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High Number of Asbestos-Related Deaths in Philadelphia

Posted on: March 16th, 2016 by William Connelly

A new study has reported that the Philadelphia region is one of the worst in the country in regards to having a higher than the national average number of deaths related to asbestos. Throughout the United States, approximately 5 out of 100,000 deaths are caused from an asbestos-related disease or illness, according to the report by the Environmental Working Group Action Fund.

In Delaware County, this number goes up to 12.9 deaths out of 100,000 and from 1999 to 2013, there were 1,078 residents who passed away because of an asbestos-related disease.

The report took a combination of federal death records from mesothelioma and asbestosis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and utilized a formula that was designed by international cancer researchers from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which gave an estimate for asbestos-causing lung cancer fatalities.

In the area, other counties that also had a higher than average amount of asbestos-related illnesses are:

  • Montgomery County: 1,272 deaths (1999-2013), 10.8 mortality rate per year
  • Bucks County: 747 deaths (1999-2013), 8.0 mortality rate per year
  • Chester County: 439 deaths (1999-2013), 6.1 mortality rate per year
  • Philadelphia County: 1,345 deaths (1999-2013), 5.9 mortality rate per year

Asbestos is a natural fiber that can be woven into fabrics, and was used in fire-resistant and insulating materials. Asbestos was used for many years in insulation, floor tiling, asbestos roof sheeting, brake pads and siding. Contractors commonly used asbestos products because the products were durable and extremely resistant to heat.

Asbestos becomes extremely dangerous when it is released into the air. The asbestos fibers can enter your body in one of three ways:

  • Inhalation-The most common way that asbestos enters the body. If you breathe air that has asbestos-containing fibers in it, you can become exposed to the critical illnesses that asbestos causes.
  • Ingestion-You can ingest asbestos fibers from drinking water.
  • Through your Skin-It is very rare, but asbestos fibers that come into contact with your skin can pass through the skin into your body.

Out of all of the United States, Philadelphia ranks third for having the highest number of deaths for that 14 year period and they had over 14,200 residents that died because of an asbestos-related disease. Out of that number, almost 5,000 of those deaths occurred in one of the counties in Pennsylvania that was discussed above.
California and Florida are the only other states that had more residents pass away from an asbestos-related disease during that time period.

Sumner Courthouse Gets Approval for Funds to Clean Asbestos

Posted on: March 16th, 2016 by William Connelly

Asbestos was discovered early in March in the Sumner Courthouse when a cleanup crew was doing some mold remediation as a part of the $350,000 that was being used to make upgrades to the courthouse on the Square and the Juvenile Courthouse in Gallatin. Since discovering the asbestos, up to $200,000 of emergency funds have been allocated to clean the asbestos from the courthouse and the adult probation building in Gallatin, according to officials.

The money to remove the asbestos was approved by the budget committee members and was granted based on an estimate that was given by county Grant Administrator, Kim Ark. The money will come out of the $70 million bond that was approved in 2015. Ark said that the asbestos cleanup will be finished no later than April.

Asbestos used to be thought of as an incredible product because it seemed to be great for construction because it was inexpensive, a great insulator and is incredibly resistant to heat. Asbestos was widely used in a variety of buildings, with the Sumner Courthouse being one of them.

If the asbestos is disturbed, tiny fibers are released into the air and that can then be inhaled. Asbestos can lead to very severe and fatal illnesses, including lung disease and mesothelioma, which is an aggressive type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. The latency period for mesothelioma is incredibly long, and can take anywhere from 20-40 years for symptoms to develop.

The mold remediation on the courthouse has been halted until the asbestos can be safely removed. The asbestos was found in the boiler room and also on the basement floor tile, air handler unit closet tile and ceiling spray at the adult probation building. Also, some water line insulation also tested positive for asbestos at the courthouse. Officials said that they will not disturb the waterline though, since it was installed in 1939 and is almost ready to be replaced.

