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Laurie Kazan-Allen

The U.S. Asbestos Ban That Wasn’t

asbestos banMy sister Laurie Kazan-Allen, a global anti-asbestos advocate based in London, just reminded me that July 12 marked the 25th anniversary of the asbestos ban that wasn’t. On that date in 1989, the EPA issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule.

In 1981, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had requested information from American companies regarding the asbestos content of their products. The result was the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule. This was a common sense response to a lethal hazard that endangered public health. All types of asbestos fibers are known to cause fatal illnesses in humans.

However, in 1991, thanks to the efforts of the asbestos industry lobby, this rule was vacated and remanded (no longer exists and sent back) by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. As a result, most of the original ban on the manufacture, importation, processing, or distribution in commerce for the majority of the asbestos-containing products originally covered in the 1989 final rule was overturned. The case was Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA, 947 F.2d 1201 (5th Cir. 1991). This ruling which overturned a sane and sensible law leaves many consumer products still legally allowed to contain trace amounts of asbestos.

As a direct consequence of the appellate decision, a further 250,000+ tons of asbestos was used in the U.S. just between 1991 and 2010, according to data from the United States Geological Survey reported by Laurie in the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat newsletter.

Wikipedia clearly states, “The United States remains one of the few developed countries that hasn’t yet fully banned asbestos.” Despite several attempts by members of Congress to ban asbestos through legislative means, no ban has been adopted.

Examples from the EPA’s own website of asbestos-containing products not banned:

  • Cement corrugated sheet
  • Cement flat sheet
  • Clothing
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Roofing felt
  • Vinyl floor tile
  • Cement shingle
  • Millboard
  • Cement pipe
  • Automatic transmission components
  • Clutch facings
  • Friction materials
  • Disk brake pads
  • Drum brake linings
  • Brake blocks
  • Gaskets
  • Non-roofing coatings
  • Roof coatings

For me, this is a sad anniversary as I think of my clients who have died as a direct result of asbestos exposure. My firm often achieves awards and settlements of huge sums of money for asbestos victims because money seems to be the only thing that the companies responsible care about. While money helps balance the scales of justice, it does not compensate for the loss of a human life. And these companies continue to place no value on that.

International Group Calls for Total Ban of Asbestos to End Asbestos-Related Deaths

asbestos-related deathsAsbestos-related deaths are preventable. That is part of why asbestos-related deaths are especially tragic and inspire the work we do at Kazan Law as asbestos attorneys. But asbestos-related deaths continue to occur because uncaring people place profits before human lives.  My unrelenting concern about this inspired my sister Laurie Kazan-Allen to also become involved in the fight against asbestos in Europe where she lives. I am proud of the fact that she heads the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).

Just recently she told me about a high level international asbestos conference in Finland. The International Conference on Monitoring and Surveillance of Asbestos-Related Diseases gave rise to a new call on the part of the global health leaders in attendance to end asbestos-related deaths. To achieve this they acknowledged the need for a complete global asbestos ban. They put their unanimous agreement into a formal document called The Helsinki Declaration.

Speaking on behalf of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, as reported by IBAS, the conference organizer, Dr. Panu Oksa said, “There is no safe use of asbestos.” Dr. Ken Takahashi, from Japan’s University of Occupational and Environmental Health, stated, “Asbestos-related deaths are preventable by banning the use of asbestos, as WHO recommends.” An increase in asbestos-related deaths is being observed in developing countries where knowledge is lacking about the hazards of exposure.

The conference consensus report Asbestos, Asbestosis and Cancer: Helsinki Criteria for Diagnosis and Attribution 2014 includes these facts:

  • 2 million tons of asbestos per year is exported for use in products such as cement and insulation
  • 125 million workers are exposed to asbestos every year
  • Asbestos even at low doses is a known human carcinogen
  • There are 107,000 asbestos-related deaths worldwide every year
  • 55 countries have banned the use of new asbestos
  • The financial impact of asbestos use is negative for companies and economies when health costs are considered
  • Asbestos in existing buildings in countries that have banned asbestos and the continued use of asbestos in countries that haven’t banned asbestos, means that asbestos-related deaths and illness will continue into the second half of the 21st century

It is significant that independent world experts and authorities have again reviewed all available evidence and concluded all types of asbestos are deadly, prevention of exposures is crucial, and the world needs a total ban on continued use, mining, manufacture, export/import and sale of raw asbestos and products made with it. Only the asbestos mining industry, concentrated in Russia and its paid supporters disagree.

