Mesothelioma Fatalities Climb as EPA Readies to Finally Ban Asbestos

The cancer-causing side effects of asbestos exposure are well known, but less known is that the mineral is still used and imported in the U.S.

Asbestos is a carcinogenic mineral that was commonly used in building materials (insulation, roof shingles, cement, etc.) for its durability and fire retardant properties. Cosmetic companies also used asbestos-laced talcum for its powder-like consistency.

Once research showed that asbestos caused cancer in the 1970s, its use sharply declined and it was restricted. However, the U.S. is still allowed to import asbestos and some products that have historically used the chemical are allowed to continue to do so.  

Despite 10,000 pages of evidence showing the hazardous effects of the chemical, the asbestos industry shot down the proposed ban.

In 1989, the EPA attempted to ban asbestos. Despite 10,000 pages of evidence showing the hazardous effects of the chemical, the asbestos industry shot down the proposed ban in a federal appeals court.

Congress Pressures EPA to Review Asbestos

The failed ban is a symptom of an overly complex system that leaves the EPA at times powerless. Since the agency’s creation 40 years ago, only five chemicals have been banned and just a small percentage of the 62,000 chemicals on the market have been reviewed.

“The system was so complex, it was so burdensome, that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos, a known carcinogen.”

Calling for reform, Congress passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act this June, which amends the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. Under this amendment, the EPA will have more control over regulation of dangerous chemicals.

Said President Obama upon signing the amendment, “The system was so complex, it was so burdensome, that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos, a known carcinogen. I think a lot of Americans would be shocked by all of that.”

The EPA is scheduled to announce the first 10 chemicals for review in December. Since Congress singled out asbestos when creating this act, many hope it will be the EPA’s priority.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to consider asbestos as a priority chemical: “To build confidence in the agency’s ability to deliver meaningful results for our children and families, EPA must consider all forms of asbestos in this initial list of chemicals it acts on.”

Asbestos Exposure Can Lead to Mesothelioma Decades Later

Asbestos inhalation can severely damage the lungs, resulting in diseases like mesotheliomaa fatal form of canceryears or even decades after exposure.

Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer. 10,000 Americans die from the disease every year. Though asbestos exposure can result in a host of medical conditions, mesothelioma is only caused by exposure to asbestos.

Hold Them Accountable

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they stick inside the lungs for years. With each inhalation and exhalation, these fibers create abrasions that can eventually develop into cancerous tumors.

Who is at Risk?

Anyone who is exposed to asbestos is at risk of developing mesothelioma. However, those who were regularly in direct contact with asbestos materials are even more at risk. These groups include:

  • Construction workers
  • Railroad workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Veterans (especially from the U.S. Navy)
  • Mechanics
  • Miners
  • First responders

9/11 Rescue Workers Are Twice As Likely to Develop Mesothelioma

When the twin towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, the building materials released 2,000 tons of asbestos fibers into the air, creating a toxic dust that coated the Financial District.

While cleaning up the disaster zone and searching for bodies, first responders inhaled lethal amounts of asbestos, often with inadequate protection. It is estimated that 41,000 people in total were exposed to asbestos after the disaster.

15 years later, this population is still suffering from the attacks. A 2013 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study found that 9/11 first responders are twice as likely to develop mesothelioma. Since the disease can take decades to develop, the long-term effects of 9/11 are only now starting to show.

Veterans Account for 30% of Mesothelioma Deaths

Damage Control 1st Class William Minniefield collects samples of lagging taken from several different spaces on the ship to see if there are traces of asbestos aboard.
Collecting samples to see if there are traces of asbestos aboard.

Between the 1930s and 1970s, virtually every U.S. Naval ship contained several tons of asbestos, mostly in the ships’ insulation, pipes, and doors.

Now, veterans and Naval shipyard workers are paying the price. Though veterans only make up 8% of the U.S. population, they make up 30% of mesothelioma deaths.

In April of this year, a federal jury in Arizona awarded $17 million in damages to the family of the late George Coulbourn. Mr. Coulbourn worked at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, where he contracted mesothelioma.

In December of 2014, the family of a former Naval shipfitter received a similar verdict in their favor, totaling $20 million. The family sued the U.S. Navy’s boiler manufacturers for using asbestos in their materials.

Talcum-Based Products Used Asbestos Until the 1970s

Asbestos was also commonly found in Talcum-based products, like baby powder, shave talc, etc. prior to the 1970s. However, many mesothelioma diagnoses are just now being discovered.

