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asbestos exposure

How Much Asbestos Exposure is Dangerous?

asbestos exposureBecause of my expertise in asbestos, I am often asked, “How much asbestos exposure is safe?”

The short answer is none. No amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe.

Not everyone who is exposed to asbestos gets an asbestos-related disease. Similarly not everyone who smokes cigarettes gets lung cancer or emphysema. People sometimes say, “Oh my Aunt Mary or Uncle Joe smoked two packs a day and lived to a hundred.” That very well may be but the odds are highly against it. Are you willing to take that chance and risk your life that you are one of the very few not vulnerable? I hope not.

Although asbestos exposure does not guarantee that you will get sick, anyone exposed to asbestos has a higher risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. These include asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma – all require very extensive medical treatment and are unlikely to be cured.

Even very small amounts of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen. Although rare, mesothelioma is the most common form of cancer associated with asbestos exposure, according to the National Cancer Institute. We have had many cases of family members developing mesothelioma from asbestos dust a worker in the family unknowingly brought home on his or her clothes.

Unfortunately, you can’t tell when asbestos is in the air and damaging your lungs. Asbestos does not make you cough or sneeze. It will not make your skin or throat itch. Asbestos fibers get into the air when asbestos materials are damaged, disturbed or handled unsafely. When asbestos is crushed, it does not make ordinary dust. It breaks into microscopic fibers that are too small to see or feel.

Asbestos fibers are so small and light that they can stay airborne days after they were released into the environment. While these particles are airborne, anyone could unknowingly inhale them. Because the fibers are so tiny, they can travel deep into the lungs where they can remain for years without you knowing they’re there.

All asbestos diseases have a latency period – a gap between the time you breathe in asbestos and when you actually start to feel sick. It may take 10 to 40 years after asbestos exposure, for you to feel symptoms of asbestos-related disease.

If you think you have been exposed to asbestos, see your doctor about getting a chest x-ray or CAT scan. The x-ray cannot detect the asbestos fibers themselves, but can detect early signs of lung disease caused by asbestos.   And remember, there is no safe amount of asbestos exposure.

Kazan Law Referenced In Asbestos Research Article

Kazan LawAs experienced asbestos lawyers, Kazan Law wins cases for our clients not only because we intricately know the laws involving asbestos litigation, but because we also know and understand the science of asbestos exposure. We know both the legal and scientific history that connects asbestos exposure to the development of fatal lung diseases – primarily malignant mesothelioma. This informed background gives us the working knowledge good asbestos lawyers should have to fully represent their clients’ interest.

But sometimes, we happily discover that our knowledgeable careful asbestos litigation work has, in addition to helping our clients, also helped advance scientific knowledge in the understanding of asbestos. Talk about a win-win!

So we are very proud to report that a new scientific article published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health references Kazan Law and work we did on one of our asbestos cases. The article is aptly titled, “Dust diseases and the legacy of corporate manipulation of science and law” – a topic we certainly know more than a little about.

The objective of this article researched and written by Dr. David Egilman of Brown University and colleagues is, in their own words:

  • To understand the ongoing corporate influence on the science and politics of asbestos and silica exposure, including litigation defense strategies related to historical manipulation of science.

For their exploration of this topic, they examined previously secret corporate documents, depositions and trial testimony produced in litigation – that’s where we come in; as well as published literature. They cited an admission we obtained from a corporate witness to prove that a supposedly scientific article was paid for even though the author denied it.

The results of this investigative study, quoted below, came as no surprise to experienced asbestos attorneys like us:

  • Our analysis indicates that companies that used and produced asbestos have continued and intensified their efforts to alter the asbestos-cancer literature and utilize dust-exposure standards to avoid liability and regulation.

The researchers discuss how this is an ongoing problem; not an artifact of the twentieth century. And they note how manipulating data and regulations allows asbestos companies to continue to mine and sell asbestos in developing countries. Clearly, these companies are taking unscrupulous advantage of the poverty, lack of education and weaker regulations in these nations.

These are situations that are constantly monitored by people like Kathleen Ruff in Canada and Laurie Kazan-Allen, my sister, in England. We frequently report on their findings here in this blog.

We are proud to be part of both this current academic article and the bigger picture of seeking justice for those exposed to asbestos due to corporate malfeasance.

