Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Consequences of Hiring Unqualified Workers to Remove Asbestos

According to a November 19 press release issued by The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia man was recently sentenced to three and a half years in prison for knowingly exposing day laborers to asbestos.

Gene Cornell Smith knew that the warehouse building he had purchased was full of asbestos. He had received quotes to have the cancer-causing materials removed by a certified asbestos abatement company. But, instead of paying the cost of having the materials removed in a way that would be safe to workers, neighbors and others in the vicinity, he directed his associate, Clarence Cole, to hire unqualified day laborers who ripped out the asbestos illegally. The laborers were not informed of the asbestos hazard, nor were they given protective equipment to prevent inhalation of the toxic mineral.

The job was ultimately shut down when a concerned citizen brought the matter to the attention of city officials. However, rather than hiring a qualified abatement contractor to remediate the building as he was ordered to do, Smith continued to have day laborers illegally remove and dispose of asbestos materials, allowing asbestos dust to be released to the outside air.  

Following a jury trial in Federal Court, Smith was convicted of conspiracy and five counts of violating the United States Clean Air Act. His associate Clarence Cole was sentenced to two years in prison. In addition, both were ordered to serve three years of supervised release and pay restitution of $451,936.80.

A November 6 article posted on the Salon website, addresses another incident in which undocumented workers in New Jersey were directed by Benjamin H. Realty Company to remove asbestos with their bare hands. Workers who protested these and other dangerous working conditions were fired. “The worst thing was the asbestos,” said Isaac Hernandez, who said he was “100% breathing this stuff in” in a tight crawl space without warning or proper equipment, and “we went with our clothes home, so not only were we exposed – our families were exposed.”

“Clearly, what happens is that when someone is undocumented they can be exploited and they frequently are,” said New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who is trying to change labor immigration laws in his state.

While we are seeing an increasing number of criminal and civil charges stemming from the hiring of unqualified workers to remove asbestos “on the cheap”, one can’t help but wonder how many thousands of times this occurs on any given day. With all the homes and buildings constructed in the “peak asbestos years”, from the 1930s through the 1970s, the opportunity for desperate workers to be exposed to asbestos at the hands of unscrupulous and exploitative employers will continue for decades. Not only are unknowing workers exposed to this dangerous pollutant, their families, the local area and the community at large are also exposed when asbestos is improperly removed.

Asbestos waste is toxic waste and needs to be treated as such. When asbestos is removed and handled improperly, chances are that is also being disposed of improperly.

Federal and State laws prohibit the improper removal and disposal of asbestos. These laws were enacted to protect workers and the public at large from exposure to deadly asbestos dust.

If you suspect asbestos is being improperly removed or disposed you should contact the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Asbestos Hotline: (800) 368-5888 to file a confidential complaint, or visit the EPA’s website.

For information on safe handling practices for asbestos, click here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Asbestos Industry-Backed FACT Act Passed by House GOP’s—But Not Likely to Go Any Further

US News reports that on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 the House approved House Resolution 982, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT Act) in a vote 221-199. The FACT Act is part of a national campaign being led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and National Chamber of Commerce to limit compensation paid to asbestos victims and delay justice.

There is good news though. According to the article, the Democratic-controlled Senate has no plans to take up the bill, and the White House on Tuesday said President Barack Obama would veto it. “The bill’s mandatory reporting and disclosure requirements would threaten asbestos victims’ privacy when they seek payment for injuries from an asbestos bankruptcy trust,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy opposing the bill.

On Tuesday, Linda Reinstein, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) President/CEO and Co-Founder along with members of the Alliance for Justice, the American Association for Justice and the Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign, attended a House Staff briefing to oppose the bill and urge representatives to vote against the FACT Act.

This legislation is an invasion of privacy which seeks to require patients and their families to post personal financial information, information about their dependents and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers on a public website. The bill will not only limit justice received by victims, but will ultimately open them and their families up to potential identity theft.

It would also have claimants seek compensation through the asbestos trust system before going through their state court to seek damages against companies, some states already have this law in practice.

Supporters of the legislation claim that rampant fraud is occurring in the system, fraud for which they have no definitive proof. They say this fraud occurs when people file claims against one trust blaming it for their asbestos disease, then make the same claims to other trusts as well as to companies in court.

Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are not typically caused by a single exposure to asbestos. In almost all cases, the disease is caused by the cumulative effect of many, sometimes countless, exposures throughout a person’s lifetime. Accordingly, asbestos disease is almost always the result of exposures to a wide variety of asbestos products from a multitude of different manufacturers and suppliers. It has long since been established that these companies knew about the dangers of asbestos and kept it mum.

The asbestos company owners, such as the Koch brothers, who are behind the so-called FACT legislation, have distorted the facts in an effort to convince the public that persons claiming that their asbestos disease was caused by more than one manufacturer’s product are committing a fraud. In reality, it is the supporters of this legislation who are committing a fraud—a fraud which, not surprisingly, inures to the financial interests of asbestos companies at the expense of the financial and privacy interests of asbestos illness sufferers.

