If you’re at all familiar with mesothelioma, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Libby, Montana and the W. R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine. The mine, which was originally discovered in 1919, extracted asbestos-contaminated vermiculite for decades, endangering the health of those who worked in the mines, in the processing facilities, transporting the material, and in all of the businesses that supported the mining industry. It’s been estimated that asbestos has claimed the lives of roughly 10% of the town’s population over the years, and despite the establishment of an asbestos bankruptcy trust and many lawsuits and settlements already being resolved, there are still hundreds of mesothelioma lawsuits that are pending. In order to handle the flood of litigation, the Montana Supreme Court recently ordered that a special Asbestos Claims Court be established to facilitate the hearing of all of these claims.
In two separate lawsuits filed by the widows of U.S. Navy sailors who died of mesothelioma, a district court ruled against the women and in favor of parts manufacturers that argued against their own responsibility in the mens’ deaths. The women felt that the ruling was unjust, because the manufacturers’ parts required asbestos-containing products to function properly, and this was completely foreseeable when they designed their products. They appealed to the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for justice, and the court agreed, ruling that the “bare metal” defense that the manufacturers had relied upon was not in keeping with underlying purpose of liability laws, which in this case was to watch out for the safety and protection of the sailors.
Three companies tasked with removing asbestos from the Greater Lowell Technical High School in Lowell, New Hampshire are facing lawsuits filed by four teachers that were injured as a result of their negligent work; the company has already agreed to hefty settlements in a separate suit filed by the state’s Attorney General.
The companies were all working as part of a $65 million renovation project that took place during school years 2014 and 2015. The general contractor was Consigli Construction, which hired R.M. Technologies as a subcontractor to remove asbestos-contaminated materials and Universal Environmental Consultants to oversee R.M. Technologies’ work. Despite the fact that all three were hired to do professional asbestos abatement, teachers in the school reported returning to their classrooms and finding asbestos-containing dust and debris all over their classrooms. Each took on the task of cleaning up the debris themselves before the students arrived, and each have suffered significant health problems as a result. They also have serious concerns about being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in the future.
The four teachers’ lawsuits are pending, and cite a variety of damages: Transition Training Worksite Aid Rhonda Piper suffered several disabling respiratory conditions leading to over $67,000 in medical expenses as well as a diagnosis of being permanently disabled. Other teachers’ ailments range from exacerbated asthma, post-traumatic stress disorder, skin conditions and respiratory symptoms. Still more teachers have filed workers’ compensation claims with the school district claiming injury from the dust and debris. The Attorney General’s lawsuit, which was settled, cited negligence in failing to seal off and clean the areas they were assigned to work in, as well as a variety of state law violations. The settlements included a $195,000 payment from Consigli, an $80,000 payment from Universal, and forfeiture of all licenses to perform asbestos abatement by R.M. Technologies, which also agreed that none of the company’s officers could engage in asbestos abatement work for at least five years. The companies did not admit to wrongdoing in the settlement, and have indicate that they believe the claims are without merit.
Mesothelioma is diagnosed roughly 3,500 times per year in the United States, and other asbestos-related diseases strike even more. Despite this, the United States continues to allow asbestos to be used in a variety of applications, and imported over 700 metric tons of the material in 2016. The lions share of the asbestos that has been imported into the United States has come from Brazil, which is the third largest country in the world in production of the carcinogenic material, but with a majority of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court banning the production, commercialization and use of the material last week, questions loom as to where the U.S. will turn for asbestos in the future. Advocates are hoping that as yet another country grows the long list of those recognizing asbestos’ dangers, the United States will soon do the same.
Digital and social media are playing an increasingly important role in mesothelioma and other cancer patients’ decision making process regarding treatment, support and more. That’s according to a study that was recently published by Healthline, a popular health information brand. The company recently published an informational series titled “State of Cancer” that set out to examine exactly how individuals are leveraging online information to make important decisions about their healthcare. What was learned is that an overwhelming and growing number of American citizens turn to the worldwide web almost immediately after being diagnosed, and though the percentage of younger people using the resource is greater than that of boomers, the gap between them may be closing.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that few people have heard of outside of television ads for attorneys. It is this lack of familiarity and a need for immediate access to high quality medical information that is fueling the surge in reliance on the Internet for patients. According to the Healthline study, 89% of patients, their family members and friends, and caregivers go online looking for information after a diagnosis is made, with 40% going online on the same day that they are diagnosed.Though more millennial and generation Xers search for information on the same day as diagnosis than do those in the Baby Boomer generation, a remarkable 29% of those born between 1946 and 1964 are also Googling their illness on the same day that it is identified.
Speaking of the significance of these findings, the chief medical officer and founder of BreastCancer.org said, “Just as we innovate to improve actual cancer treatments, we should encourage patients to use the digital tools at their fingertips to get support, feel informed, and be even more a part of the treatment decisions that gets them back to health.” For mesothelioma patients, having immediate access to information on treatment options, medical centers that specialize in innovative protocols, renowned mesothelioma surgeons and support groups has become an essential part of their ability to move forward with a sense of control and confidence.
A study conducted in France is providing a possible answer for one of the most troubling problems encountered in the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma, that of the spread of malignant mesothelioma cells following invasive interventions. Scientists with the CHRU De Nancy hospital have reviewed dozens of cases of patients undergoing a variety of treatments, and found that those who received radiation therapy prior to the procedure being done experienced a significantly lower rate of new mesothelioma tumors seeding.
A study conducted at the West China Hospital in Chengdu, China has provided patients diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma with some encouraging news: an after-surgery protocol called Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS), which was designed to provide improved quality of care, has proven extremely effective. The study shows that it provides patients undergoing lung cancer surgery with better outcomes involving a number of different measures.
Mesothelioma is a rare and fatal form of cancer that is largely thought of as an occupational disease. It is caused by exposure to asbestos, a material that was widely used in industrial and construction settings, and which causes cells to mutate when its fibers are inhaled or ingested. But a new study published in The Lancet Public Health is raising questions and concerns about whether the condition may become more prevalent in those who never worked with the material, but who lived in homes where it was present in the form of loose-fill asbestos insulation.
Every patient who has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma has important decisions to make. The most important decision that they have to make is about how aggressively they want to pursue treatment of their condition: since mesothelioma is always considered fatal, they have to decide whether they want to prioritize living longer or having a better quality of life in the time that remains. This decision doesn’t necessarily mean less surgery or chemotherapy: rather it’s a question of the type of surgery or how extensive the treatments will be, as well as many smaller decisions about things like where they want to be treated, and by whom. A recently published study illustrates the number of choices that need to be made: researchers have found that having a pleural catheter implanted in the chest may introduce adverse effects, but also will cut down dramatically on the number of days that the patient has to stay in the hospital. For some, the downside that is associated with the procedure is worthwhile for the longer term benefit.
When iron workers in Minnesota’s Iron Range have trouble breathing, or start experiencing nausea, fatigue or fevers, mesothelioma is high on their list of things they fear they most. Though few people realize that iron mines are frequently contaminated with the carcinogenic material, the presence of asbestos has made iron mining one of the few professions in the United States that still poses a rising risk of exposure.