Ark said, “We’re currently doing an evaluation of all of our county buildings for maintenance issues and replacing the water line will be on the priority list. Some of the floor tile also tested positive for asbestos but we’re also not disturbing it and as long as you’re not disturbing the asbestos, there’s no exposure.”

It is not unusual to have found asbestos in the courthouse, since it is almost 80 years old. The EPA did not ban using most asbestos-containing materials until 1973-1989. Sumner County Executive, Anthony Holt said, “It is not all over the place. We’ll clean it up before anybody is exposed to anything dangerous. We don’t want to take any chances so it does not become a health hazard.”

Teacher Passes Away From Asbestos Exposure in the UK

Posted on: January 27th, 2016 by William Connelly

Last week the tragic story about an elementary school teacher who passed away after being diagnosed with cancer was reported and the illness was a result of her exposure to asbestos in the workplace. Elizabeth Belt was 68 years old and had been battling mesothelioma for three years, which is a lung cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. Her death was investigated and it was discovered that she had regularly pinned her students’ work to asbestos boards at different schools across North Lincolnshire, which is where she used to work.

Before Ms. Belt passed away, she gave a detailed statement in which she recalled her years that she spent in schools in which she was exposed to asbestos before it became banned in the 1980s. Her statement said that her first teaching job was in 1968 in a primary school in Brigg County and the classrooms “would seem a bit dusty. There may have been exposure to asbestos at the infant section of the school. There were large sections of boarding where the children’s work was displayed and there would be a change of work every two to three weeks.”

Ten years later, Ms. Belt started to work at Baysgarth School, in Barton-upon-Humber. In her statement she said, “They had that same boarding and there was constant pinning and removing. There was considerable use of a staple gun.”

Paul Kelly, the coroner, reported that her death was the result of an industrial disease. Kelly stated, “I have no doubt that Mum contracted malignant mesothelioma as a result of ingesting asbestos while working as a teacher at various schools in north Lincolnshire between 1968 and 1995.”

It was publicized that North Lincolnshire Council’s insurers settled a personal injury claim with Belt’s family, but the amount of compensation was not disclosed. This heartbreaking story showcases that there is a pretty big problem with asbestos in the UK.

Belt’s daughter, Charlotte Shearwood said that she wants to raise awareness about mesothelioma, “It is a horrible, horrible disease. There is obviously a generation that worked with her in the same places. I suppose we are all angry, but I just think our sadness outweighs it.”

Liz Darlison, the director of services for the charity, Mesothelioma UK, stated, “This is a preventable, currently incurable, occupational disease. Many of our schools, public buildings and homes still contain asbestos and we owe it to future generations to address this public health disaster now.”

She also added: “Sincere condolences to Elizabeth Belt’s family and friends and thank you for sharing the experience which is a powerful message to us all. As a nation we have a humane responsibility to do more to improve outcomes for those affected and to make this disease history.”

Leominster Contractor Pays Fines for Asbestos Violations

Posted on: December 18th, 2015 by William Connelly

In Boston, a Leominster asbestos-abatement contractor from A & E Environmental is required to pay a penalty of $14,312 after it was established that they violated the asbestos regulations of their state by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. This is their second violation within a year’s time.

In May 2014, A & E Environmental had to pay a fine of $19,312 when they violated asbestos regulations at a residential building that was located in Millbury. A & E Environmental ended up only paying $5,000 of the penalty since MassDEP suspended the rest of it, provided that the company did not have any more violations for a year.

Unfortunately, MassDEP discovered a new asbestos violation on Dec. 30, 2014 at a job the company was working on that was located on Lake Street in Shrewsbury. A & E Environmental had failed to sufficiently seal their work area and they also failed to use a HEPA-filtered air ventilation system that is necessary to control the asbestos fibers. Since these new violations came to light, a “Demand for Payment” was issued to A & E Environmental by MassDEP to obtain the rest of the penalty that had been suspended, which was $14,312.50.