Laurie Kazan-Allen Receives Award for Global Ban Asbestos Efforts

global asbestos banSaturday, December 21, 2013 marks the second anniversary of the death of Rachel Lee Jung-Lim.  Rachel was a mesothelioma patient who died because of her asbestos-caused illness at age 39.  But this young South Korean woman also became in the brief time left to her, a strong voice in the global ban asbestos fight.

Rachel was supported in her campaign against asbestos by a leading international veteran in the global asbestos contamination struggle, my sister Laurie Kazan-Allen. I’ve just learned that Laurie has been announced as this year’s recipient of the Rachel Lee Jung-Lim Award.

Laurie became interested in asbestos issues long ago. Because she was living in England, I asked her to serve legal papers for Kazan Law on asbestos companies based there who we were suing in the US.

She also did some research for me on cases involving clients who had worked in the UK.  That’s how she initially got to meet victims groups. But Laurie deserves full credit for where she took it from there and for the level of integrity, dedication and passion she has brought to this cause.

But I fear I am biased. So I will simply quote from the letter announcing Laurie’s award:

  • Laurie Kazan-Allen has devoted herself to the campaign of global asbestos ban over 14 years with the establishment of International Ban Asbestos Secretariat in 2000. In doing so, she was one of the first to raise the issue of increased asbestos consumption in developing countries, particularly in Asia, whilst most western societies have banned or reduced.
  • As an activist, her soul has rested always with victims and through recognizing, organizing, and supporting victims, she has contributed a lot to the launching and strengthening of civil movements in many developed and developing countries.
  • Without her, it would have been impossible to launch Ban Asbestos Network Korea in 2008, Asia Ban Asbestos network in 2009, and Indonesia Ban Asbestos Network in 2010.
  • Her life has been a role model to many activists as well as experts. We do hope her dream of a global asbestos ban comes true not far from now as Rachel Lee Jung-Lim wished too.

The award is jointly presented by the following groups:

Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health
School of Public Health Seoul National University
Ban Asbestos Network Korea
Korean Association of Asbestos Victims and their Families
Asia Ban Asbestos Network
Ban Asbestos Network Japan
Asia Monitor Resource Center

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.”

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.”

Italian Asbestos Victims Ask Yale to Revoke Convicted Eternit CEO’s Honorary Degree

Casale MonferratoMention the Piedmont region of Italy and most people think of a glamorous vacation destination with picturesque villages and castles framed by the Alps.  But behind the tourist façade, it is an asbestos-infested valley of the shadow of death.

More than 2,000 people have died from mesothelioma just in Casale Monferrato, a town that has been around since the days of the ancient Roman Empire. By the dawn of the 20th century, it became known as a cement producing capital because of a factory built there in 1906 by Eternit, a company based in neighboring Switzerland.  Founded in 1903, Eternit produced asbestos-containing cement until 1997.

Headed by the Schmidheiny family since 1933, the company flourished during the post World War II rebuilding boom throughout Europe.  Besides Italy, Eternit also had factories in the Netherlands, France and Brazil. But amid a growing scandal about asbestos, Eternit’s four Italian factories closed in 1986 and the company was sold to an Austrian bank in 2003.

In 2009, following five years of investigation, billionaire former CEO Stephan Schmidheiny , 65, and major shareholder Louis de Cartier Marchienne were accused of criminal neglect . Both men were found guilty in February 2013 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.  You can learn more about this important asbestos trial in a free ebook  co-edited by my sister Laurie-Kazan Allen and her husband David Allen, asbestos victim advocates in their own right.

Marchienne died at age 91 on May 21, 2013 during the appeal of his sentence. Charges against him were dropped in June. But Schmidheiny’s sentence was increased to 18 years. He is appealing the case to Italy’s highest court.

Now, a group of mesothelioma sufferers and their families in Italy are seeking to have Yale University, an elite American college in New Haven, Connecticut, take back an honorary degree it presented to Schmidheiny in 1996.  A New Haven attorney representing the Italian group sent a petition to Yale officials this week.  Yale has never revoked an honorary degree and has expressed support for Schmidheiny .   Ironically, Schmidheiny’s Yale honors were conferred on him for his environmental activities, which cynically could be seen as an attempt to distance himself from the environmental and human disasters his company created.

