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News Updates

China Adopts New Asbestos Prohibition

The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) reported in November 2010 that China adopted a new national industry standard to prohibit asbestos in construction siding and wall materials. China’s rule will go into effect June 1, 2011.

The rule focuses on “flat” products which are used generally in permanent structures. It is being issued by an industry body concerned with building design and so the architects, who are responsible for choosing the raw materials to be used in construction projects, will likely specify safer alternatives.

The rule may, however, have less impact on asbestos-cement corrugated sheeting which is often used for temporary buildings or for more low-end construction. Continue reading

Selling Cancer: Quebec Greed v. The Truth

We have recently published news reports about the potential reopening of a chrysotile asbestos mine in Asbestos, Quebec, Canada involving major investments from Indian industrial concerns supported by a large loan from the provincial government of Quebec. Those seeking to justify this purely commercial transaction are continuing to recycle the old claims that “controlled use” of asbestos is perfectly safe, even in Third World developing countries. However, over the past century and continuing to the present, no Quebec asbestos manufacturer or mining company, even with the support of the Provincial Government and the scientists and physicians at McGill University, has ever been able to ensure the safety of Canadian workers. How they think that Quebec industry and government will be able to ensure the safety of Asian workers in the future is a mystery. Continue reading

Unusual Asbestos Exposures

We know that for all practical purposes, the only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos. Yet, in many cases, lawyers for asbestos defendants and their insurance companies argue that there is no evidence that workers in a particular occupation, trade, or area had enough asbestos exposure to be a cause. Often the occupational setting is clear – insulators, pipefitters, drywall mechanics, etc. have well-documented exposures. But sometimes it takes a lot of digging to find the connection. A recent paper by C. Mensi and others titled “The Upholsterer and the Asbestos” provides a wonderful illustration and a helpful reminder that sometimes one has to dig a little deeper to find the connection, but it’s an effort worth undertaking. Continue reading

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month

ADAO Estimates Asbestos-Caused Lung Cancer Claims More than 5,000 Americans Per Year

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), the largest U.S. organization serving as the voice of asbestos victims, today announced its support of November as National Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Lung cancer is one of the leading respiratory diseases caused by asbestos exposure, surpassing even mesothelioma – a well known asbestos-caused cancer. Based on the estimated annual rate of mesothelioma deaths at 2,500 cases per year from NIOSH World Respiratory Disease Surveillance, ADAO estimates more than 5,000 American die from asbestos-caused lung cancer. Most scientific estimates suggest two lung cancers for every one mesothelioma death. Continue reading

Kansas prisons undergo asbestos testing

A number of prisons in Kansas will need to undergo asbestos abatement after an audit conducted by the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) revealed that guards and inmates were possibly exposed to the deadly mineral.

Two prisons are scheduled to have asbestos removed, but dozens of other detention facilities throughout the state may need to have abatement conducted in the future, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

“Asbestos-containing materials were found in various buildings at DOC facilities,” Bill Miskell, spokesman for corrections department, told the news source. Asbestos was commonly used as a flame retardant and insulator in older structures.

Continue reading

Dennis Bernstein and the Myth of Bio-Persistence

David Bernstein, a Swiss toxicology consultant named in the recent report “Dangers in the Dust,” makes his living promoting death, as he travels the world extolling the virtues of chrysotile.

David Bernstein is known in scientific circles for his theory of “biopersistence,” claiming chrysotile fibers do not last long enough in the human body to cause cancer. His 2003 paper based on animal studies, “The Biopersistence of Canadian Chrysotile Asbestos,” was commissioned by the Asbestos Institute, later renamed the Chrysotile Institute, for $1 million. Continue reading

Asbestos abatement is hard work

Asbestos abatement is fast becoming one of the most essential jobs in the building industry, as any trace of the deadly mineral left in structures undergoing renovation or demolition can potentially cause life-threatening diseases to those who are exposed to it. Because of its importance, asbestos abatement is a highly regulated field and workers who must perform the task need to be highly trained and disciplined.

Asbestos abatement workers must wear a full-body suit made from insulating housewrap, a highly efficient particulate air (HEPA) mask and rubber gloves and boots, according to Northern Nevada Business Weekly. In addition, they are required to shower every time they put on these suits, even when they go on their lunch breaks. Continue reading

Scotsman’s mesothelioma death shows devastating impact of asbestos

The mesothelioma-caused death of a Scotsman has spurred his widow to take up the fight against asbestos, which triggered the rare and deadly cancer that killed her husband.

Jim Duff passed away at the age of 62 from asbestos exposure that occurred 30 years prior to his death, when he worked in the civil service at RAF Pitreavie, a British air force base, according to the Daily Record. Now, Duff’s widow, Rhona, is joining a campaign to raise awareness of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Continue reading

Legal News about Asbestos from Japan

A Japanese district court has ruled that the government was negligent in taking precautions to protect workers, and must compensate victims of asbestos-related diseases.