Here's what you can do to help right now:

Go to www.cancervictimsrights.org to connect with a community of people fighting this legislation and standing up for cancer victims.

Related links:
  • Huffington Post Debunks Claims of Fraud by Supporters of the “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act
  • Susan Vento, Wife of Deceased Congressman and Mesothelioma Victim Bruce Vento, Expresses Her Strong Opposition to the So-Called “FACT Act”
  • Wall Street Journal Continues to Side with Asbestos Companies on Allegations of Asbestos Trust Fraud

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Veterans Day Surprise Coming From Congress?

Written by Susan Vento and Judy Van Ness

This article was originally posted November 10, 2013, on chillicothegazette.com

On Monday, Americans will observe Veterans Day. Some people will observe it with a day off from work or checking out the special Veterans Day sales at department stores. But the real meaning of the day should be to think about the great sacrifices of the men and women who deserve to be honored. Instead, these same honorable men and women might be dishonored by a Congressional vote next week on the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act.

Asbestos, a known human carcinogen that has killed millions of people during the past several decades, has not been banned in the U.S. It remains a threat to Americans in our homes, schools and workplaces, and about one-third of all victims are veterans. Disasters such as 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy exposed many more people to asbestos dangers. Meanwhile, experts estimate that about 10,000 people die in the U.S. every year as a result of exposure to asbestos.

We watched our husbands die from mesothelioma, caused by asbestos. Former Rep. Bruce Vento died from mesothelioma 13 years ago, after being exposed to asbestos in three different worksites while working his way through college to become a junior high science teacher on the east side of St. Paul, Minn. Richard Van Ness died Aug. 30, 2012. His exposure began while serving in the forward engine room on the USS Charles R. Ware destroyer (1968-1971). Both men served their country with distinction and died needlessly. This makes us do everything we can to fight for other victims and families.

The FACT Act is a cruel twist on a cruel disease, one that blames the victims for whatever meager compensation they might receive for lives cut dramatically short. It blames families that have to watch loved ones struggle to take their final breaths and smears them by saying they get too much. It is no more than blatant catering to the highly-financed interests of the asbestos industry, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the National Chamber of Commerce and Georgia Pacific, owned by the Koch brothers. It is not about transparency at all.

Instead, the FACT Act would require the unbelievable disclosure on a public website of asbestos victims’ personal information, including the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, financial information, information about their children and other sensitive data that could subject victims and their families to identity theft and possible criminal victimization. The bill is completely lopsided — asbestos companies have no such “transparency” requirements. It passed the U.S. House Judiciary Committee 17-14 in the spring with the committee refusing to hear from victims and families who will be affected by the bill's exposure of their personal information.

The bill’s supporters mistakenly claim it is needed to prevent fraud by asbestos victims when filing claims to company trusts and accuse the asbestos victims of ripping off the system. The asbestos company trusts were structured to enable the companies responsible for the lethal poisoning of workers to use bankruptcy reorganization to continue operating.

The Government Accountability Office analyzed many company trusts and found no evidence of fraud. Instead, a recent newspaper investigation of claims found only 0.35 percent of “anomalies” and those included clerical errors by the claims administrators of the company trusts.

If anyone is getting ripped off, it’s the asbestos victims and their families. The Rand Institute found the median payment is 25 cents on the dollar to asbestos victims, with some payments as low as 1.1 percent of the claim filed. H.R. 982 victimizes all asbestos victims, including veterans, exposing them to identity theft and further harm.

Susan Vento, widow of former Rep. Bruce F. Vento, D-Minn., and Judy Van Ness, widow of Richard Van Ness, are with the Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Veterans’ Day 2013---A “Call to Arms” to Help Veterans Stricken with Service-Connected Mesothelioma

In prior years, Worthington & Caron, P.C., has used Veterans’ Day as an opportunity to acknowledge and pay tribute to military veterans who have contracted mesothelioma from service-related exposures to asbestos. Indeed, as many of you know, approximately one-third of Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed in the military.

This year, in addition to offering kind words of acknowledgment and gratitude, we would like to offer asbestos-exposed vets something much more important. Something they really need. Something that’s long over-due. This year we want to take action to get the US Government to effectively treat vets stricken with service-related mesothelioma. And we want you to join us.

Here’s the deal: The West Los Angeles VA Medical Center has taken an important first step to improve the treatment of asbestos-exposed vets by establishing a first-of-its-kind “Mesothelioma Center of Excellence.” The Center offers patients access to some of the most innovative and effective treatments from one of the nation’s leading mesothelioma specialists. The problem is that the Mesothelioma Center of Excellence remains a virtual secret even to this day.

Officials at the West LA VA have been asked to do a better job of educating VA doctors and vets about the Mesothelioma Center of Excellence. They have also been asked to expand the Center so it can provide its unsurpassed level of treatment to greater numbers of vets and conduct research and clinical trials that will benefit ALL patients, vets and non-vets, who are diagnosed in the future.