Protecting Yourself From On-the-Job Asbestos Exposure

asbestos exposureNot that long ago, the only thing protecting workers from asbestos exposure was the conscience of their employer. But since 1970, things have changed for the better. At least on paper.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for administering and enforcing the federal OSH Act of 1970. OSHA regulations set out uniform national standards for workplace safety and health practices throughout the country. There are standards for hazard assessments, employee safety and health and other employee rights.

OSHA standards are rules that describe steps that employers must take to protect their employees from hazards like asbestos exposure. There are OSHA standards for construction work, agriculture, maritime operations, and general industry standards which apply to most worksites. These standards limit the amount of hazardous chemicals workers can be exposed to, require the use of certain safe practices and equipment, and require employers to monitor hazards.

It’s an employer’s duty to train employees about the hazards of asbestos and the need for safeguards. OSHA also requires that employers monitor asbestos exposure, provide respiratory protection, and alert workers to its hazards.

Because asbestos fibers can be released into the air during activities that disturb asbestos-containing materials and because asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma and other lung diseases, there are strict compliance standards regulating asbestos.

The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for asbestos is 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air (f/cc) as an eight-hour, time-weighted average (TWA). Employee exposure is also limited to no more than 1 f/cc averaged over 30 minutes.

Detailed asbestos compliance standards for general industry can be found on OSHA’s website regarding activities such as brake and clutch repair, custodial work, and the manufacture of asbestos-containing products. They also cover construction, renovation, and demolition of structures containing asbestos.

If you are being exposed to asbestos at your worksite, you can file a complaint online; download the form and mail or fax it to the nearest OSHA office; or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Written complaints signed by a worker or their representative and submitted to a local OSHA office are more likely to result in an on-site OSHA inspection.

You have the right to tell OSHA not to let your employer know who filed the complaint. It is illegal for an employer to fire, demote, transfer or discriminate in any way against a worker for filing a complaint or using other OSHA rights.

If you think you are being subjected to asbestos exposure, contact OSHA. If you develop mesothelioma, Kazan Law is here for you. But we would prefer that you never need our services. Be well.

New Troubles At Cal/OSHA Could Increase Worker Asbestos Exposure

asbestos exposureA mesothelioma diagnosis means asbestos exposure occurred.  Probably not just once but many times. The asbestos exposure most likely occurred on the job because business interests were considered more important than the safety of workers and their families. In our most recent “Throwback Thursday” post commemorating Kazan Law’s 40th anniversary, we revisited a time in the 1980s when big business interests orchestrated the shutdown of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), better known as Cal/OSHA. That meant there would be no trained inspectors safeguarding workers against dangers like asbestos exposure.

Our story had a happy ending.  A group of us got together to form a group called WorkSafe California that succeeded in helping to get Cal/OSHA back up and running. But as the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

No sooner was that anniversary post up on our website when I received a disturbing email from Fran Schreiberg, a labor attorney who was part of the group that helped restore Cal/OSHA with me about 30 years ago and started working at Kazan Law doing pro bono work in this area in 1991.

“A whistleblower complaint charging the Department of Industrial Relations with misuse of state and federal funds designated for Cal/OSHA, the state workplace health and safety agency, was filed with the California State Auditor on Tuesday, April 1st by a 20-year veteran of the agency who retired in January 2014,” it said.

The whistleblower complaint contains 16 items describing improper, and possibly illegal, use of DOSH funds by DIR in three key areas ­- budget and funding, real estate and personnel.

“This is terrible,” Fran Schreiberg said to me when she briefed me on this new development. “This means that funds intended to protect workers from asbestos exposure were used for other things.”

The lack of resources, caused by DIR’s misuse and mismanagement of Cal/OSHA funds, means that there are fewer compliance officers available to conduct on-site inspections, fewer inspections of high hazard workplaces where many low-wage and vulnerable workers are employed, fewer consultants to assist small employers, and fewer resources to develop new regulations to protect the health and safety of California¹s workers.

We hope that this misuse of funds is thoroughly investigated and halts this latest attempt to weaken protection for workers from hazards like asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Exposure Risk Places Construction Work #2 Among “The 5 Jobs Most Likely to Make You Sick”

asbestos exposureAsbestos exposure often is thought of as something from the past. The average age for a diagnosed victim of mesothelioma, the malignant lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, is 60 years old. And for those diagnosed with mesothelioma, their asbestos exposure did occur in the past because asbestos symptoms do not show up for 20 to 50 years afterwards.

