Georgia Demolition Company Fined for Asbestos Removal Violations

The Thompson Building Wrecking Company in Augusta, GA is facing fines of more than $63,000 for suspected asbestos removal violations that occurred during the demolition of a vacant school in Grovetown, GA.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Thompson Building Wrecking for two violations, according to a January 15, 2014 article in Augusta Chronicle. The first, three-part violation alleges the company exposed employees to asbestos-containing materials, failed to perform required airborne monitoring, and failed to mark off areas where asbestos was being removed. OSHA fined
Thompson $14,700 for these violations.

The second violation, as detailed in the citation, is for “willfully” failing to ensure the asbestos-containing materials were properly handled to minimize employee exposure, and resulted in an additional proposed $49,000 fine for Thompson Building Wrecking.

Owner Hiram Thompson is challenging the allegations, saying that the citations are the result of the OSHA inspector’s inexperience and lack of knowledge about asbestos removal procedures. While OSHA recently offered to reduce the fines, Thompson says he expects to have the fines dismissed outright.

“We’re a 52-year-old company and we’ve never had an OSHA violation in our 52 years,” Thompson said in the Augusta Chronicle article. “All our people were trained and worked within the specifications of asbestos abatement.”

It was commonplace for buildings constructed during the 1940s to contain asbestos. No one seems to be questioning whether or not the vacant school did contain asbestos. The point of contention is whether or not asbestos-removal practices mandated by OSHA to protect the health of workers were adequately and appropriately followed.

OSHA Updates Asbestos Fact Sheet

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the division of the U.S. Department of Labor that establishes protocols and procedures to ensure worker safety, has created an updated fact sheet detailing the hazards of asbestos and the rights of workers at risk of coming in contact with this deadly mineral.

OSHA created its asbestos fact sheet for employees and employers alike. It is intended to be an educational and informative resource to protect everyone from aggressive diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, an incurable cancer that is directly linked to asbestos exposure.

The fact sheet includes such information such as:

  • What is the hazard?
  • Where is the hazard?
  • Standards of protection
  • Permissible exposure limits
  • Workplace assessment
  • Monitoring for compliance

The existence of this fact sheet, as well as OSHA’s need to update it, speaks to the ongoing challenge of protecting the public from the hazards of asbestos. It is not uncommon — even today — to find names of prominent corporations splashed across news headlines for asbestos exposure violations.

Any employee who suspects asbestos-handling violations at their workplace should feel empowered to contact OSHA confidentially at 1-800-321-OSHA. Calls placed by many anonymous concerned workers have triggered on-site inspections that revealed serious asbestos-handling violations.

The OSHA Asbestos Fact Sheet lists workers’ rights, including:

  • The right to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm.
  • The right to receive information and training on OSHA standards at their workplace and asbestos hazard prevention.
  • The right to review records of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • The right to get copies of test results that identify and measure hazards.
  • The right to file a complaint asking OSHA to inspect their workplace if they believe there is a serious hazard or that their employer is not following OSHA’s rules.
  • The right to exercise their rights under the law without retaliation or discrimination.

The OSHA fact sheet on asbestos can be found here.

Asbestos Cleanup Continues in Libby

More than a decade after it first began, the asbestos cleanup continues in Libby, Montana.

So far, nearly 1,900 homes there have been decontaminated by government workers who must wear protective equipment in order to safely wipe down furniture, excavate lawns, and vacuum out crawl spaces and attics, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription required). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leads the effort to rid the town of deadly asbestos fibers, the legacy of its years as the home of a vermiculite mining and milling operation owned by W.R. Grace & Co.

Libby once produced about 80 percent of the world’s supply of vermiculite, which is used in building insulation and as a soil conditioner. However, the vermiculite ore from the Libby mine also contained asbestos. Asbestos exposure can cause devastating diseases such as mesothelioma, a fatal cancer in which tumors grow in the linings of the lungs, abdomen, and heart.