In October, Los Angeles-based Philip Depoian received an $18 million verdict in his favor for developing mesothelioma from the talc-based products his father’s barber shop used. Last year, Judith Winkel, also from California, won $13 million in a lawsuit against Colgate-Palmolive for using asbestos in their talc powder, causing her to develop mesothelioma decades later.

What Are My Legal Rights?

If you or a loved one were diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be entitled to compensation. Many companies knew for decades that any exposure to asbestos was dangerous, yet they continued to endanger the health of workers and consumers.

Contact ClassAction.com today for a free, no-obligation legal review. Our attorneys have recovered millions of dollars for hundreds of mesothelioma victims across the United States.

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Cost U.S. $340 Billion Annually

Chemicals used in everyday products cost the United States more than $340 billion per year in health care and lost earnings, according to a new study.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals—found in consumer goods that include plastics, metal food cans, furniture, carpeting, toys, detergents, cosmetics, and pesticides—interfere with the body’s endocrine (hormone) system and contribute to developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune dysfunction.

Endocrine disruptors are linked to IQ points loss, autism, ADHD, diabetes, cancer, and more.

In the United States, the economic disease burden of endocrine-disrupting chemicals—which reflects direct treatment costs as well as indirect lost productivity costs—is estimated to be higher than in the European Union, where industrial chemicals are more tightly regulated. Endocrine disruptors cost the U.S. $340 billion per year (2.33% of GDP) and the European Union $217 billion per year (1.28% of GDP).

The greatest difference in U.S. vs. E.U. disease costs, say the study authors, comes from IQ points loss and intellectual disability due to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), a chemical blend used as a flame retardant on furniture. PBDE causes 43,000 annual cases of intellectual disability annually in the U.S., compared to 3,290 in the EU. Europe has restricted PBDEs since 2008.

Costs associated with organophosphates—chemical substances found in pesticides—are significantly lower in the United States ($42 billion) than in Europe ($121 billion). U.S. regulators are stricter about organophosphates than their European counterparts.

Other diseases linked to endocrine disruptors looked at in the study included autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and endometriosis.

“These findings speak to the large health and economic benefits to regulating endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” senior study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande told Reuters.

Researchers based U.S. data on endocrine-disrupting hormones found in blood and urine samples of patients in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and compared it to the results of an earlier European study.

“Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the USA: a population-based disease burden and cost analysis” is published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

Differences in U.S., EU Policy Underlie Exposure Disparity

Chemical policy in the United States operates differently in the European Union and helps explains why more people in this country are exposed to chemicals like endocrine disruptors.

“Adults and children in the U.S. carry more industrial chemicals in their bodies than their European counterparts simply due to differences in chemical policies,” public health researcher Joseph Allen of Harvard told Reuters.

European Union chemical policy endorses the precautionary principle, a burden of proof that does not require a substance to be proven absolutely safe. Rather, when the precautionary principle is invoked, a company may be required to prove the absence of danger. This allows potentially hazardous chemicals to be restricted even without a complete scientific evaluation. Only substantial, credible evidence of human or environmental health risks is needed to trigger regulatory action.

U.S. law, which does not formally endorse the precautionary principle, sets a much higher bar for proving a substance is safe. In the U.S., evidence of actual harm must generally be produced before regulatory action is taken.

“Our chemical policy largely follows the approach of our legal system – ‘innocent until proven guilty,’” said Joseph Allen. “This is appropriate for criminal justice policy but has disastrous consequences for health when used for chemical policy.”

Endocrine Disruptors Can Wreak Havoc on Bodies

There’s room for debate about whether European and American chemical regulations are significantly different in their overall outcomes. For example, the measured effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers and organophosphates in the E.U. and U.S. from the Lancet study show how regulators on each continent vary in their precautionary approaches to the same chemicals.

Americans are effectively acting as guinea pigs for the chemical industry.

But there’s no debating the fact that endocrine disruptors pose significant health risks. Since the precise nature of those risks are still being studied, Americans are effectively acting as guinea pigs for the chemical industry.

What is known about endocrine disruptors is cause enough for concern. They’ve been linked to cancers, reproductive problems, early puberty, birth defects, kidney and thyroid disease, nervous system dysfunction, and other serious problems.

The prevalence of these chemicals in our bodies underscores their omnipresence. BPA—a chemical used in plastics that can cause cancer, obesity, and heart disease—has been found in 93% of Americans. Atrazine, used on U.S. corn crops and pervasive in drinking water, has been shown to feminize male frogs and is linked to several cancers.