In addition to the fine, the company also is required to correct the violations at the location in Shrewsbury. MassDEP’s regulations state that the area that is being worked on must be completely sealed off and air filtration equipment must be operated while the asbestos is being removed, in addition to other stipulations. These requirements are in place to protect the public from asbestos fibers that could get released into the air and to prevent other parts of the building from becoming contaminated as well.

Before any company starts doing any type of removal work of asbestos, they are required to notify MassDEP 10 working days before the work will begin to allow MassDEP the opportunity to have a thorough inspection to make sure they are following the safety regulations.

Mary Jude Pisgley, the director of MassDEP’s Central Regional Office in Worcester stated, “Licensed asbestos abatement contractors are aware of the work practices that must be followed to conduct their work safely and in compliance with the regulations. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and following those work practices is imperative to ensure building occupants and the general public are not exposed to asbestos fibers. Failure to do so will result in significant penalties, as well as potential licensing sanctions against the violator.”

Safely removing asbestos is critical and failure to do so can carry serious consequences. When the asbestos fibers are disturbed, harmful dust is released into the air that can then be inhaled. If you experience a prolonged exposure and if you inhale a good amount of asbestos dust, you could be at risk for developing mesothelioma, a type of cancer that is caused from exposure to asbestos.

Higher than Average Asbestos-Related Deaths in Western New York

Posted on: December 18th, 2015 by William Connelly

The Environmental Working Group Action Fund, a national environmental group, found that there are three counties in Western New York that have a much higher than average number of deaths related to asbestos. They were provided with death reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and they also used international studies on lung cancer deaths.

In their findings, they discovered that from 1999-2013, the yearly death rate from asbestos-related illnesses in Niagara County was 14.5 per 100,000. Since the entire population of the county is 215,000, there are approximately 31 residents in the county who die from an asbestos-related illness each year.

In New York, the average number of deaths related to asbestos is 4.4 out of 100,000 and the national average is 4.9 per 100,000 people. In Cattaraugus County, the yearly asbestos death rate was 11.6 per 100,000 for that same 15 year time frame and in Erie County, there was 8.1 deaths per 100,000 residents. The report stated that there were 9 residents who passed away from an asbestos-related illness each year in Cattaraugus County and there were 75 residents each year in Erie County. Niagara County has the highest death rate in the state and comes in 57th out of all of the counties across the country.

Paul R. Dicky, the environmental health director from Niagara County stated, “I’m surprised they’re reporting this county, although historically, we have a lot of industry. Asbestos products could have been very common in boiler rooms and places like that.”

These figures were established by looking at official death reports that detailed the deaths associated with mesothelioma, which is a type of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos and by the deaths associated with lung disease, which can also be caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.

The report also looked at the deaths caused by lung cancer, and the environmental group believes a portion of those deaths were caused by exposure to asbestos. When there is a fatal case of lung cancer, the suspected cause is rarely if ever declared on the death certificate. Typically, the main cause of lung cancer is smoking, but Sonya Lunder of the Environmental Working Group said there can be additional causes of it as well.
In a report in 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is a unit of the World Health Organization, found that there are 3.2 to 4 lung cancer deaths that are caused by asbestos in the United States for every death that is caused by mesothelioma.

The report also states that in New York during that 15 year span from 1999-2013, there were 12,146 deaths caused by asbestos. Asbestos is an incredibly deadly and hazardous material that was commonly used in building materials because it was inexpensive and very resistant to heat. Exposure to asbestos has been known to lead to incredibly serious and often fatal illnesses, with mesothelioma being one of them. The latency period for asbestos-related illnesses is very long, so people may not realize that they are sick until many years after they were exposed to asbestos.