But the truth is asbestos exposure continues to be a serious problem. Because of asbestos exposure, Men’s Health magazine, in a new article reprinted on the Fox News website, rated construction work as second among “The 5 Jobs Most Likely to Make You Sick”:

#2: Construction workers

“Falling objects and machines that turn digits into stumps aren’t the only on-site dangers. Roughly 1.3 million construction workers are currently exposed to asbestos, according to the American Lung Association. Small fibers of asbestos build up in your lungs over time, causing scarring that can stiffen your breathers–a condition called asbestosis. Asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma–a fatal cancer also caused by asbestos–can take decades to develop after you’ve been exposed to the toxin. If you’ve worked in construction, talk to your doctor about whether you should receive a lung cancer screening, which can also detect these conditions”.

Buildings and homes all over the US still contain hazardous asbestos materials. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, these are the construction materials that contain asbestos:

  • Steam pipes, boilers, and furnace ducts insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly.
  • Resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile. Sanding tiles can release fibers. So may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal.
  • Cement sheet, millboard, and paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood-burning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers. So may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing insulation.
  • Door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves, and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use.
  • Soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly, or water-damaged material may release fibers. So will sanding, drilling, or scraping the material.
  • Patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings, and textured paints. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos.
  • Asbestos cement roofing, shingles, and siding. These products are likely to release asbestos fibers if sawed, drilled, or cut.

Coping With Asbestos Exposure: Advice to the Residents of Libby, Montana

asbestos exposureHarmful asbestos exposure from a now-closed vermiculite mining operation has caused the rural town of Libby, Montana to become a major crisis in both public and environmental health in the U.S.

On November 18, 1999, writer Andrew Schneider of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer broke the story revealing there had been hundreds of illnesses and deaths in Libby over the past 70 years resulting from asbestos exposure associated with Libby’s vermiculite mining and milling operations.  In 2002 Libby was added to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s “National Priorities List.”

At first investigators assumed that those sickened were all workers at the nearby mine. But the illnesses weren’t appearing only in mine workers. Family members were stricken, too, as were residents of the town who had nothing to do with the mining business.

Investigations by alarmed government agencies — including the E.P.A, the Geological Survey and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences — established that miners brought asbestos fibers back to town with them on clothes, vehicles and other possessions.  Residents, including children, not associated with mining also received asbestos exposure because the mining companies had provided  vermiculite for the construction of ball fields, school running tracks, playgrounds, public buildings and facilities, as well as for private gardens and house and business insulation. The crisis in Libby suggested to researchers that people were being sickened by far smaller exposures than had been thought to cause harm.

Intensive clean-up efforts by E.P.A. are ongoing and research efforts are underway to explore asbestos exposure and disease development in Libby.  E.P.A. has set up websites to help Libby residents cope with asbestos exposure.  Here is their advice:

If you suspect you have a significant exposure to asbestos, there are some things you should do:

  1. Stop on-going exposures.
  2. Stop exposure to tobacco smoke.
  3. Get regular health checkups.
  4. Get prompt medical attention for any respiratory illness to prevent infections that can attack weakened lungs.

See Your Doctor

Individuals exposed to asbestos should inform their doctor of their history and any symptoms. An exam, including a chest x-ray and a lung function test, may be recommended.

Symptoms may not become apparent until long after exposure. If you have any of the following symptoms, you should consult your doctor without delay:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • A cough or a change in cough pattern.
  • Blood in the fluid coughed up
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen.
  • Difficulty in swallowing or prolonged hoarseness.
  • Significant weight loss.

Asbestos Industry Affiliation Gets Scientist Rejected As Possible Head of French Public Health Agency

asbestos industryIf you’ve been exposed to asbestos, that means that you’ve been lied to. You were assured that the materials you were working with or the place where you worked or lived was safe.  You were not told that you were being exposed to asbestos which could cause you to develop a fatal disease called mesothelioma or other cancer.

If you’ve been exposed to asbestos, you understand the importance of knowing the truth.  Truth is a golden thread woven into all that we hold dear. Without truth, justice would perish from the earth. Truth is the basis of all law.