Avoiding these chemicals therefore requires major lifestyle changes, such as eating organic, avoiding plastic food containers, and filtering drinking water.

The Environmental Working Group offers a free download that details twelve of the most prevalent endocrine disruptors and how to avoid them.

ClassAction.com Attorneys File First Lawsuit Against Mosaic Over Florida Sinkhole

On September 22, 2016, three Lithia, Florida residents (Nicholas Bohn, Natasha McCormick, and Eric Weckman) filed a class action lawsuit against Mosaic Fertilizer over the massive sinkhole that recently appeared in the area, leaking radioactive water into the Floridan Aquifer.

The complaint—filed by ClassAction.com attorneys in partnership with New York-based firm Weitz & Luxenberg—seeks relief for water treatment and monitoring as well as property damage, and alleges that Mosaic “recklessly and negligently managed, operated and stored toxic radioactive wastewater produced from Defendants’ New Wales Facility.”

View the Mosaic Complaint

The plaintiffs also argue that Mosaic violated Florida’s Pollutant Discharge Prevention and Control Act and is likewise liable for an abnormally dangerous activity, nuisance, negligence, and gross negligence.

The plaintiffs brought the class action lawsuit on behalf of anyone similarly situated and affected by the Mosaic sinkhole, noting that roughly 5,000 people live within five miles of the sinkhole “who obtain their water from private wells and are impacted by the sinkhole.”

If you have been similarly impacted by the Mosaic sinkhole, contact us today. You may qualify for a lawsuit.

What Took Mosaic So Long to Come Clean?

On August 27, 2016, a 300-foot-deep sinkhole appeared at the Mosaic Fertilizer phosphate mine in Mulberry, Florida.

Nearly three weeks later, on September 15, Mosaic notified the public through its website. The massive sinkhole has since made headlines after leaking 215 million gallons of potentially radioactive water into the Floridan Aquifer—Florida’s main source of drinking water.

So why on earth didn’t Mosaic alert residents sooner? Why wait three weeks to break the story, while families drink and swim in this potentially toxic water?

Because they could.

Mosaic Was Not Legally Obligated to Disclose Leak

According to the Tampa Bay Times, a 2005 state law requires only that companies report contaminations to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within ten days of learning about them. The DEP then has 30 days to notify residents who could be affected.

This is a stark change from 1994, the last time a sinkhole of this nature formed at the same site. Then, the public learned of the incident almost immediately and could respond accordingly—by testing their water, for example, or pursuing legal action.

In his apology for the three-week delay, Mosaic’s Senior Vice President of Phosphates Walt Precourt failed to explain why Mosaic felt Polk County residents didn’t deserve to learn of the leak sooner. Mr. Precourt said simply:

“I regret and apologize for not providing information sooner. We immediately took steps to remove as much water from the leaking process pond as possible and are now operating a recovery well to remove the rest of the water from the aquifer.”

Given Mosaic’s checkered past, the delay may come as no surprise.

Mosaic Has History of Questionable Ethics

In October 2015, the EPA reached a settlement with Mosaic over 60 billion pounds of toxic waste pollution. According to the EPA, Mosaic’s violations included the following:

  • Failure to make hazardous waste determinations for scrubber effluents, fluorosilicic acid-production wastes, product spills and leaks, and wastes from cleaning pipes and tanks;
  • Treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes without a permit or interim status;
  • Failure to perform land disposal determinations and to meet land disposal restrictions for hazardous wastes;
  • Failure to provide adequate financial assurance for closure, long-term care, and third-party liability; and
  • Failure to comply with record-keeping requirements

Under the settlement terms, Mosaic paid $1.8 billion and agreed to reduce and more safely store toxic waste at eight of its facilities—including the New Wales site where the new sinkhole appeared.

Sinkhole2_Blog_720x405

Mosaic agreed to “install advanced engineering controls that will mitigate future impacts from its phosphyogypsum stack systems” (such as the one where the Mulberry sinkhole formed).

Mosaic also “agreed to implement an estimated $1.2 million environmental project in Florida to mitigate and prevent certain potential environmental impacts associated with an orphaned industrial property located in Mulberry, Florida.”

Leak Will Cost Mosaic Upwards of $50 Million

A Mosaic executive says fixing the leak will cost $20-50 million. But that’s just a drop in the bucket to the largest fertilizer company in the world, one that generated $11.1 billion in revenue in 2012.

Instead of paying tens of millions of dollars to clean up its toxic messes, or paying billions of dollars in EPA penalties, why doesn’t Mosaic overhaul its operations to prevent these hazardous accidents in the first place?