Connelly and Vogelzang Reach a Six Figure Settlement with Automobile Defendants after Several Weeks of Trial and Negotiation

Posted on: November 19th, 2015 by William Connelly

Partners William Connelly and Nicholas Vogelzang battled Ford Motor Company, Honeywell, Dana, Genuine Parts Corporation and John Crane on a case filed for over almost two years in the Daley Center on behalf of the​ir clients. ​The plaintiff was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in December of 2013 and attributed her disease to asbestos contained in the brake pads and gaskets that were used at the family gas stations they ran in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The defendants attempted a summary judgment twice in the case. The first time they were able to convince the discovery Judge there was no duty to warn ​the plaintiff of the hazards of asbestos contained within their products. However, the Judge ultimately reconsidered her original ruling and allowed the plaintiff to continue to trial. A new trial date was assigned from January of 2015 to October 2015. In the meantime, ​the plaintiff​ succumbed to her disease in March of the same year.

In the ​case​, attorneys Connelly and Vogelzang took on almost 20 lawyers at any given time during pretrial arguments determining what could be argued in front of the jury. After two weeks of hard work on all sides, the plaintiffs survived yet another round of Summary Judg​​​​ment motions by the defendants and the case was ready for trial. On October 28, 2015 a jury of 12 with two alternates was selected in a whirlwind day. The jury was told to come back Friday for opening arguments.

Friday morning, attorney Nicholas Vogelzang led off the day with a heartfelt appeal to the jury describing who Bertha Winford was and what asbestos she was exposed to that ultimately caused her death. His partner, William Connelly followed up with a stern opening showing the defendants failure to warn of the dangers of asbestos in their products. Each defendant then got up with varying defenses as to why their company should not be held responsible for the death of ​the plaintiff​.

The following week the jury was presented with a cast of experts as to how asbestos causes disease and what was known about the hazards of asbestos as well as the evolving knowledge of the hazards in the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s.

After almost a full week of trial in front of the jury, ​the ​Judge agreed to help all sides come together and reach a settlement rather than take a risk with a jury verdict. After several hours of negotiation and serious phone conversations with clients, a settlement was reached. The defendants limited their exposure while never admitting any negligence in the case. The plaintiffs children​ ​were able to put money aside for their father, who had been the mechanic grinding the asbestos brakes and gaskets. He has suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and is now being cared for in a home​.​

Residents in Mansfield Concerned about Asbestos Contamination from a Building’s Demolition

Posted on: November 3rd, 2015 by William Connelly

In Mansfield, Louisiana, there is great fear that there is asbestos contamination from a historic building that was torn down, covering the downtown of Mansfield in dust. Whether or not that dust contained asbestos is still a big question. The building that was torn down was the First Baptist Church, and it was built in 1911. The church has been vacant for many years, even after it was bought in 1982 by the Calhoun Family.

The property was renovated in 1994, “It was apartments,” Reimer Calhoun said. “Thirtyish apartments.” The state fire marshal’s office declared that the building was unsafe in 2011 and the buildings door were permanently closed. This last summer, the building was one of three that were demolished.

The heat and dust caused an unbearable mess for all of the neighbors, “We would have dust that would blow over to my porch and the bushes and stuff,” Williamson, a local business owner said.

Another shop owner, Elsa Mims said, “It was mainly the dust that was bothering us. There was just so much dust out there and we were changing filters three times a week.”

After the people had reached their limit with the dust and the mess, they called in the Department of Environmental Quality. Greg Langley of the DEQ responded to these complaints in September. A notice of deficiency was issued and the DEQ tested the property for asbestos and the October 8th results came back positive.
Dr. Samer Nachawati, a Pulmonologist at Willis-Knighton, said that asbestos, “Can also lead to certain types of cancer. Mesothelioma is the most associated cancer with asbestos.”

Calhoun was asked why an inspection was not completed prior to construction and he responded that he did not know.
The contractor for the project, Scott Shelton, declined to be interviewed, but did state over the phone that asbestos had only been found in three places and that only two areas needed to be abated. This information was different than the reports from Langley at DEQ, whose department found asbestos in 8 places. Langley shut down the work they were doing until all of the asbestos could be removed safely from the property.

