January 23, 2019

Sheldon Silver Arrest Shows The Seamy Side Of Asbestos Litigation

Federal prosecutors unsealed a criminal complaint against New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, detailing long-rumored allegations about how a prominent asbestos law firm steered millions of dollars to the powerful politician in exchange for client referrals from a doctor, who in turn is accused of accepting favors from Silver.

The 35-page complaint by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York accuses Silver of accepting more than $5.3 million in payments from Weitz & Luxenberg, a New York law firm that specializes in asbestos lawsuits. Silver is also accused of obtaining the money in exchange for client referrals from an unnamed doctor in Manhattan who is cooperating with prosecutors under non-prosecution agreement. The doctor is accused of receiving substantial benefits from the Speaker, including $500,000 in grants for his mesothelioma research clinic and a job for a family member at a state-funded non-profit.

The complaint accuses Silver of using his office to obtain “referral fees” in exchange for little or no actual legal work, and failing to report some of them on his personal finance statements. He obtained more than $500,000 in fees from another law firm specializing in real estate appraisal appeals, prosecutors said. No one in Silver’s office was immediately available for comment.

It has long been known that Silver earned hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from Weitz & Luxenberg, but under New York’s lax reporting rules he wasn’t required to say exactly how much or what he did for the money. Today’s complaint provides more detail, showing how the extraordinarily lucrative business of suing over asbestos generates enough fee income to finance “research grants” to doctors who refer clients back to them.

Citing records pulled by the state’s short-lived Moreland Commission as well a a federal investigation, prosecutors say Silver parlayed his relationship with the physician identified as “Doctor-1″ to funnel clients to Weitz & Luxenberg in exchange for 33% of the firm’s take on any case. The doctor is further identified as running a mesothelioma research center at a major university, and having received a commendation from the Assembly in May, 2011.

Dr. Robert Taub runs the Columbia University Mesothelioma Center and received a commendation in May 2011, He was until 2013 affiliated with the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, whose major supporters include asbestos attorney Peter Angelos. Taub hasn’t been charged with wrongdoing and wasn’t immediately available for comment.

According to the complaint, Silver met Doctor-1 through a mutual friend. The doctor had never referred patients to Weitz & Luxenberg because they didn’t fund mesothelioma research, the complaint says. Soon after learning that Silver had joined the firm in 2002, the doctor asked him if Weitz & Luxenberg would start funding research.

Silver told him he should start referring his patients to the firm, prosecutors say, and that state funds were available for his research. (New York allocated $8.5 million a year to a discretionary fund, controlled by Silver, for healthcare grants, until that fund was discontinued in 2007.) Seven weeks after the doctor made his first referral to Weitz & Luxenberg, records show, he made a $250,000 grant request to the state. The letter was addressed to Silver. On July 5, 2005, Silver directed a $250,000 grant to the doctor’s mesothelioma center. The letter said the money would be for mesothelioma research including on the effects of the Sept. 11 catastrophe in Silver’s district, but didn’t mention the client referrals Silver was getting.

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Sheldon Silver Arrest Shows The Seamy Side Of Asbestos Litigation

Forgotten asbestos mine sickens Indian villagers

RORO VILLAGE, India (AP) — Asbestos waste spills in a gray gash down the flank of a lush green hill above tribal villages that are home to thousands in eastern India. Three decades after the mines were abandoned, nothing has been done to remove the enormous, hazardous piles of broken rocks and powdery dust left behind.

In Roro Village and nearby settlements, people who never worked in the mines are dying of lung disease. Yet in a country that treats asbestos as a savior that provides cheap building materials for the poor, no one knows the true number and few care to ask.

“I feel weak, drained all the time,” Baleman Sundi gasped, pushing the words out before she lost her breath. “But I must work.” The 65-year-old paused, inhaled. “I don’t have a choice.” Another gasp. “I have to eat.”

Sundi and 17 others from a clutch of impoverished villages near the abandoned hilltop mines were diagnosed in 2012 with asbestosis, a fatal lung disease. One has since died. Tens of thousands more, some of them former mine workers, remain untested and at risk. Asbestos makes up as much as 14.3 percent of the soil around Roro Village, analysis of samples gathered by The Associated Press showed.

Few have done anything to help people such as Sundi. The villagers have no money for doctors or medical treatment, and cannot afford to move.

Neither the government nor the Indian company that ran the mines from 1963 to 1983 has made any move to clean up the estimated 700,000 tons of asbestos tailings left scattered across several kilometers (miles) of hilly mining area.

