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Court Reinforces Right to Sue at State Level for Workers Exposed to Workplace Toxins

OSHAOccupational safety means just that.  It means safety on the job from life-threatening hazards like asbestos exposure and other workplace toxins. So today I have good news for all of us who care about justice and occupational safety for America’s work force!

Last week, a federal court unanimously issued a ruling strengthening protections for Americans injured by hazardous substances, including asbestos exposure, on the job.

Specifically, the federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit filed by the American Tort Reform Association that challenged an important section of wording in OSHA’s revised hazard communication standard.  OSHA is the Occupational and Safety Hazard Administration, a division of the Department of Labor.

Both state and federal laws outline how companies are required to label harmful substances – including asbestos – in the workplace. Federal law usually trumps state law, but victims injured due to inadequate hazard labeling are still allowed to sue their employer for damages under state law.  The American Tort Reform Association, an industry-funded group, tried to overturn that and was unsuccessful.

I learned of this favorable ruling from Leah Nicholls, the Kazan-Budd attorney at Public Justice, a Washington D.C.-based public interest law firm.  I am proud to say that Kazan Law co-funds Leah Nicholls at Public Justice so she can work on difficult cases to protect people and the environment against powerful interests.

“The court’s opinion is great news for all of us who want to hold employers liable for injuries to employees,” Leah said.

“OSHA endorses the ability of employees injured because of inadequate labeling of hazardous substances to sue under state law to get damages for their injuries and, importantly, to prevent the same injuries from happening to other employees,” she added. “The fact that the D.C. Circuit held that OSHA’s endorsement stands will help persuade other courts that the existence of federal regulations does not prevent people from suing under state laws.”

The US Supreme Court has issued several rulings in recent years scaling back Americans’ ability to sue corporations for damages. The high court is also the most business-friendly since World War II, according to the New York Times business section. In that context especially, Leah said, “This is a heartening decision.”  I concur.

New Year, New Name for Kazan Law

Kazan LawIt’s a new year and our firm has a new name.  A new year is always an excellent time for change, revitalization and renewal. Sometimes change is by choice; you initiate it. Other times change comes to you unbidden and you need to embrace that change and embrace the opportunities it brings.

Here at Kazan Law, we have had change come our way even though we did not seek it.  We were Kazan, McClain, Satterley, Lyons, Greenwood & Oberman.  As of today, our new name is Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, a Professional Law Corporation—a reflection of two of our longtime partners choosing retirement.

Dianna Lyons and James Oberman are difficult to say goodbye and farewell to – although we do most emphatically wish them both well.  Both these veteran attorneys are giants in the field and have been with me for many years.  Jim was a certified appellate specialist who did outstanding motion and appeals work and Dianna was a great appellate lawyer who became an accomplished trial lawyer with us. I’ll be giving you a closer look at each of their careers as a proper send-off soon. For now just know that we will miss them.

But as the chapters on their careers at Kazan Law and in asbestos litigation close, new chapters will open. New brilliant young minds fresh from law school and on fire to change the world – or at least a piece of it – will find their way to our door. We will welcome them in just as we once welcomed Dianna Lyons and James Oberman.  And new attorneys will work with us to help you and your families as we always have.

Bottom line?  We’re still Kazan Law.  That hasn’t changed.  We are still the ground-breaking top-ranked asbestos litigation firm we’ve been for decades. We remain passionately committed to fighting for the rights of victims of asbestos exposure and trail blazing new precedents in asbestos law.

Kazan Law is a nationally recognized plaintiffs’ asbestos law firm with a particular expertise as asbestos lawyers fighting for victims of mesothelioma, a cancer that is a result of exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. Some of the principals in our firm are pioneers in asbestos litigation and among the most experienced asbestos lawyers in California. Our attorneys have been instrumental in winning precedent-setting rulings by the California Appellate and Supreme Courts that have impacted asbestos law in California and ensured that asbestos victims have the opportunity to seek justice in the court system against those who caused their illness.