Dr. Nachawati said that he does not think there is a very big risk for any local business owner getting sick from the traveling dust, but also said the risk would be the greatest for the workers who were in direct contact with it. The effects of asbestos inhalation are not immediate and can actually take up to 40 years to develop.

“You can see the effects of asbestos 10 years, 20 years, 30 years up to 40 years actually down the line,” Dr. Nachawati said.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the mesothelial tissue that is associated with asbestos exposure. The symptoms of this type of cancer include chest pain, a cough and shortness of breath, but since the latency period is so long, people may not know they have the illness for up to 40 years.

The town of Mansfield is just hoping that the project can now be finished correctly and safely from this point forward.

Woman Charged for Fake Staunton Asbestos Scare

Posted on: October 8th, 2015 by William Connelly

The Staunton courthouse, a 145 year old building, was shut down for three days in August after testing revealed that the building contained asbestos. However, in September, additional testing was conducted and it was found that there was no asbestos in the George M. Cochran Judicial Center that is located on East Beverley Street in Virginia.
Melissa S. Hart, a local woman, worked for a Lynchburg firm that conducted the initial testing on the courthouse and she is accused of falsifying the test results, according to the Staunton Police Department.

Hart, 51, was arrested on October 5, 2015 and is being charged with one felony count of forging a public record and another felony count that is related to falsifying documents. Her arrest is part of the ongoing investigation into the documents that were given to the City of Staunton, which discussed the alleged presence of asbestos in the George M. Cochran Judicial Center.

Supposedly, Hart falsified the asbestos reports and gave them to the city when she was employed by a civil engineering firm that the city contracted. Hart is no longer an employee of this firm. The engineering firm was reported to have found discrepancies in the asbestos test reports and they immediately contacted the city to let them know. There is no known motive as to why the documents were falsified.

Back in August, part of the third floor feeling collapsed in the courthouse, which caused the courthouse to close temporarily. In the early 1990s, the building went through some renovations and during that time, they went through the process for removing asbestos. In July, a few of the third-story ceiling tiles collapsed, which led to initial testing that said the debris tested positive for asbestos.

After the positive asbestos test, the city canceled some court cases and closed off the third-floor. However, on September 2, the city made an announcement that the courthouse was free of asbestos after a second firm was brought in to conduct another round of tests. Hart’s former employer, the Lynchburg firm of Hurt & Proffitt, had reported the initial positive tests.

The second firm that was brought, in, HDH Technical, Inc., did a thorough analysis of over 90 different samples of ceiling and floor tiles, insulation, mastic and other materials from all throughout the building, including the basement, and they did not find any asbestos, which was detailed in their 31 page report.

The abatement of asbestos that had been started on the third floor of the courthouse has ceased and they are now focusing on doing repairs to the ceiling that was damaged.
Hart is currently free on bond.

Woman’s Family Awarded $3.5 million After She Dies from Asbestos from Doing Her Husband’s Laundry

Posted on: October 8th, 2015 by William Connelly

The family of Barbara Brandes was awarded $3.5 million by a jury in King County, Washington. Mrs. Brandes recently passed away after suffering from mesothelioma. In February 2014, she started feeling ill and she was diagnosed with the cancer last summer. She passed away on April 15, the day before the closing arguments were to take place in her case against Brand Insulations.

Mesothelioma has a very long latency period, and most cases are not diagnosed until about 30 years after the exposure took place. Mrs. Brandes was diagnosed just four months after she started feeling ill and she was told that she would only have one year to live.

Although mesothelioma has primarily affected men, there are more and more women who are being diagnosed with the deadly disease. Many of these women did not actually work with the hazardous substance, but were exposed to it by a family member who brought it home from work. This is exactly what happened to Mrs. Brandes, who washed her husband’s clothes that were covered in asbestos for years.

