Toxic Tort

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. 

According to a story on, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has decided the workers’ cases alleging dust disease from the WTC cleanup can proceed against the Port Authority and New York City.  The defendants argued that they were immune from suit.  Contract workers and emergency workers were brought in to clean up the aftermath of the attack.  They were not properly warned of the dangers lurking in the area, included severe dust hazards.  In addition the workers were not given adequate safety protection for the work environment.  For example, some workers were given dust masks, when the environment cleary mandated they be given fresh air masks.

 Workers exposed to the ground zero dust have died from illnesses related to their exposures.  Even more workers have severe illnesses related to their work at ground zero. 

RC2 Brands, maker of Thomas the Tank Engine, has agreed to a $30million settlement in a lawsuit filed by parents who purchased lead tainted Thomas toys, according to a story on CNN.  Last June the company recalled one and a half million Thomas products, due to high levels of lead paint.  Small doses of lead can cause brain damage in children, a large dose could kill a child.  The settlement requires RC2 Brands to offer consumers a combination of cash refunds, replacement toys, plus a “bonus toy”.  The settlement also requires the company to implement better quality control standards to prevent toys containing lead paint from reaching the marketplace again.

Conagra has removed diactyl, a chemical used for butter flavoring in microwave popcorn, from its Act II and Orville Redenbacher brands of microwave popcorn.  Scientests linked the chemical to a severe lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, in 2001.  The chemical caused three deaths and caused hundreds of cases of severe lung disease in popcorn plant workers who were exposed to the chemical in a dust form. 

While disease related to the chemical has been limited to popcorn plant workers, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Online, doctors found health problems similar to those in the plant workers in a man who ate 2 bags of microwave popcorn everyday. 

CNN.COM has a story on a new CPSC recall. Aquadots, a popular children’s toy made by Spin Master Toys, was recalled today because the coating on the dots turns into a dangerous date rape drug, gamma hydroxy butyrate, when ingested. The toy is a craft kit which allows children to make multidimensional art by piecing the beads together. Five children, including 2 in the US and three in Australia, have been hospitalized so far.

The US victims slipped into a comatose state and were hospitalized. One of the children has recovered completely, the other child has been released from the hospital and is recovering. 

When ingested by children the beads can cause death, coma, drowsiness, respiratory depression, seizures and unconsciousness.  According to Naren Gunja from Australia’s Poisons Information Center, the drug’s effect on children is “quite serious . . . and potentially life-threatening.”  Because of the potential danger the CPSC has requested that parents take this toy away from children immediately.

CNN also has a story with tips for parents on buying presents for your children this Christmas season.  Some of the tips include doing your own toy research (including checking the CPSC website regularly), take into account your child’s vulnerabilities and tendencies, and get basic with entertainment (buy your child books and music rather than toys).  Good tips in scary times. 


According to a story from the Baton Rouge Advocate, Honeywell International will pay a total of $12 million for a violation of the Clean Air Act, that resulted in the death of a worker at the Honeywell plant.  The amount includes an $8 million fine, $2 million in restitution to the victim’s family, and $2 million in resitution to local law enforcement agencies.  In 2003, a Honeywell worker opened a container labeled benign refrigerant, which actually contained toxic spent antimony pentachloride.  Honeywell pleaded guilty to negligently releasing toxic air pollutants and negligently placing someone in imment danger of death.  

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