The Osaka District Court has ordered the Japanese government to pay 430 million yen, or $4.6 million, to 29 plaintiffs suffering from asbestosis and asbestos-related cancer. The ruling is the first to hold the central government responsible for asbestos-related diseases, charging that the state should have taken stronger precautions to protect workers. Presiding Judge Yoshihiro Konishi said the state was aware of the health risk before 1960, when it enacted a law to protect workers from lung disease and was negligent by not requiring private industry to take steps to safeguard workers health.

Japan has lagged significantly behind the developed world in addressing its asbestos issues. The growing problem of asbestos-related diseases was largely ignored until 2005, when farm machinery maker Kubota Corporation admitted that since 1978, 79 of its workers had died from asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos imports into Japan peaked in 1974 with 352,316 tons brought into the country. It is estimated that well over 6,060 Japanese have died of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, from 1995 to 2003. Yet a recent article published by researchers at the Department of Respiratory Medicine, Okayama Rosai Hospital points out only about 10% of malignant mesothelioma cases are actually claimed and compensated.

In 2005, the head of an Environment Ministry panel studying the asbestos issue resigned after disclosing that he previously had served as an adviser to the Japan Asbestos Association. In 1972, the government required all factories dealing with asbestos to be equipped with exhausters, but did not fully ban asbestos, including its production and import, until 2004.

We applaud the Osaka district court’s decision. This is just the first step in ensuring justice for the Japanese victims of asbestos-related disease.

California Legislature Takes First Step to Bring Cal/OSHA up to Par: AB 2774 Will Correct Erroneous Definition of Serious Physical Harm

On May 5, the California State Assembly Labor & Employment Committee passed AB 2774.  The legislative proposal was in response to a Federal OSHA letter to the Division of Occupational Safety & Health [Cal/OSHA] and a letter to the Occupational Safety & Health Appeals Board [OSH Appeals Board] criticizing the California program for not meeting federal standards.

Jeremy Smith, representing the California Labor Federation AFL-CIO, and Fran Schreiberg, representing the National Lawyers Guild Labor & Employment Committee, testified urging passage of the bill.  In addition to the California Labor Fed letter and Guild letter, on short notice, several unions submitted letters in support including CWA UPTE and USW.

Letters of support were also sent by the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, Worksafe and KazanLaw.

Proponents argued that the bill helps Cal/OSHA more effectively prosecute employers who gain an economic advantage from not protecting employee safety and health.  It would level the playing field for legitimate law-abiding businesses.

Bill opponents, including the California Chamber of Commerce and the Associated General Contractors, argued against the bill’s definition of “serious physical harm” and in favor of the current approach which keeps the level of serious citations and penalties low.

The bill will next be heard by the full Assembly.  It must pass the Assembly by Friday, June 4.

Current California statutes do not define “serious physical harm.”  The OSH Appeals Board, which hears appeals by employers who are cited by Cal/OSHA, has equated “serious physical harm” and “serious physical injury,” ignoring guidelines from Federal OSHA.  Because the OSH Appeals Board uses a more restrictive definition, far fewer violations are characterized as “serious.”

California’s rate of serious citations is today the lowest in the countryFederal OSHA reported in November 2009 that Cal/OSHA issued as serious only 19% of its citations.  In contrast, Federal OSHA cited as serious 77% of its citations and the average for other state plans was 43%.

In January, 2010, Federal OSHA informed Cal/OSHA and the OSH Appeals Board that the California state plan was likely not as effective as the Federal OSHA program with respect to the definition of “serious physical harm.”  In a subsequent public forum, the OSH Appeals Board said it would not issue a regulation defining “serious physical harm.”  It further stated that even if the Department of Industrial Relations [DIR], the parent agency for Cal/OSHA, were to issue such a regulation to meet Federal OSHA concerns, it was not obliged to follow that regulation.

Congress, when it passed the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, permitted states to have their own safety and health programs as long as those programs were “as effective as” the Federal plan.  California had a state safety and health program beginning in the early 1900s.  California made statutory changes to assure it could continue to have its own regulations and enforcement program after the federal OSH Act became law.  About half of the states have their own OSH programs (referred to as “state-plan states”).

For Cal/OSHA to continue to be “as effective as” the federal program, it must address Federal OSHA’s criticism.  Endorsement of AB 2774 will be a first step towards addressing this problem.  We need this legislation to force the OSH Appeals Board to use the proper definition of “serious physical harm.”

Click here for a model letter of support to urge members of the legislature to pass AB 2774.  Click here for a fact sheet about the bill.

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