New Evidence Reveals That Scientists Were Paid by Chrysotile Industry to Write Pro-Asbestos Article

asbestos industryWhen is a grant not a grant?  When it is really a consulting fee, according to a group of angry asbestos activists, including several physicians. The asbestos activists recently wrote a scathing letter to the editor of a medical journal to protest an article it published that was favorable to asbestos. In their letter, which is posted on the Asian Ban Asbestos Network’s Facebook page, the asbestos activists cite new evidence that the scientists who authored the article received consulting fees – not an unrestricted grant – from the International Chrysotile Association (ICA), as stated in the article.

They further note that the medical journal’s editor Roger McClellan, to whom the letter is addressed, is a personal friend of the article’s lead author David Bernstein PhD. and that McClellan himself also at one time received payment to testify on behalf of an asbestos company.

“We believe the article violates ethical standards of disclosure that all scientists and scientific publications are expected to uphold,” the asbestos activists state in the letter protesting the article “Health Risks of Chrysotile Revisited,” published in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology.

Chrysotile, a white asbestos, is the most widely used form of asbestos, making up about 95% of the asbestos in the United States and a similar level in other countries.  It has been included along with other forms of asbestos as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Epidemiologists and other scientists have published peer reviewed scientific papers establishing chrysotile as a leading cause of mesothelioma.

Chrysotile has been recommended for inclusion in the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent, an international treaty restricting global trade in hazardous materials. If listed, exports of chrysotile would be allowed only to countries that explicitly consent to importing it. Canada, a major chrysotile producer, has been criticized by the Canadian Medical Association for opposing including chrysotile in the Convention.

The letter to McClellan is signed by Canadian asbestos activist Kathleen Ruff and four physicians, three Canadian and one Korean, who specialize in public health and preventive medicine.

The asbestos activists’ letter objects to the fact that undisclosed financial interests of scientists who claim to be impartial may have influenced them to conclude that chrysotile may not be so bad after all.  The article in question concludes, “The importance of the present and other similar reviews is that the studies they report show that low exposures to chrysotile do not present a detectable risk to health.”

The letter writers state that a key ICA official has confirmed that Bernstein invoiced ICA a total of $200,000 to write those words and that he has in the past been paid by asbestos producer Georgia Pacific to write similar articles.  “A New York court has ruled that such conduct by Dr. Bernstein constitutes potential crime-fraud,” the letter says.

Asbestos Exposure Continues to be a Danger

asbestos exposure Asbestos exposure still persists as a health threat.  Not just in third world countries with lax rules for hazardous materials but also in highly regulated countries like the United States and Canada.  Those of us involved in asbestos victims’ advocacy are so acutely aware of the continued pervasiveness of asbestos exposure that it always comes as kind of a shock when people seem oblivious to it.

But still I was very surprised when I came across this opening sentence in a recent scientific article about  asbestos exposure:  Asbestos describes a group of naturally occurring silicate mineral fibers that were frequently used in industry during the 20th century due to their desirable flame retardant and tensile properties.

Although the article goes on to clarify that asbestos exposure continues and “the burden of disease is considerable,” the opening sentence sets a misleading tone that unfortunately all too many people hold to be the truth.  In my decades of experience as an asbestos litigation attorney, I continue to be amazed by how the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that asbestos exposure is a thing of the past. This is certainly not the case.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, asbestos in the US today is still used in

The assumption that asbestos is now mostly a historical problem affecting only people who worked in construction and other industrial trades is a dangerous one to make.  According to some estimates the global trade in asbestos may have increased by as much as 20 percent last year with global exports said to have increased from 1,081,885 tons in 2011 to 1,327,592 tons in 2012. Russia is said to now be the world’s leading exporter of asbestos.

Although asbestos becomes dangerous only when disturbed or damaged, it is naive to presume that the products it is currently approved for use in here in the U.S. will remain intact and never break down.  When asbestos breaks down, bad things happen.  Dust and fibers released can find their way into the lungs if inhaled.  The resulting damage can take decades to emerge.  When it does emerge as mesothelioma it is a death sentence.  In the future we may see more cases of mesothelioma in people who were exposed without their knowledge and without working in occupations typically associated with asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos Activist Laurie Kazan-Allen Receives England’s Robert Tressell Award

Laurie Kazan-AllenHelping those exposed to asbestos achieve justice is what we do at Kazan Law. I take great pride in having founded this firm and in our victories in this area.  But I also take great pride in personally introducing a leading asbestos activist to the struggle against asbestos exposure which set her on a path to help protect people around the world from its fatal consequences. She happens to be my sister Laurie Kazan-Allen.