Ramona Brandes, the daughter of Barbara, remembers all of the times that her mom would dust debris off the clothing of her father, Raymond Brandes, who worked at the ARCO Cherry Point refinery in Ferndale, Whatcom County. The debris that she remembers seeing was actually asbestos.

This is a case of secondary household exposure, since Mrs. Brandes would wash her husband’s clothes and then sweep up the laundry room. Mr. Brandes was unaware that he was exposing his wife and his eight children to the toxic and hazardous substance. He passed away from numerous diseases in January, with asbestosis being one of the illnesses.
Lawsuits have been filed against Brand Insulations, in addition to ARCO, Kaiser Gypsum, Hansom Permanente Cement, Metalclad Insulation, Metropolitan Life Insurance and Union Carbide. Each of these companies manufactured, sold or distributed products that contained asbestos or products that were used in conjunction to asbestos.

“ARCO, when they built the refinery, put in four showers for over 200 workers. You would have to wait hours to take a shower after a shift,” said Ramona Brandes. “My dad didn’t and they did not provide any laundry service.”

Brand Insulations was found guilty of negligence and had to award $3.5 million to Mrs. Brandes after a trial that took two weeks. In Washington, this is the largest compensation that has been awarded for second-hand asbestos exposure in a lawsuit.

The other six companies that have been accused of negligence, product liability, conspiracy or wanton misconduct all settled with the Brandes family, but the amount was not disclosed.

Portofino at Largo Fined for Improper Removal of Asbestos

Posted on: September 25th, 2015 by William Connelly

Portofino at Large Condominium Association, along with its parent company, Waterstone Capital Portofino at Large, LLC are both being fined for improperly removing asbestos and they are receiving almost $43,000 in county fines.

The Criminal Investigation Division of the EPA reached out to Pinellas’ Air Quality Division back in June of 2014 and there was a complaint about a few renovations that were being done at Portofino at Largo, which is also called Portofino at Indian Rocks Beach. The county’s Air Quality Division issued a series of inspections throughout the summer (two in June, three in July and one in August of 2014).

The investigations found that during the renovations of eight different condo units, Portofino was found to have “disturbed” asbestos improperly in 25,984 square feet of textured ceiling materials, 3,312 square feet of vinyl floor sheeting, 6,800 square feet of roof shingles, 2,250 square feet of drywall systems 460 square feet of exterior stucco, and in over 160 square feet of exterior paint. The Air Quality Division inspections also found that asbestos was in shelving, coating walls and floors. The hazardous material was seen scattered as debris on stairwells, landings, landscaped areas and parking lots.

Another finding was that friable asbestos had been stripped from the referenced facility without first being appropriately wetted, which is a county code regulation. While the 25,984 square feet of asbestos containing ceiling materials was being removed, there was not a trained on-site representative on location, according to the inspection reports. From this particular removal of asbestos, asbestos was found on the inside of condominium units, stairwells, landings, open back porches, parking lots and landscaped grassy areas.

Although there were numerous violations, it seems that the most hazardous violation was that asbestos was deposited into open-top-roll-off dumpster containers after it was first confined into bags that were not sealed all the way, as per the county regulation. After picking up the hazardous material, the dumpster containers were then transported to Angelo’s Recycled Materials and Pinellas County Solid Waste Disposal facilities. Because this shipment was never identified as having asbestos containing waste in it, it was put into the county incinerator, instead of being buried in the appropriate way.

It also appears that waste shipment records were never created, or at least they have not been located. This month, Pinellas County Commission approved a consent order, which both the Air Quality Division and the two respondents (Richard Waserstein of Waterstone Capital Portofino at Largo and Eli Dadon of Portofino at Largo Condo Association), have agreed to. The consent order says that $42,945 worth of fines need to be paid by the respondents to the Pinellas County Air Pollution Recovery Fund and will be paid in quarterly installments of $10,736, with the last payment being for one more dollar. These payments will start August 1, 2015.

The Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology have stated that prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers can lead to a serious and often fatal illness, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.