June 2010


According to the AFL-CIO blog, an OSHA rule created to protect workers from asbestos hazards has been upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.  In 2003 a contractor in Houston, Texas hired 11 immigrant workers to perform an asbestos abatement job.  The contractor, Eric Ho, did not train the workers or give them appropriate protection, such as respirators.  A city inspector ordered the job stopped because of the asbestos violations, but the contractor made the workers perform the job behind locked gates, after hours; putting the workers at great risk. 

OSHA issued 22 separate violations to the contractor.  Eleven violations for not providing each worker with a respirator and eleven for not training the workers on how to properly work around asbestos.  A Bush Administration Commission overturned most of the citations, saying the contractor could only be cited once for the training violation and once for the respirator violation, consequently reducing the number of fines facing the contractor from 22 to 2.

OSHA subsequently re-worded the rules to clear up the issue, stating that separate citations can be issued for each worker who is not properly trained and separate citations can be issued for each worker who is not given a respirator.  The National Association of Home Builders sued the government, claiming OSHA did not have the authority to rewrite the rule.

In National Association of Home Builders C. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that OSHA was operating within its authority when it made the rule.  The dangers of working with asbestos have been known for many years.  It can cause cancers including lung cancer and mesothelioma, as well as asbestosis.  The ruling of the court, that the employer can be fined for each worker it doesn’t protect, gives OSHA a hammer to combat employers who don’t protect their workers appropriately.

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Garlock Sealing Technologies has filed for bankruptcy, according to a story on the WSJ Blog.  The company, founded in 1887, produces sealing materials for various sectors, including the petrochemical industry, the chemical industry, the power industry, and the paper industry.  For many years, approximately 1907 to 1980, Garlock produced gaskets, packing materials, and cloth that contained asbestos.  Garlock has been a defendant in numerous asbestos cases. 

In court documents Garlock listed the value of their assets at the $500 million to $1 billion range, and their debts in the $100 million to $500 million range.  The company is asking the court to establish a bankruptcy trust to pay asbestos related claims.  The filing also covers the Anchor Packing Company, an arm of Garlock that also produced asbestos containing products. 

Asbestos is a mineral widely used in the early to late part of the 20th century in industrial settings.  Breathing in asbestos can cause scarring of the lungs, which is called asbestosis.  This disease can prevent the lungs from expanding properly and leads to shortness of breath and even death.  There is no known cure for asbestosis, other than a lung transplant.  Asbestos also can cause cancer.  The most deadly cancer caused by asbestos exposure is mesothelioma.

According to Reuters, a Federal Judge has approved settlement of the claims of 10,000 firefighters, policemen and contractors injured in the 9-11 rescue and clean-up operation for $712 million.  A previous settlement amount of $657 million was rejected by a Federal Judge in March.  The claims were filed against the city and contractors overseeing the work at the World Trade Center site.  Site workers have been dealing with various diseases including lung illnesses, cancers, and psychological problems since the terrorist attack.

The claims fund will be funded by the WTC Captive Insurance Company, a federally financed insurance fund created in 2004 by FEMA.  95 percent of the plaintiffs must opt in to the settlement for the deal to become final.  Plaintiffs have 90 days to approve the plan.  Plaintiffs’ lawyers representing the injured victims have agreed to cap their fees at 25 percent.

The fund will pay up to $1 million for people suffering from the most severe illnesses, such as cancer.  However, most victims of this horrible day still have concerns for the future, like Joseph Lutrario, a former NYPD officer, who has suffered from PTSD, stomach polyps, and esophageal polyps since the attacks.  He was forced to retire as a result of his injuries.  The story quotes Mr. Lutario voicing his concerns about the future.  “This is good news now, but I’m not sure what happens five, 10 years down the line if I get even sicker.”

The CPSC has announced a recall of 12 million drinking glasses sold at McDonald’s restaurants over the last couple of months, according to a story in the New York Times.  The glasses were a part of the promotion of the new movie Shrek Forever, which came out in May.  The glasses feature different characters from the movie and contain cadmium. 

Cadmium is a known carcinogen and can induce several types of cancer. Industrial exposures to cadmium can cause metal fume fever in workers and can progress to pneumonitis, pulmonary edema and even death.  Long term cadmium exposures have been shown to cause kidney disease and softening of the bones.  In the case of the Shrek glasses, children could receive long-term exposures from using the glasses on a daily basis.  Recently, cadmium was found in metal jewelry manufactured in China and sold at various retailers such as Wal-Mart and Claires. 

China continues to bombard our children with dangerous chemicals, from many different sources.  The CPSC needs to be vigilant about this and the lead problems in products coming from China.  Our children’s future health depends on it.

According to CNN, Maytag has issued a recall for 1.7 million dishwashers.  The electrical system in the dishwashers is faulty and the dishwasher’s heating element can pose a fire hazard. 

The CPSC reports that Maytag has received 12 reports of fires caused by the eating element failures and no injuries.  One kitchen sustained extensive fire damage.  CPSC reports that the “recall includes Maytag®, Amana®, Jenn-Air®, Admiral®, Magic Chef®, Performa by Maytag® and Crosley® brand dishwashers with plastic tubs and certain serial numbers”, which can be found at the CPSC.  The serial numbers are located on a tag inside of the tub near the left side of the door. 

The recalled appliances were sold at various stores across the country between February 2006 and April 2010, for between $250 and $900.  The recalled dishwashers should not be used again.  If you have one of the affected dishwashers the electric supply should be shut off immediately.  Consumers can contact Maytag directly at (800) 544-5513 or visit the firm’s website at www.repair.maytag.com; to discuss repair or replacement options.