Lest you think that it is only familial pride that prompts me to talk about my sister, I am pleased to tell you that she has just received the United Kingdom’s Construction Safety Campaign’s distinguished Robert Tressell award for her work as an asbestos activist.

The Robert Tressell Award is given to an individual who has provided outstanding service and commitment to workers in the UK by campaigning for safe working environments and assisting those who have been harmed or are suffering from occupation-related diseases.

According to official sources, Laurie received her award for “her global campaign against asbestos, her editorship of the British Asbestos Newsletter and her galvanizing of campaigners globally to one day deliver an asbestos-free world for the future generations of mankind.” “I am,” she said “honored by this recognition from construction workers, a group with one of the highest rates of asbestos-related disease. The CSC and its members are fully aware of the ongoing risks posed by occupational asbestos exposure and have played a frontline role in the campaign for asbestos justice in the UK and abroad.”

In addition to publishing the British Asbestos Newsletter, a periodical widely acknowledged as the authoritative resource for the UK campaign for asbestos justice, Laurie has been involved as an asbestos activist for over 20 years on global anti-asbestos initiatives.

She leads The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), which helps coordinate international asbestos conferences and is actively involved in UK and international asbestos issues. The IBAS website reports on current asbestos developments as well as on IBAS initiatives and events. Laurie has also published several books and monographs on asbestos topics.

“It was a complete surprise,” Laurie said in an email telling me about her award, “But nevertheless, it is wonderful to be recognized by the trade unionists for the work I have done.”

Meet Kazan Law Associate Julianna Rivera

Juliana RiveraOne of Kazan Law’s newest associate attorneys is Julianna Rivera.  A Detroit native and recent law school grad who passed the Michigan Bar in 2011, Julianna moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in late 2012 and passed the California Bar in February 2013.  She started at Kazan Law this past July.

Ms. Rivera’s astute knowledge of law and legal proceedings combined with her compassion for human suffering and her determination to seek justice for those wronged make her a very promising attorney for Kazan Law.  We are proud to be helping to produce the next generation of asbestos attorneys.  Now let’s talk with Ms. Rivera.

Why did you choose to become an attorney?

My undergraduate degrees are in History and Spanish, and I wasn’t quite certain about what I wanted to do next.  I decided to pursue a degree in law because I saw attorneys doing all sorts of different and compelling work.  Some were in the court room, some were doing nonprofit work and others were working in public policy and local government. Law school seemed like a natural and good stepping stone to many interesting and fulfilling career paths. And I was right.

Why did you come to work for us here at Kazan Law?

I heard that Kazan Law was looking for a law and motion attorney, and I had been working as a research attorney in the Michigan Court of Appeals.  I started researching the firm, and I was very impressed with Kazan Law’s attorneys and the big victories they win for their clients.  I wanted to be a part of a team that does meaningful and important work.  I was also excited about the prospect of working at such a strong litigation firm.

How did you become interested in working with mesothelioma and asbestos cases?

I’ve learned about asbestos and mesothelioma at Kazan Law. It’s opened my eyes to this whole area of law. Our clients are mostly workers and families who were exposed to asbestos and didn’t know it and now their lives are being cut short.  The injustice was obvious.  And because of that, I feel like it is very important that we do this work not only to help our clients but to put corporations on notice that they cannot act with impunity. That there is a civil justice system and it does work. I like the sense of purpose we have at Kazan Law.

What else do you like about your work here at Kazan Law?

I enjoy working with such a passionate and caring team.  Kazan Law really cares about their clients, and I see on a daily basis how hard our staff works, and how we don’t stop until we achieve a good outcome for our clients.

I also like how much Kazan Law cares about the community and supports nonprofits.  We have a foundation and we help sponsor fundraising events for many nonprofits such as the Alameda County Food Bank. Tonight, for example, I am going to an event for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, another organization we support.