Asbestos Issue Rising to the Forefront in Brazil

Like a number of countries around the world, Brazil is currently in the midst of tackling a major public health issue that has continued to pose a serious risk to its citizens for years: asbestos.

Brazil has been one of the countries at the forefront of the asbestos issue since the Global Asbestos Congress was held in the nation in 2000. A number of Brazil’s major states – including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul have already moved to ban the carcinogenic substance, while similar legislation is circulating in other regions of the country as well.

According to Laurie Kazan-Allen, Coordinator for International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), while the asbestos lobbyists in Brazil have taken a serious hit, resistance to the ban is still pretty prevalent throughout the country. Wealthy asbestos backers have pushed for the status quo, which supports the “controlled use of asbestos,” according to Kazan-Allen.

Asbestos hearings headed to Brazilian Supreme Court

August marks an important month for the fate of asbestos in Brazil. Kazan-Allen notes that the Brazilian Supreme Court is set to take on the issue, hearing from local and international experts ranging from supporters of the ban to industry backers.

Last week, an agenda was set for the initial round of hearings on the asbestos issue, with more than 35 speakers scheduled to testify on the issue, including some of the world’s most notorious asbestos supporters. Scientific experts from Italy, Brazil and the U.S. are also scheduled to appear during the court hearings.

As Kazan-Allen notes, the international importance of the court hearings can be seen in the fact that the end-of-the-month proceedings will be translated into English.

Despite scientific evidence, asbestos issue rolls on

Though many states in Brazil have banned the substance, the fact that asbestos industry supporters still have a voice is alarming considering the plethora of evidence pointing to the serious risks caused by exposure to the carcinogenic material.

The dangers of asbestos have been seen as far back as the days of Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher who noticed that slaves who worked with asbestos appeared to suffer a “sickness of the lungs.”

Fast forward to 2012, and it has been well-documented that asbestos exposure can lead to the development of asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. All told, the World Health Organization estimates that such asbestos-related diseases kill approximately 107,000 people around the world each year.

Laurie Kazan-Allen Receives Prestigious Award for Raising Global Awareness of Asbestos Diseases

Laurie Kazan-Allen with ADSA executive Rosemarie Vojakovic

Laurie Kazan-Allen with ADSA executive Rosemarie Vojakovic

Fighting for asbestos victims is my family’s work. I am very proud to announce that my sister, Laurie Kazan-Allen, coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) since its inception in 2000, received the distinction of being named the 2012 winner of the Emeritus Professor Eric G Saint Memorial Award on Sunday, March 25 at the Annual General meeting of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) in Perth, WA.

The Emeritus Professor Eric G Saint Memorial Award has been awarded 21 times and includes medical professionals such as doctors and nurses, asbestos disease clinicians and researchers as well as representatives of the ADSA. Laurie-Kazan Allen is the only non-Australian recipient of this highly prestigious award.

Announcing the 2012 recipient, Rosemarie Vojakovic, an Executive Officier of the ADSA said:

“Over the year, our organisation (the ADSA) has greatly benefitted from information provided by our worthy recipient. Of particular importance and benefit to all Australians was information mainly relating to white asbestos and its carcinogenic properties which cause malignant mesothelioma.Our worthy recipient has represented our organisation with pride and dignity in all parts of the world and placed our organisation on the global scene.”

The award was presented to Laurie Kazan-Allen by the Honourable John Kobelke, MLA, member of the legislative assembly, the lower house of the Western Australian legislature.

The award’s namesake, Dr. Eric Saint, was born in Britain in 1918. He qualified as a medical doctor and served in the RAF in India World War II. In 1948 he went to Western Australia, where he remained until he died at age 70.

He spent his career occupied in issues related to public and occupational health including infant welfare, insects and pests and the asbestos mining industry.  In the 1940s he sent a letter regarding the Wittenoom blue asbestos mine to the authorities predicting that “in a year or two, [the company of] Australian Blue Asbestos will produce the richest crop of asbestos disease in the world’s literature.” The letter came to light and was used successfully as Wittenoom miners began to litigate against the mine owners for the diseases they contracted working at Wittenoom.

Dr Eric Saint helped to found the medical school in Western Australia and is widely regarded as an iconic figure in WA history.