W.R. Grace always claimed that it was unaware of the mine’s asbestos hazards and that it followed the safety standards of the time. Both the mine and the mill were closed in 1990. But by that time, the town and its residents had already experienced substantial asbestos exposure from the mining and milling operations. Medical officials estimate that at least 2,000 Libby residents have developed asbestos-related diseases and that about 400 people have died from them, according to the Journal.

Libby is now identified as one of the largest environmental and public health disasters in the nation by the federal government.

Ridding a town of asbestos is not easy. However, the EPA estimates that the amount of asbestos fibers in the town’s air is nearly 10,000 times lower than it was during the period when the mine and the mill were in operation.

The Libby cleanup has cost at least $400 million, according to the Journal, including a $250 million civil settlement paid by W.R. Grace in 2008. And the work isn’t over yet.

Mesothelioma Trust Fund | Congressional Interest in Asbestos

If you read the last article we posted about asbestos trust funds, you’ll remember the clever hammock analogy used to describe what they are. If you didn’t read it, you can do so here.

Now, the Government Accountability Office (GOA) – a sort of congressional watchdog group that keeps an eye on government spending of taxpayer dollars – has published a report that reveals the somewhat secretive system of asbestos trust fund payouts.

The report looked at 52 asbestos trust funds that have paid out over 3,000,000 claims for a total of about $17.5 billion. The investigation was prompted by the fact that these asbestos trust funds don’t publish details about their activities, yet do make general information available. Attorneys representing asbestos companies or defendants — in asbestos lawsuits filed by mesothelioma victims – raised a stink about the secrecy of the details and implored congress to get involved. The investigation proceeded to determine if, in fact, these asbestos trust funds were keeping details secret.

The investigation revealed only “one trust’s financial report contained claimant names and amounts paid to these individuals.”

The defendants in asbestos lawsuits have been the critics of asbestos trust fund secrecy. They allege that asbestos lawyers and mesothelioma law firms oversee the operation of these asbestos trust funds to prevent them from revealing how much their clients have been paid. This, they further allege, allows some asbestos attorneys to file claims with multiple trusts that could contradict each other.

The GAO report stated that 98% of asbestos trust fund claims go through what is called an expedited review process, which requires a claim form and some documentation that asbestos exposure happened. Perhaps the lawyers representing the asbestos companies want mesothelioma victims to have to go through much more than that to get the compensation they deserve?

According to the report, 65 percent of asbestos trust funds treat claims information as confidential and privileged. Defendants and insurers want the details to be available to them so they can reduce the value of the claims awarded to mesothelioma victims in court.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and suspect it’s due to asbestos exposure, contact a mesothelioma attorney at Sokolove Law for a free consultation. Also, write to your local congressman about keeping the details of asbestos trust fund settlements confidential and out of the hands of the asbestos companies.

Oregon Construction Workers Sue Citing Asbestos Exposure

Five Oregon construction workers fearing for their health are suing a medical center and construction contractor for allegedly exposing them to asbestos.

Exposure to asbestos can result in mesothelioma, a rare but incurable cancer. Other serious diseases associated with asbestos exposure are lung cancer and asbestosis.

The Eugene Register-Guard reports that the asbestos lawsuit filed by the five workers alleges that both McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield, Oregon, and Layton Construction of Utah knew there was asbestos at a hospital worksite but failed to warn workers about the toxic material or to protect them from exposure to it.

State regulators had fined both the hospital and the contractor earlier this year for allowing workers to handle asbestos-containing debris from old duct work in the hospital’s HVAC system during a remodeling project. The state said its investigation found that both parties were aware of the presence of asbestos-containing materials in the duct work.

McKenzie-Willamette and Layton were cited at the time for violating the federal Employer Liability Law and the Oregon Safe Employment Act and each was fined more than $25,000 by state occupational safety and health regulators. Both firms paid the fines and did not dispute them.

The current lawsuit stems from these violations and it seeks up to $10 million on behalf of the five construction workers, according to the newspaper. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon.

The lawsuit states that the five workers did not know about the asbestos and “handled the demolition material as if it did not contain asbestos — allowing dust to be freely spread through the work area as well as throughout public areas of the hospital.”