The mine’s operator, Hyderabad Asbestos Cement Products Ltd., nowadays known as HIL Ltd., says it has done nothing illegal.

“The company had followed all rules and procedures for closure of a mine and had complied with the provisions of the law, as in force in 1983,” it said in a statement released to the AP.

Sundi and the others are suing in the country’s environmental court for cleanup, compensation and a fund for future victims of asbestos-related disease. If they win, the case would set precedents for workplace safety and corporate liability, subjects often ignored or dismissed in developing India.

“There will be justice only if we win,” Sundi rasped. “Whoever did this must pay.”

India placed a moratorium on asbestos mining in 1986, acknowledging that the fibrous mineral was hazardous to the miners.

But that was the government’s last decision curtailing the spread of asbestos. It has since embraced the mineral as a cheap building material. Today India is the world’s fastest-growing market for asbestos.

In the last five years, India’s asbestos imports shot up 300 percent. The government helps the $2 billion asbestos manufacturing industry with low tariffs on imports. It has also blocked asbestos from being listed as a hazardous substance under the international Rotterdam Convention governing how dangerous chemicals are handled.

The country keeps no statistics on how many people have been sickened or died from exposure to the mineral, which industry and many government officials insist is safe when mixed with cement.

Western scientists strongly disagree.

The World Health Organization and more than 50 countries, including the United States and all of Europe, say it should be banned in all forms. Asbestos fibers lodge in the lungs and cause many diseases. The International Labor Organization estimates 100,000 people die every year from workplace exposure, and experts believe thousands more die from exposure elsewhere.

“My greatest concern is what will happen in India. It’s a slow-moving disaster, and this is only the beginning,” said Philip Landrigan, a New York epidemiologist who heads the Rome-based Collegium Ramazzini, which pioneered the field of occupational health worldwide.

“The epidemic will go largely unrecognized,” he said. Eventually, “it’s going to end up costing India billions of dollars.”

From the top of Roro Hill, a small boy leaped out to slide down the cascade of fluffy grey dust. A few villagers followed, nudging a herd of cows and goats. Huge clouds billowed in their wake.

The villagers often ignore the warnings from visiting doctors and activists to stay away from the waste. Many don’t believe the asbestos, which looks like regular rocks and dirt, could be dangerous. Others are more fatalistic, noting they hardly have a choice.

“What can we do? This is our land,” said 56-year-old Jema Sundi, diagnosed with asbestosis though she never went into the mines. “We tell the children, don’t go there. But they are children, you cannot control them.”

She then noticed her 4-year-old nephew Vijay, his tiny body covered with chalky white streaks, shrinking into himself as if trying to disappear. “You went up there today again?” she exclaimed.

Vijay, lowering his head, attempted a half-smile.

When Hyderabad Asbestos first began mining in Jharkhand in 1963, India was in its second decade of independence and attempting to industrialize. Most services and industries were nationalized, but some heavy industries and mining were opened to private companies, many of which operated opaquely.

Hydrabad Asbestos employed about 1,500 people in the asbestos mines. Most were tribal villagers eager to participate in the country’s development. But for them that development never arrived.

Kalyan Bansingh, lead plaintiff in the court case, worked more than a decade building scaffolding inside newly blasted mining caverns. Like many laborers across India, he took to chewing an unrefined sugar product called jaggery in the misguided belief that airborne fibers would adhere to the sticky bolus and stay out of his lungs.

Sometimes the company provided the jaggery along with his $2 weekly salary, but it never offered him protective masks or clothing, he said.

Bansingh regrets the job, even if it was the only paid work he ever had. “I can’t run or walk long distances. I am breathless with just a few steps,” the muscular 70-year-old said.

HIL said it followed strict health and safety policies, and that “no health or environmental damage was reported during the mine operations.” The company did not address whether it had ever sent anyone to check on the villagers’ health since the mines closed. Villagers told AP they were never been invited for a company-sponsored checkup after 1983.

The fact that Bansingh and the other plaintiffs ever had the opportunity for a diagnosis was extremely rare. Like most people in villages at the foot of Roro Hill, they cannot read or write. They live in makeshift homes of hard-packed mud, thatched roofs and tidily swept dirt floors.

“The idea that the environment, something that has always provided and been taken for granted, could be causing them harm is a notion that just doesn’t occur to them,” said T.K. Joshi, a doctor who heads India’s only university department specializing in occupational health. “And unfortunately, most Indian doctors are not trained to ask the right questions.”