Casale Monferrato Council Signs ‘Pact with the Devil’ Over Asbestos Contamination

It’s a good thing the mayor and town council of Casale Monferrato, Italy, weren’t presiding over the Nuremberg Trials following World War II, as it’s now clear that these individuals care little about serving justice to the parties responsible for severe crimes.

Reports indicate the town council, led by Mayor Giorgio Demezzi, has decided to accept a deal referred to by many as a “pact with the devil.” The deal involves an 18 million euro settlement offer from former asbestos executive Stephen Schmidheiny, who is on trial for his role in the asbestos contamination caused by the Eternit factory.

According to Laurie Kazan-Allen, the Coordinator of International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), the council’s decision to accept the settlement was made more than two weeks before Schmidheiny’s deadline of December 31. A verdict in the case was scheduled to be handed down on February 13, 2012.

Church authorities back asbestos victims

The news of the settlement, which will reportedly protect Schmidheiny from liability in this case and any future asbestos transgressions in the town, has hit asbestos victims and their families hard.

A number of groups, from trade unionists to church officials, have expressed their support for these victims and publicly denounced the decision by the town council allowing Schmidheiny to skirt the ramifications of the legal system.

Kazan-Allen noted a spokesperson for the social department of the Church Dioceses said church authorities had “asked the Lord to give those who govern the City of Casale the courage and the judgement to pursue the common good, which is never the sum total of individual good or balancing the books, but something greater and more noble.”

Politicians choose euros over justice

The speed with which the Casale Monferrato town council and mayor accepted the settlement, coupled with the fact that they reportedly refused to show victims a draft of the proposal, suggests these politicians were blinded by the substantial sum of money.

Such a move comes at the expense of asbestos victims, many of whom have died as a result of illnesses such as lung cancer, asbestosis or malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. Many others are still suffering from the diseases, with treatment options limited due to the fact that diagnoses often occur too late.

As Kazan-Allen puts it, Casale Monferrato has accepted Schmidheiny’s “blood money,” failing to see the “human tragedy” that has occurred right in front of their eyes.

Eternit Seeks to Protect Itself, Shed Asbestos Exposure Blame

Eternit looks to shed asbestos blame in Italy An ongoing trial in Italy is the latest example of an asbestos company looking to skirt the legal system and absolve itself from blame at the expense of exposure victims.

In a recent blog post, Laurie Kazan-Allen, the Coordinator of International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), noted that the “Great Asbestos Trial” involving asbestos conglomerate Eternit in Italy is beginning to show signs of corruption.

Specifically, Kazan-Allen wrote that lawyers for Stephan Schmidheiny, one of the two former Eternit executives being taken to court, have been engaging in secret negotiations with a number of municipalities that are directly involved in the case. With a three-judge panel expected to announce a verdict on February 13, the lawyers are seeking withdrawal of civic authorities from the case, which would undoubtedly have serious consequences for exposure victims.

Casale Monferrato offered millions by defendant’s lawyers

Casale Monferrato, the site of the recent international meeting dubbed “A World Without Asbestos” which sought to eliminate asbestos-related diseases around the world, is one town that has reportedly been offered a substantial amount of money from Schmidheiny’s attorneys.

According to Kazan-Allen, the town has been offered up to €20 million to settle the claim and withdraw “from this and any future trials (against Eternit) that it might be involved in.”

But Casale Monferrato is not alone, as the Mayor and town council of Cavagnolo agreed to a deal with the lawyers for €2 million for asbestos decontamination. As part of this “tombstone agreement,” the town said it would not bring any more legal action against the former Eternit executive even if more evidence was uncovered, Kazan-Allen explained.

Potential corruption taking focus away from victims

While the Mayor of Casale Monferrato has publicly stated the town would not consider an agreement similar to the one made in Cavagnolo, a source told Kazan-Allen that Casale’s town council is “refusing to show victims and unions the draft of the (proposed) agreement,” leading to more speculation that the municipality could ultimately give in.

Either way, the attention has been shifted away from the plight of the asbestos exposure victims in this case, many of whom are likely suffering from diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis or malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.

Scientific evidence continues to substantiate the claims of these individuals, as the World Health Organization estimates approximately 107,000 people are killed each year around the world as a result of such asbestos illnesses.

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