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact Sokolove Law today for a free case evaluation and to learn if an asbestos lawyer can help you.

S.C. Business Owner Indicted for Asbestos Violations

A grand jury has indicted a South Carolina business owner on seven counts of violating the Clean Air Act after his painting company allegedly failed to conduct a proper asbestos inspection before the start of renovation work on a Myrtle Beach condo complex.

Exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to a number of serious and fatal health conditions including mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer.

The grand jury’s indictment named David Braswell is the co-owner of commercial painter Cool Cote, Inc., according to Carolina Live. Cool Cote began work at the Regency Towers complex in March 2009 but the indictment alleges it failed to conduct an asbestos inspection as required by law or to notify the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control before the work began.

The indictment claims that Braswell and other Cool Cote staff were aware of the presence of asbestos before the work took place. Braswell was also indicted on two counts of making a False Statement to a Federal Agent.

According to Carolina Live, the indictment alleges that: “On or about April 20, 2009, it was discovered that Cool Cote, Inc. personnel had pressure-washed the building’s surface coating without proper containment; releasing asbestos-containing material into the air and onto parking areas, landscaped areas, and the beach sand dunes.”

Cool Cote, Inc. personnel were not given protective clothing, and residents of the condo complex were not warned about the possibility of airborne asbestos, according to the indictment.

Unfortunately, asbestos violations like this one are not unusual. Just last month an Illinois businessman was fined $3,000 and sentenced to five months in prison and three months of house arrest for improperly removing asbestos from a former industrial site in violation of the Clean Air Act, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

If you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos and later diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may want to review your legal options with an asbestos attorney. Contact Sokolove Law today for a free case evaluation and to learn more about filing an asbestos lawsuit.

W.R. Grace and Co. to Pay $250 Million for Montana Asbestos Cleanup

A federal court in Pittsburgh has approved a plan under which W.R. Grace and Co. will reimburse the government $250 million to pay for the investigation and remediation of asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana, where W.R. Grace once operated a vermiculite mine that proved to be a source of the deadly mineral fiber asbestos. Hundreds of people have developed asbestos-related diseases in Libby, and some have died of the illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma. W.R. Grace is required to pay the $250 million within 30 days, and is expected to do so as it agreed to the plan in March. The reimbursement will be handled through the federal government’s “Superfund” cleanup fund, and will be by far the largest ever payment received by the Environmental protection Agency, which administers the program.

To date, the EPA has spent $168 million in Libby and expects to spend another $175 million in coming years; the $250 million payout from Grace will not cover all the expenses, but a prompt payment avoiding years of litigation will permit continuation of the cleanup operation without interruption or needing to seek further funding from Congress. The vermiculite mine and associated processing facilities were owned by W.R. Grace from 1953 until 1990, when they were closed due to the contamination. Millions of tons of contaminated ore were mined, processed, and shipped out of Libby, and were used in insulation, fireproofing, and gardening products around the United States. The primary contamination, however, took place in and around Libby, and that is where cleanup efforts have been focused. Environmental analysts with the EPA said that the cleanup work should be completed within five years. The remediation fee paid in Libby is not expected to interfere with a separate arrangement that W.R. Grace has made to resolve current and future asbestos claim, a deal worth approximately $3 billion in cash and company stock.

New Exhibit Shines Light on Illinois Asbestos Victims

When the UNARCO plant in Bloomington, Illinois, offered annual chest X-rays to its workers, the workers thought that the company was simply looking out for their well-being. But the truth was much darker.

As reported in The Pantagraph, the company was looking for signs of asbestosis, a chronic and debilitating disease caused by exposure to asbestos. If an X-ray revealed a dark spot on the lungs, the company “would find a reason to let you go,” former plant worker Ron Thacker told the newspaper.

Thacker, now 77, is one of the more than 100 UNARCO workers who developed asbestosis after being exposed to toxic asbestos dust at the plant. Now he and others are working to create an exhibit detailing UNARCO’s history in Bloomington as well as the long-reaching health effects of asbestos. The exhibit, “A Deadly Deception: The Asbestos Tragedy in McLean County,” is scheduled to open at the McLean County Museum of History in 2015.