Asbestos Activist is First Recipient of New International Award

Katheleen Ruff CR Award 2013

Dr. Barry Castleman with Kathleen Ruff

An asbestos activist has been chosen for the first ever activist award given by an international science group dedicated to helping to solve global occupational and environmental health problems.

The activist is Kathleen Ruff, a Canadian long-time asbestos industry critic and board member of Canada’s Rideau Institute, a non-profit public policy research organization.  Kathleen received the Canadian Public Health Association’s National Public Health Hero Award in 2011 for her advocacy to end Canada’s export of asbestos.

She has written extensively about Canada’s asbestos industry for GBAN, the e-newsletter of the Global Ban Asbestos Network. She also founded and coordinates a human rights news website called Right On Canada.  Her article “Exposé of the International Chrysotile Association” appeared in both publications.

“It is time for the immunity – enjoyed by the asbestos industry and its lobby groups for so many decades – to end,” she said.

We cited Kathleen’s high caliber investigative reporting recently when we told you here about an academic scientist accused of colluding with the asbestos industry to downplay health risks.

The controversy centered on the accuracy of the conclusions of research on asbestos miners by McGill University’s Prof. J.C. McDonald.  “Prof. McDonald’s research was reportedly financed with one million dollars by the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association (QAMA).” Kathleen boldly revealed.

Now at its annual meeting on October 25-26, the Collegium Ramazzini presented their first activist award to Kathleen for her relentless work in the global asbestos struggle.  American asbestos expert   Dr. Barry Castleman  gave the introductory remarks.

We at Kazan Law are pleased that an asbestos activist was the Collegium’s top priority for this new award and agree that Kathleen is a worthy recipient.  Her efforts in exposing both the dangers of asbestos and the corruption surrounding its continued permitted use both are in line with the Collegium’s mission.

The Collegium Ramazzini, headquartered in Italy, assesses present and future risks of injury and disease attributable to the workplace and the environment. It focuses especially on the identification of preventable risk factors.  Asbestos exposure certainly fits that bill.

Mesothelioma Rates Double for Firefighters According to New Study

firefighter asbestos exposureFirefighter mesothelioma rates are twice that of the rest of the population according to a dramatic new study – the first ever of its kind.

The researchers said it was likely that the findings were associated with exposure to asbestos, and noted that this is the first study ever to identify higher rates of mesothelioma in U.S. firefighters.

What also makes the study important is that it analyzed cancers and cancer deaths through 2009 among 29,993 firefighters from the Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco fire departments who were employed since 1950.  The large number of study subjects and the many years that they were tracked elevates the credibility and importance of the study; especially in light of the grim results.

The findings are consistent with earlier studies, but because this one followed a larger study population for a longer period of time, the results strengthen the scientific evidence for a relation between firefighting and cancer, the researchers said.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) led the study in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute and the University of California Davis. The results from the NIOSH researchers and their colleagues were reported on October 14 in the online edition of the international medical journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, an offshoot of the cutting edge British Medical Journal.

Other types of cancer were also found to be elevated in this study of firefighters in the three U.S. cities. The researchers found that rates of cancers of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems were higher in the firefighters than in the U.S. population as a whole.

Firefighters can be exposed to contaminants from fires that are known or suspected to cause cancer. These contaminants include combustion byproducts such as benzene and formaldehyde, and materials in debris such as asbestos from older structures.  These materials may be inert under normal conditions but break down and are released when structures collapse during a fire.

The findings of the new study do not address other cancer risk factors, such as smoking, diet and alcohol consumption, NIOSH pointed out, according to an article in EHS Today, an occupational health and safety magazine.

A second phase of the study is planned and will further examine employment records from the three fire departments to gain more insight into occupational exposures, and to look at exposures in relation to cancer incidence and mortality, NIOSH said.

Mesothelioma Rates Double for Firefighters According to New Study

firefighter asbestos exposureFirefighter mesothelioma rates are twice that of the rest of the population according to a dramatic new study – the first ever of its kind.

