A story on Yahoo News reports W.R. Grace settled a class action against the company relating to asbestos containing attic insulation the company sold.  THe company will pay $30 Million up front to fund a trust, another $30 Million after 3 years, and up to ten annual payments of $8 Million if terms of settlement are met, up to $140 Million total over the life of the settlement. 

The class action stems from the company’s sale of Zonolite Insulation, an asbestos containing product the company sold across the country for many years.  Over the years the product was installed in millions of homes.  The fund will pay the claims of individuals injured by this dangerous and sometimes deadly product.

Zonolite insulation was made primarily of vermiculite, an ore mined at the W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Montana.  The vermiculite in the mine contained asbestos.  The community of Libby has been devastated by asbestos related diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.  Whole families in Libby have been destroyed by these horrible diseases.  Others in cities and towns all across the country have been injured by this product, which was used to insulate their attics. 

The lawsuits alleged W.R. Grace knew of the dangers of asbestos for years, but continued to use the product and never warned anyone of the potential dangers of the product.


Article in NY Times regarding findings that some granite counter tops emit dangerous levels of radon and radiation.  Radon is a hazardous chemical element, a colorless gas, which is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking.  The article relates the story of a homeowner who had her granite counter tested and found levels over 25 times those considered safe.  Radon exposure is especially dangerous to smokers, whose lungs are already in a compromised position, as well as young children.

There are several resources on-line to help determine if you have a problem.  The EPA has a Radon website with links to information on testing your home for radon.  The AARST (American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists) website also has information on technicians qualified to test your home for radon. 

An EPA spokesman is quoted in the story as saying “there is no known safe level of radon or radiation” exposure and that “any exposure (to radon) increases your health risk”.

According to a story in the Missoulian, the US Supreme Court has denied the appeals of W.R. Grace and six of the companies’ executives who were trying to avoida criminal trial on charges that they violated the Clean Air Act by unleashing asbestos dust on the community of Libby, Montana, home to the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine. 

The Grace executives were indicted in 2005 for knowingly exposing the mine workers, as well as Libby residents.  To date 300 to 400 residents of Libby have died from asbestos related illnesses, and hundreds of other residents currently suffer from asbestos related disease.  The diseases caused by asbestos include mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining surrounding the lung called the pleura; various other cancers, including lung cancer; and asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos.

Grace’s appeal centered on the argument that the EPA’s definition of asbestos didn’t include the asbestos fibers found in their vermiculite mine in Libby.  According to an article on the history of the mine, W.R. Grace bought the mine in 1963.  A month after the purchase was complete, a W.R. Grace executive wrote a memo stating that there was asbestos present at the mine and opined about possible ways to market the stuff. 

Throughout the 1960’s Grace conducted x-rays on employees and by 1969 over 60% of their work force was found to have abnormal x-rays evidencing asbestos exposure.  In addition, the local medical community in Libby told the company workers were getting sick.  Grace also conducted its own studies which found that the asbestos in the vermiculite caused asbestosis and cancer.

Grace executives could stand trial as early as this fall.


Reuters reports that suit has been filed against CBS, the toy maker – Planet Toys, and retail toy sellers, regarding the “CSI Crime Scene Investigation” toy crime fighting kit.  The lawsuit alleges the fingerprint dusting powder contains deadly amounts of tremolite asbestos.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen.  It is a mineral that was used heavily in this country during the middle of the last century.  Asbestos was used as thermal insulation by workers in industrial plants and shipyards, and as a brake lining by mechanics in garages all across the US.  Asbestos was used in households across the country as well.  Vinyl flooring contained asbestos, joint compound used on sheetrook contained asbestos, popcorn on ceilings contained asbestos, and transite siding on the outside of houses contained asbestos.  There were even unfortunate areas of the country where asbestos was used to pave roads and driveways.  The death toll from asbestosis, a lung disease caused by asbestos, as well as asbestos related cancers such as lung cancer and mesothelioma is astronomical.

Planet Toys has issued a “stop sale” on their toys.  They claim that none of their testing on the toy was positive for asbestos.  The original testing, which found the asbestos in the product, was done by the non-profit Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.  The ADAO filed suit to halt the sale of the toys and allow customers who purchased the toys to receive a refund. 

ACL and BorgWarner were found liable in the mesothelioma death of a New Jersey man, according to  Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer, caused only by exposure to asbestos.  The jury took 4 hours to return the $30.3 million verdict.  The victim in this case was Mark Buttitta, a 50 year old resident of New Jersey.  He was exposed to asbestos working in General Motors warehouses during summers.  His father also worked in the warehouses.  Witnesses testified that Mark Buttitta was exposed to asbestos when he was a child, when he sat in his father’s lap while his father was wearing his dusty work clothes. 

According to a story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, the CDC has found unacceptable levels of toxic formaldehyde fumes in government FEMA trailers, issued to hurricane victims as housing on the Gulf Coast.  A study of FEMA trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi found exposure levels 40 times greater than the safe level in some trailers, and levels five times greater than those in a regular home in most trailers.  According to the New York Times, more than 35,000 of the trailers are still in use in the Gulf Coast region, and FEMA is moving forward with plans to house victims of last week’s tornados in Arkansas and Tennessee in the trailers. 

 CDC has advised that FEMA should move people out of the trailers as soon as possible, especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems.  People with  asthma could sustain breathing problems and burning eyes from the exposures, as well as severe asthma attacks.  Formaldehyde has also been tagged as a probable carcinogen.  Common difficulties associated with formaldehyde exposure include headaches, coughing, wheezing, and a burning throat.  Formaldehyde can also cause allergies.

UPDATE:  FEMA’s goal is to have 35,000 Gulf Coast residents out of FEMA trailers by the summer of 2008, according to FEMA administrtor R. Daivd Paulison.  Ambitious goal for an agency that has been so inept at dealing with problems in the past.  Lets hope for the best.

Story on CNN about a new treatment strategy in the war on lung cancer. The process of staging tumors previously relied on a sampling of 5,000 tumors from M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which was put together decades ago. Doctors use staging to guide treatment and predict odds of survival. It looks at the size and shape of the tumor, as well as where the tumor has spread.

Doctors have come up with a new way to stage, that uses 100,000 tumor samples from around the world. Doctors say the plan will move a good number of people from the non-operable category to the operable category. It appears that the new staging will refine the treatment options and give more aggressive treatment options to those who had little options before, and could give more targeted treatment to those with smaller tumors. Hopefully this will increase survival rates for all.

As a side note, the American Cancer Society has announced a change in their advertising strategy for the next year. The focus of their ad campaign will be the effect of the health care crisis on cancer mortality rates. Studies have shown that the lack of insurance leads to delays in detecting malignancies, which results in more cancer deaths. There is no doubt that improvements in the way we handle health insurance in this country will lead to less cancer deaths. People who can’t afford to go to the doctor often find out they have cancer too late. The ACS is doing a great thing.

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