While the plant is long gone, its devasting effects are still being felt. Workers exposed to asbestos at the plant and their survivors have filed dozens of asbestos lawsuits over the years against UNARCO (Union Asbestos & Rubber Co.), according to The Pantagraph. Juries have awarded millions of dollars to UNARCO’s victims. In 1982, UNARCO filed for bankruptcy.

The upcoming exhibit will feature a poignant memorial to the people who died from exposure to the asbestos used in the plant. It will include workers, family members who came in contact with asbestos fibers on the workers’ clothing, and local people who used products made at the plant.

“We don’t want just a list of names,” Susan Hartzold, the museum’s curator, told the newspaper. “These are people. They died because the company thought of the bottom line.”

If you or a loved one has developed asbestosis or mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact Sokolove Law today for a free case evaluation to learn if an asbestos attorney can help you.

So-Called “Transparency Act” Not Transparent

Recently, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee reintroduced the deceptively named “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2013.” The only thing transparent about this bill is that it’s part of another anti-accountability campaign intended to grant further protection to those who caused asbestos exposure and widespread suffering. Why should these corporations be held to a lower legal standard than their victims?

The objective of the bill is to delay, unnecessarily, the legal processes that deliver justice to asbestos victims. The industry is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. The plain truth is that this industry will unfairly hide behind FACT and wait for victims to die of asbestos-related diseases before they can receive justice. For more than eight decades, the dangers of asbestos exposure have been clear. Despite the known hazards of asbestos, the industry shielded the facts and continued to put workers and their families in harm’s way by exposing them to the toxic substance. The industry’s success is evident, as asbestos-related diseases kill approximately 10,000 Americans each year.

In its simplicity, the bill does nothing to ban the use of asbestos: Instead, it triggers more barriers to expedited asbestos case processing for victims. For instance, FACT would call for private asbestos bankruptcy trusts to release exhaustive individual information about asbestos victims. This motion alone would delay asbestos cases because it would enable asbestos defendants to overwhelm the trusts with information requests. It would take money put aside for victims of asbestos and use it to pay for teams of personnel to meet these reporting requirements.

All these measures would be taken because there is a baseless allegation of fraud. The asbestos industry’s own studies acknowledge there is no such widespread fraud. Even without this legislation, corporations can acquire all pertinent information to defend themselves against fraud.

Congress’ priority is to protect Americans, not those companies that knowingly exposed workers, families, and consumers to asbestos. With Congress set to vote on the Asbestos Claim Transparency Act, we urge the public to contact its congressmen and congresswomen to oppose the bill. If you would like to join the cause and participate in the petition, please visit //ban.

Quebec Prepares for Post-Mining Future

Canada’s asbestos era really does appear to be over, as a key asbestos mining region plans for a different economic base.

The mayor of Thetford Mines, Quebec, is calling on the government to help his municipality transition to a “post-asbestos” economy. Thetford Mines was founded in 1876 after large asbestos deposits were found in the area. According to a story in Montreal’s The Gazette, about 100 local miners were thrown out of work when the nearby Lac d’amiante (Lake Asbestos) mine in St-Joseph-de-Coleraine closed in 2011. The mayor believes the Quebec government has a “duty” to move quickly to support the region.

Recently, the government promised to commit $50 million (in Canadian currency) to “support economic diversification efforts” in Thetford Mines and the nearby community of Asbestos. The sum was originally earmarked towards a loan to fund the reopening of Canada’s last major asbestos mine, the Winnipeg Free Press reported in March. But the mine will remain shuttered.

Nevertheless, Canada has yet to enact a complete ban on the mineral — although asbestos causes serious illnesses, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma cancer. Similarly, the United States has yet to join the more than 50 nations who have already enacted a complete ban on asbestos. As this blog noted, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came close to implementing a ban in 1989, but the industry frustrated the attempt with a court challenge. 

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related condition, you may be entitled to financial compensation. To learn more about your legal options, please contact us for a free case evaluation. Mesothelioma attorneys have helped victims recover lost wages and medical costs.