The researchers said it was likely that the findings were associated with exposure to asbestos, and noted that this is the first study ever to identify higher rates of mesothelioma in U.S. firefighters.

What also makes the study important is that it analyzed cancers and cancer deaths through 2009 among 29,993 firefighters from the Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco fire departments who were employed since 1950.  The large number of study subjects and the many years that they were tracked elevates the credibility and importance of the study; especially in light of the grim results.

The findings are consistent with earlier studies, but because this one followed a larger study population for a longer period of time, the results strengthen the scientific evidence for a relation between firefighting and cancer, the researchers said.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) led the study in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute and the University of California Davis. The results from the NIOSH researchers and their colleagues were reported on October 14 in the online edition of the international medical journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, an offshoot of the cutting edge British Medical Journal.

Other types of cancer were also found to be elevated in this study of firefighters in the three U.S. cities. The researchers found that rates of cancers of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems were higher in the firefighters than in the U.S. population as a whole.

Firefighters can be exposed to contaminants from fires that are known or suspected to cause cancer. These contaminants include combustion byproducts such as benzene and formaldehyde, and materials in debris such as asbestos from older structures.  These materials may be inert under normal conditions but break down and are released when structures collapse during a fire.

The findings of the new study do not address other cancer risk factors, such as smoking, diet and alcohol consumption, NIOSH pointed out, according to an article in EHS Today, an occupational health and safety magazine.

A second phase of the study is planned and will further examine employment records from the three fire departments to gain more insight into occupational exposures, and to look at exposures in relation to cancer incidence and mortality, NIOSH said.

Leading Asbestos Scientist Denies Helping Georgia-Pacific Fight Asbestos Claims

asbestos industry fraudBecause the link between malignant mesothelioma and asbestos exposure is so definitive, you would think that by now no scientist would try to prove otherwise. Especially with the loss of life, pain and suffering that malignant mesothelioma causes.

But alas, you’d be thinking incorrectly.

The bigger question to ponder here is can science – and more specifically scientists – be bought?  Can the lure of money influence their research results?  Would a scientist knowingly or unknowingly come up with conclusions that would enhance the bottom line of the business paying for the research?

According to detailed online reports in Hazards, a UK occupational health and safety magazine and the US scientific journal Nature, a leading toxicologist’s work on asbestos is suspected by US courts in California and New York of aiding fraud.

But the toxicologist, Ken Donaldson, an emeritus professor at the University of Edinburgh, UK, claims he contributed to academic studies on the effects of asbestos in good faith and was “naïve” not to disclose his separate paid consulting for the company involved, Georgia-Pacific, an Atlanta-based multinational and subsidiary of Koch Industries.

He also declares that he did not know at the time that the research was done under the direction of lawyers for Georgia-Pacific, who planned to use the results to fight asbestos claims.

New York’s Supreme Court Appellate Division in June ordered Georgia-Pacific to turn over the raw data and internal communications related to research that, judges said, were “intended to cast doubt on the capability of chrysotile [white] asbestos to cause cancer”.  The substance is a component in Georgia Pacific’s joint compound used in construction projects.

Donaldson, who was a co-author on some of the research, has been criticized by other environmental health researchers, both for failing to declare his interests on the papers, and later for claiming that he had no links or funding connections to asbestos manufacturers. Some are calling for Edinburgh University to sever ties with Donaldson, a previously well-regarded world expert on lung diseases caused by inhaled particles of various types.

Georgia-Pacific allegedly funded the research in an attempt to prove that many asbestos-exposed cancer sufferers could go uncompensated because they were exposed to the wrong kind of “shorter” chrysotile fibers, were not exposed at high enough levels or, if exposed at a high level, not exposed long enough. Global exports of chrysotile increased by 20 per cent in 2012.

Laurie Kazan Allen of the London-based International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) – my sister – told Hazards: “The lack of transparency is what is appalling on this. Donaldson, like many of his co-authors, clearly had an undeclared relationship with Georgia-Pacific. Professor Donaldson says the conclusions of the papers are ‘indisputable’, conclusions the court determined could be part of a Georgia-Pacific bid to deny the asbestos cancer link.”

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