So I am pleased to report that in an important scientific matter that involved the potential falsification of public health policy by asbestos interests, truth has prevailed.

A prominent European scientist Dr. Paolo Boffetta  who was on track to become the next head of France’s leading epidemiology institute, the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health (CESP) has been asked to withdraw his candidacy for that position.  Why?  Because he reportedly took bribes from the asbestos industry to not tell the truth.

Boffetta is alleged to have been paid by an Italian asbestos company to help it defeat charges of criminal negligence, causing the deaths of a dozen workers who died from mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos used at the company’s  factory in Italy.

At the same time, Boffetta co-authored a scientific article concluding that , “… that the mesothelioma-producing potential of chrysotile is low and thus the number of mesothelioma deaths will be too unstable to be used to estimate the lung cancers caused by it.”  Boffetta  declared  he had no conflict of interest. Yet  Boffetta  apparently intended to use the article as evidence to help the asbestos industry avoid blame.

Boffetta’s corruption was the subject of investigative reporting by Le Monde, France’s leading newspaper and Boffetta’s defense of asbestos in his scientific journal article was severely criticized by scientists for putting forward inaccurate and misleading information to serve the interests of the asbestos industry.

“When scientists sell their integrity to become highly paid consultants for toxic industries, they become a threat to science and a danger to the health of people and the environment,” observed international anti-asbestos activist Kathleen Ruff.

The National Institute for Health & Medical Research (INSERM) and the University of Paris-Sud, who are responsible for appointing the CESP Director, required Boffetta to withdraw his candidature.  The appointment process was very far advanced. Boffetta was the only candidate being considered and the appointment was expected to be shortly confirmed.

That Boffetta was even considered for this important health policy post is an outrage. But thankfully at this point the public’s best interest and the truth have prevailed.

Scientist Secretly Associated with Asbestos Industry May Help Weaken Asbestos Laws

asbestos lawsCreating asbestos laws depends on rigorous honest scientific information.  In order for asbestos laws to protect people, lawmakers need reliable scientific evidence about the harm asbestos exposure does to people exposed to this highly toxic substance.

New stricter asbestos laws and better regulations regarding workplace and product safety to prevent asbestos exposure often hinge on testimony from scientific experts in medicine, epidemiology and toxicology.  When leading scientists allow themselves to become corrupted by money from industries with vested interest in weaker rather than stronger asbestos laws, public health suffers.  Individual people suffer.  They become very sick and die because asbestos laws in their country failed to protect them.

The outcome of asbestos court cases can also depend on reliable scientific evidence about asbestos because courts and juries need to know the facts to determine whether asbestos laws were violated.

We have reported here about university scientists in the U.S., Scotland and Canada who are accused of selling out to the asbestos industry.  Now, new evidence points to a prominent European scientist who is alleged to also have been swayed by asbestos industry bribes.

What is most disturbing is that the scientist in question, Paolo Boffetta, is expected to become the next head of France’s leading epidemiology institute, the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health (CESP).  This would greatly increase his influence over France’s asbestos laws and regulations.

Kathleen Ruff, an international anti-asbestos advocate based in Canada, reports that Boffetta was the lead author of an industry-friendly article, Estimating the asbestos-related lung cancer burden from mesothelioma mortality, in the British Journal of Cancer.

 

The article concludes, “… that the mesothelioma-producing potential of chrysotile is low and thus the number of mesothelioma deaths will be too unstable to be used to estimate the lung cancers caused by it.”

Bofetta submitted the article under the auspices of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  Bofetta, along with the other authors, declared “no conflict of interest”.

Yet at the same time that he was co-writing IARC’s article, Boffetta reportedly was being paid by an Italian asbestos company to help it defeat charges of criminal negligence, causing the deaths of a dozen workers who died from mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos used at the company’s Montefibre factory in Italy.

Keep in mind that the IARC is the cancer agency of the World Health Organization.  So this chain of events is like discovering that the National Cancer Institute of NIH has been infiltrated and corrupted by the asbestos industry.

Bofetta testified in support of the company’s argument that if workers had been exposed to asbestos in the distant past, it did not matter if they were subsequently exposed to asbestos. He claimed that repeated, subsequent doses of asbestos do not cause further harm to workers so there should be no consequences to the company for having continued to expose its workers to asbestos over the ensuing decades.