The West LA VA officials we have spoken with have enthusiastically agreed that these requests have merit. They have agreed to work with pathologists nationwide to refer patients to the West LA VA. But, for reasons that are unclear, the VA has not even updated its website to include information about the existing program, nor have they agreed to fund an expanded program.

How many news stories have we seen about our vets being subjected to deplorable conditions and inferior treatment at VA medical centers across the country? The Mesothelioma Center at the West LA VA is a shining example of vets receiving a level of treatment that is unsurpassed by the nation’s most prestigious private hospitals. But when vets are deprived of this treatment simply because doctors in the VA system don’t know about the Mesothelioma Center of Excellence, the results are no less upsetting. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Families of veterans who are casualties of mesothelioma are strongly behind this effort. The family of Navy Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who died of mesothelioma in 2000, has agreed to lend their name to the expanded program. The new center would be called the “Elmo Zumwalt Mesothelioma Treatment & Research Center.” Other families have pledged financial support to kick-start the program, including a pledge of $500,000 from the family of John Johnson, a Marine infantryman who lost his battle with mesothelioma in 2012.

Now we need your help.

Our firm is reaching out to clients and their families urging them to send letters to their senators and congressman or congresswoman demanding that they get the VA to do two simple things: 1) Get the word out to VA doctors and vets about the Mesothelioma Center of Excellence at the West LA VA—at a minimum, update the VA website to include information about the Center, and 2) Provide the modest funding needed to expand the program into the “Elmo Zumwalt Mesothelioma Treatment & Research Center” with the capacity to treat greater numbers of vets and conduct research and clinical trials that will benefit ALL patients, vets and non-vets.

Next week our firm will be sending out suggested letters to your US Senators and Representative. Please sign and send them. Also, please follow up with emails and phone calls. If you don’t receive our mailing, or are eager to take action today, please contact us at 800-831-9399 or info@worthingtoncaron.com so we can help get you started.

Whether for a loved one, or for any of the thousands of veterans who have suffered because of the asbestos they were exposed to while defending our freedom—let’s do this!  Not only will a clinical trial and research program directly benefit all vets no matter where they live, the lessons learned stand to benefit ALL patients diagnosed with asbestos-related mesothelioma

Our veterans have done their duty. We’re asking the VA to do theirs.

In honor of Veterans’ Day 2013, please join us in this effort.

--Roger Worthington & John Caron

Friday, November 1, 2013

Over $75,000 raised in the Fight against Meso--Pacific Meso Center’s 2nd Annual Walk/Hike for Meso a Huge Success!

Pacific Meso Center’s 2nd Annual Walk/Hike for Meso took place on Sunday, October 27th at the scenic Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills. It was a "walk on the wildside", with spottings of deer, foxes and rabbits. The sun was shining, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the energy was high.

The event was attended by several mesothelioma patients, as well as over 200 participants, many of whom are friends and family of persons whose lives have been rocked by mesothelioma. Each kilometer was marked with signs sponsored by families in memory of the loved ones affected by the disease. There were also mesothelioma and asbestos facts scattered throughout the course, and a quiz at the completion of the walk with prizes for the 15 top scores.

As walkers approached the finish line they were cajoled by the enchanting celtic/country music of the Chris Murphy Violin Trio. Their efforts were then rewarded with a delicious lunch from Ottavio’s Italian Restaurant, donated by owner Noella Belvedere who lost her husband Ottavio to mesothelioma in 2007. Noella and her family are no strangers to the cause--Over the past few years, the Belvedere family has raised more than $117,000 for mesothelioma research in honor of Ottavio!

When the dust cleared, over $75,000 had been raised to fund much-needed research into new treatments for mesothelioma. This amount exceeded PMC’s goal for the event for the second year in a row, and donations are still coming in! Family and friends of Gerald McCarthy once again accepted the title of the top fundraising team with their team, Irish Stampede, bringing in $13,460. They were followed by Team Gigi in second place who raised $6,380, and Team Chuck Jarvis came in at third with $5,188.

“The weather was perfect, the people were fantastic, and the money raised was crucial in the fight against this horrible disease” said Dr. Robert Cameron, PMC’s Scientific Advisor and a leading expert in treating mesothelioma. Dr. Cameron is also Director of the Mesothelioma Program at  UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, and the Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center.

“This annual walk/hike gives people in the mesothelioma community an uplifting experience in a beautiful outdoor setting. We are grateful for the continued financial support of our cutting edge research to find better treatments for mesothelioma,” commented Clare Cameron, Executive Director of PMC. “This event is going to get bigger every year as word spreads in the mesothelioma community.” 

PMC’s Annual Walk/Hike for Meso is held in loving memory of Ottavio Belvedere, Mark Ganoe, Charles Jarvis, Sr., John Johnson, Gerry McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy, Rosa Gonzalez, Robert Vitale and to all those who have lost their lives to mesothelioma.

Team Worthington Caron was represented by 
Julianna Farrell, Cindy Adams and John Caron