Many of Mosaic’s EPA settlement terms from last year involved not just safety (e.g., preventing radioactive waste from leaking into Florida’s water supply) but transparency. The idea was not only to reduce toxic waste, but to be upfront in the event of a leak or spill so that agencies and residents could take the appropriate steps.

Hold Mosaic Accountable

By keeping Floridians in the dark for three weeks about a potentially harmful leak, Mosaic has violated the spirit of that settlement if not the actual terms. It has also further eroded any remaining trust residents had in the company and the process of phosphate mining as a whole.

It will take more than free water bottles to regain that trust.

5 FAQs About the Mosaic Sinkhole

1. What is the Mosaic sinkhole and how did it form?

The Mosaic sinkhole is a massive 45-foot-wide sinkhole that recently formed at the Mosaic fertilizer plant in Mulberry, Florida.

The hole was first discovered on August 27, 2016, but Mosaic did not alert the public until September 16—nearly three weeks later. (We don’t yet know whether Mosaic alerted authorities more promptly.)

Two hundred and fifteen million gallons of radioactive wastewater have drained into the sinkhole, and into the Floridan aquifer system. Mosaic admits that the contaminants have reached the aquifer.

2. What is phosphogypsum?

Phosphogypsum is a waste product formed in the production of fertilizer from phosphate ore. (Florida produces 90% of the United States’ phosphate for fertilizers.) Although gypsum is a widely used material in construction, phosphogypsum is not used but rather stored indefinitely due to its radioactivity.

The process of phosphate mining is controversial due to its environmental implications.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of phosphogypsum in 1989. Since then, the agency “requires that phosphogypsum be stored in above-ground stacks, which are designed to keep emissions of radon and other radionuclides in line with acceptable risk practices.”

According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), phosphate mining also releases radon into the air, which can cause cancer.

3. How does the sinkhole affect Floridians?

It has contaminated the Floridan Aquifer used by millions of Floridians for drinking water.

The aquifer system is an underground network of porous rocks through which water passes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “The Floridan aquifer system is the primary source of water for nearly 10 million people and supports agriculture, industry, and tourism throughout most of the region.”

“The Floridan aquifer system is the primary source of water for nearly 10 million people and supports agriculture, industry, and tourism throughout most of the region.”

The Weather Channel reports that the Floridan Aquifer is “the principal source of groundwater for much of the state, and the cities of Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Tampa, and St. Petersburg all rely on it.”

Additionally, according to environmental attorney Frank Petosa, water that escapes from the aquifers creates springs that are used for recreational activities like swimming and snorkeling.

The contaminants from the Mosaic sinkhole will likely include natural radionuclides like uranium and radium (as per the EPA’s page on phosphoygypsum stacks).

4. Has this happened before?

Yes. In 1994, a 185-foot-deep sinkhole formed below an 80-million-ton pile of radioactive waste at this same facility. (See Slide 4 in this National Geographic article for a jarring photo and more details on the 1994 sinkhole.)

It is no wonder, then, that environmentalist groups like the Center for Biological Diversity have long called for an end to phosphate mining. Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the CBD, states:

“Enough is enough. Mosaic wants to mine an additional 50,000 acres of Florida’s beautiful, biodiverse lands, but this incident makes clear it can’t even handle the radioactive waste it currently generates. We must come together and demand that our counties, our state and our federal government reject further expansion of this dangerous industry.”

In response to the Mosaic sinkhole, protestors gathered outside of Mulberry City Hall aiming to hold the industrial company accountable. Many expressed grave concern over how water contamination could affect their health and the health of their families.

5. What should I do if I live in the affected area?

If you live in Hillsborough or Polk County and own land or a well in one of those counties, you should call 888-987-1307 to determine the best course of action.

Morgan & Morgan is one of the nation’s leading plaintiffs-only law firms. In addition to filing legal proceedings against Mosaic, the firm’s ClassAction.com attorneys will continue to monitor the environmental impact of the sinkhole, as well as any possible health risks posed by the water’s contaminants.

You may also want to read more on this issue via the following sources: 

EPA: National Emission Standards for Radon Emissions from Phosphogypsum Stacks
Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute (FIPR): Phosphogypsum and the EPA Ban
Statement from Center for Biological Diversity on Sinkhole at Radioactive Strip Mine in Central Florida
WFLA: “Contaminated well concerns prompt protests after Mosaic sinkhole incident
The Weather Channel: “Sinkhole Leaks More Than 200 Million Gallons of Contaminated Water into Florida Aquifer”