Italian epidemiologist Dario Mirabelli noted according to Ruff’s report that Boffetta considered “a very limited number of studies and the results of those that were considered, were selectively reported. For example, they cite our most recent article on mortality among workers in the Eternit plant in Casale Monferrato, but they do not cite our main result, which is that mesothelioma mortality is directly proportional to the duration of exposure asbestos.”

So in other words, the fox can’t be trusted to guard the henhouse.

Bringing Asbestos Home: The Dangers of Secondary Asbestos Exposure

secondary asbestos exposureIn the Bible story, God mercifully allows Abraham to spare the life of his son Isaac.  But secondary asbestos exposure is not merciful.  Asbestos fibers accidentally brought into the home by industrial worker Johney Clemmons caused the death of his son Randy Brady Clemmons.  Sadly, Johney Clemmons himself died from the asbestos fibers choking his lungs decades before his son also succumbed to illness from secondary asbestos exposure.

The premature deaths of both father and son separated by time but united in cause and tragedy both became cases I handled at Kazan Law for the Clemmons family in turn. The recent publication of a new book by Debbie Clemmons, wife of Randy, about coping with his mesothelioma prompted me to want to discuss with you the dangers of secondary as well as primary asbestos exposure.

Johney Joseph Clemmons, had spent 30 years working at the Fibreboard Corporation’s Emeryville, California asbestos insulation manufacturing plant. Johney began to get sick in the early 1970s, and by 1975 had severe pulmonary asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs caused by asbestos fibers that restricted the lungs’ ability to provide enough oxygen to the body. He continued to work until 1977 when he could no longer manage, and at age 57 was forced to retire. Several years later, he developed lung cancer on top of his asbestosis and passed away on December 7, 1981.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the United States, an estimated 27 million workers were exposed to aerosolized asbestos fibers between 1940 and 1979.

Because of a lack of proper industrial hygiene, asbestos workers went home covered in asbestos dust. The workers’ families and other household contacts were then exposed via inhalation of asbestos dust

  • from workers’ skin, hair, and clothing, and
  • during laundering of contaminated work clothes.

A mortality study of 878 household members of asbestos workers revealed that 4 out of 115 total deaths were from pleural mesothelioma and that the rate of deaths from all types of cancer was doubled.

Randy was 26 years old when his father died as a result of asbestos exposure in 1981.  Randy died in 2009 at age 54 as a result of secondary asbestos exposure unknowingly brought home by his father.

New Asbestos Report – Where It’s Mined, Where There’s Illness and What’s Being Done About It

12.16.13.KLWhen it comes to asbestos exposure and its dire consequences, sadly it’s a small world after all.  Asbestos is still mined in many countries, exported across borders and incorporated into products that get shipped around the globe. Malignant mesothelioma resulting from asbestos exposure spares no one based on nationality or ethnicity.

That’s why I am sharing with you news of a landmark new report about asbestos just published in Europe and brought to my attention by a prominent anti-asbestos activist in England – my sister Laurie Kazan-Allen.

The report “Asbestos-Related Occupational Diseases in Central and East European Countries” provides as thorough as possible an overview – some countries keep no records – of the status of asbestos and asbestos-related illness throughout Europe.  Easy to read and available online for free, the report is packed with interesting information.

Consider this for example:  World production of asbestos was estimated to be 1.98 million tons in 2012. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS, 2013), Russia was the leading producer of asbestos, followed by China, Brazil, Argentina, Kazakhstan and Canada. These six countries accounted for 99% of world production in 2013.

Or this excellent historical synopsis:  Commercial exploitation (of asbestos), with little thought for environmental controls, increased over the 20th century, particularly in the period of strong economic growth after 1945. The unique technical properties led to a boom in consumption; asbestos was used in huge quantities in buildings or ships, and also for many smaller applications, such as cigarette filters. In the first substitution projects of the 1980s, alternatives for more than 3,000 technical applications had to be found.

Major topics covered include monitoring of asbestos-related diseases, recognition of occupational asbestos-related disease and the problem of underreporting.

This research report was commissioned and coordinated by the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) and its project partners International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), with the financial support of the European Commission

The report was prepared by the Kooperationsstelle Hamburg. This research institute provides national and international services and studies in the field of occupational safety, health and environmental protection.

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