XI reorganizations. We will be talking about how bankruptcy trusts evaluate and pay these foreign claims and will discuss anticipated future trends and international developments.

Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization Conference 2009

Our firm is proud to be a $10,000 Educational Tribute sponsor of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s 5th Annual International Asbestos Awareness Conference held this year on March 27-29 in Manhattan Beach, California. ADAO is the nation’s leading advocacy group for asbestos victims and by far the most highly respected for its work in seeking an American and worldwide ban on the use of asbestos, better protection for asbestos-exposed workers and their families, and appropriate legal protection for their rights and interests.

This month’s conference will provide education and outreach to families, scientists, and workers from around the world as part of ADAO’s effort to educate the public about the dangers of asbestos, ban its use, and encourage research efforts to improve treatment options. Physicians, scientists, safety and health care professionals, and advocates from around the world will discuss the status of asbestos globally.

The conference will include workshops on prevention of asbestos disease, improving occupational safety and health, and preventing asbestos exposure at home.

The keynote speaker will be Pulitzer Prize Journalist Andrew Schneider. The program will honor U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, Margaret Seminario, Director of Safety and Health of the AFL/CIO, Stephen Levin, M.D. of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Pralhad Malvadkar from the Occupational Health and Safety Center in Mumbai, India, and Raghunath Manwar, Secretary of the Occupational Health and Safety Association in Gujarat, India, for their work over the years on behalf of asbestos victims. It has been our pleasure and privilege to work with ADAO’s Executive Director Linda Reinstein, Project Manager and Mesothelioma Survivor Paul Zygielbaum, and other members of its leadership group. We remain committed to working with ADAO to protect the rights of existing asbestos victims and prevent the creation of future victims. For additional information and registration, visit the ADAO conference web site.

Americans are Breathing Easier and Living Longer

A new study by Brigham Young University and the Harvard School of Public Health published in the January 22, 2009 New England Journal of Medicine examined fine particulate air pollution in 51 U.S. cities during the 1980s and 1990s and discovered that cleaner air over the last two decades has added five months to the average life expectancy in the United States. On average, predicted lifespan increased most dramatically in cities where air quality also increased, with reduction in air pollution accounting for as much as 15% of the overall increase in life expectancy in areas studied.

Research led by C. Arden Pope, a Brigham Young epidemiologist, studied the period from the late 1970s through the early 1980s and compared it with information from the late 1990s to early 2000s. During this period, substantial efforts were made to reduce particulate pollution and to improve air quality in America. Fine-particulate air pollution results from the combustion of gasoline, diesel, and coal, as well as other sources. These particles have been implicated in cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary diseases. The study accounted for variables such as smoking habits, income, education, and migration.

These findings reinforce earlier international studies that found reductions of life expectancy associated with increased particulate matter in The Netherlands, Finland, and Canada.

This indicates our efforts to control air pollution are paying off, with better health and longer lives for most Americans.

Fine-Particulate Air Pollution and Life Expectancy in the United States

Evaluating the Effects of Ambient Air Pollution on Life Expectancy

Asbestos Violations – Every Worker Counts, and It’s About Time!

A new Federal OSHA rule embodies the spirit of the new Obama administration which we hope will return OSHA to a focus on protecting the health and safety of workers. This rule followed a bad decision and some downright awful and/or inconsistent OSH Review Commission decisions, and an adverse majority ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. It was, however, one particular outrageous case of an employer’s disregard for workers’ health in an asbestos case that moved OSHA forward here.

It involved a case against Erik Ho, a Texas businessman, who was cited for multiple violations of the construction asbestos standard’s respirator and training provisions. Ho’s conduct was particularly flagrant. He hired eleven undocumented Mexican employees to remove asbestos from a vacant building without providing any of them with appropriate protective equipment, including respirators, and without training them on the hazards of asbestos. Ho persisted in exposing the unprotected, untrained employees to asbestos even after a city building inspector shut down the worksite, at which point Ho began operating secretly at night behind locked gates.

The citations charged Ho with separate violations for each of the eleven employees not provided a respirator. Ho was also charged with separate violations for not training each of the eleven employees. A divided OSH Review Commission vacated all but one of the respirator and one of the training violations. According to the majority, the requirement to provide respirators and ensure their use involved the single act of providing respirators to the employees in the group performing the specified asbestos work. 17 O.S.H. Cas. (BNA) at 1372. Thus, the majority concluded, "the plain language of the standard addresses employees in the aggregate, not individually." The majority reached this conclusion despite acknowledging that various subparagraphs immediately following the cited provision required particularly employee-specific actions, such as fit-testing individual employees. The majority adopted an equally narrow interpretation of the training requirement.

Commissioner Thomasina Rodgers dissented, arguing that the plain wording of the respirator and training provisions authorizes OSHA to treat as a discrete violation each employee not provided and required to use an appropriate respirator, and each employee not trained in asbestos hazards. Her worker safety oriented perspective is now the law.

The bottom line of this OSHA final rule is:

"to make it unmistakably clear that each covered employee is required to receive PPE and training, and that each instance when an employee subject to a PPE or training requirement does not receive the required PPE or training may be considered a separate violation subject to a separate penalty." (73 Fed Reg 75569)

The final rule can be found here: Clarification of Employer Duty To Provide Personal Protective Equipment and Train Each Employee

Let’s hope this is the start of a series of pro-worker, pro-safety, stances by Federal OSHA, an agency whose mission was always intended to be the protection of worker health and safety. It’s been too long, but at long last it seems OSHA is back on track.

International Mesothelioma Interest Group

Our law firm once again helped support the world’s premier gathering of international mesothelioma clinicians, researchers and scientists which was convened by the International Mesothelioma Interest Group. This year’s event took place from September 25-27, 2008 at the De Meervart conference venue in Amsterdam.

In addition to being Silver Sponsors of IMIG, the Partners wanted to recognize the work of up and coming researchers by awarding prizes to young investigators, while also honoring the work of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), leaders in the campaign for a global asbestos ban and justice for asbestos victims. These awards were presented by Laurie Kazan-Allen, the IBAS Coordinator, and Linda Reinstein, Executive Director of the ADAO. During the award ceremony, Mrs. Reinstein told the 300 attendees that when her husband Alan was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the first thing they did was to search the IMIG website looking for medical experts; the help and support of IMIG members during Alan’s illness was of inestimable importance to the family and, although sadly Alan lost his fight for life, the hope that one day a cure may be found for this deadly disease motivates her to continue ADAO’s fight.

The winners of the 2008 IBAS and ADAO Young Investigators awards, selected by the IMIG Scientific Board and worth €2000 (approximately $2500) each, were announced on September 27 at the closing session of the conference. The 2008 IBAS and ADAO award recipients were:

• Dr. Jenette Creaney from the National Centre for Asbestos-related Disease Research, University of Western Australia for her abstract: The use of mesothelin for monitoring patients with mesothelioma

• Dr. Yasumitsu Nishimura from the Department of Hygiene, Kawasaki Medical School, Okayama, Japan for his abstract: Impairment in cytotoxicity and expression of NK-cell activating receptors on human NK cells caused by exposure to asbestos fibers

From left: Dr. Creaney, colleague of Dr. Nishimura, Mrs. Reinstein and Ms. Kazan-Allen.

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