Because X-rays and detailed patient interviews are rare in rural India, experts say most Indians who suffer or have died from an asbestos-related disease were likely misdiagnosed with tuberculosis, food poisoning or other illnesses common across India.

Now India’s largest asbestos-manufacturing company, HIL had revenue of about $160 million for 2013-14, while spending about $72 million on imports of asbestos from countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan and Brazil. It plans to scale back manufacturing asbestos-cement products, but the decision was not made for environmental or health concerns.

According to its annual report, the company is diversifying because the “closure of certain mines across the world has resulted in increased dependency on limited sources.”

Shutting down asbestos mines is a dirty and costly business. There is also the danger of releasing more fibers into the air just by disturbing waste or breaking down old materials. Hundreds of millions have been spent in the United States alone cleaning old asbestos mines in states including California and Montana.

The samples collected by AP and tested by California-based laboratory EMSL Analytical Inc. showed the soil around Roro Village was between 4.1 and 14.3 percent asbestos.

“It’s heartbreaking. Kids are playing on it. People are stirring it up. You don’t have to inhale much to put a cap on your life,” said Richard Fuller, CEO of the Blacksmith Institute, a New York-based watchdog that estimates 50,000 people could be at risk.

Other, smaller asbestos mines in states including Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have also been left in a state of neglect similar to Roro’s, mining activists say.

Activists, medical workers and lawyers have described an almost Kafkaesque effort to hold the government and company accountable over the past decade, with both declaring the mine closed and subject settled long ago.

At the time the mines were open, Jharkhand state didn’t even exist. The land was part of a wider Bihar state, with its capital and official paperwork held in a different city. Neither state has been able to produce the 30-year-old documents pertaining to the mine’s closure.

“As far as environmental issues are concerned, we have already dealt with it,” Jharkhand state’s Mining Secretary Arun, who uses only one name, told AP.

In 2012, an activist group selected 150 Roro-area villagers for chest X-rays. The X-ray plates were examined by Dr. V. Murlidhar, an occupational health specialist, who confirmed 18 had the tell-tale honeycomb pattern of opaqueness that denotes asbestosis.

The results were neither surprising nor unique, he said. “More cases are likely” because asbestosis usually develops over decades of exposure, he said.

Across all of India, only 30 people have ever received marginal compensation — through out-of-court settlements — for asbestos-related disease out of hundreds of thousands of workers who have handled asbestos since the 1960s or lived near mines or manufacturing plants.

Lawyer Krishnendu Mukherjee, who is spearheading the case, has high hopes for a judgment that awards the plaintiffs and future claimants with generous compensation.

A strong verdict, he said, “sends a very strong message out to companies like HIL Ltd. that it’s not permissible to simply leave a mine, a factory, whatever it is, in a state of abandonment without looking at the repercussions on the local population or on the workers.”


Follow Katy Daigle on Twitter at http://twitter.com/katydaigle


Forgotten asbestos mine sickens Indian villagers

Asbestos in police basement causes concern

Asbestos in police basement causes concern – New Jersey Hills Media Group: The Progress News

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Asbestos in police basement causes concern

Thetford mother’s fear over asbestos risk

Thetford mother’s fear over asbestos risk

Wednesday, October 2, 2013
7:56 AM

A mother of two has said described her fears for her children’s health after a housing association carried out work to remove asbestos from a burnt-out garage near her home.

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Rebecca Capell, of Saxon Close, Thetford, was sat in her garden with her children, four-year-old Haiden and one-year-old Paige, while contractors sent by Flagship Housing worked on garages that back on to her house, without warning to residents.

Ms Capell said she noticed the workmen were wearing face masks as they removed roofing and realised it was partly asbestos.

She said she was worried the dust from the asbestos may have passed into her garden and been breathed in by her children.

“They should have been telling us to keep the windows and doors shut. Luckily I knew the roofs had asbestos in them so I took my children straight inside but it was a sunny day and if we hadn’t known we could have been out there the whole time they were working.

“Asbestos is not nice stuff and they have put mine and my children’s health at risk,” she said.

Ms Capell added that she has since spoken to her doctor who informed her any effects from asbestos would not develop for several years.

The workmen were removing the roofs from garages that had burnt down after a fire on August 31.

The blaze had started just days after residents had warned Flagship – who own the garages – that people had been fly-tipping there and that the area needed to be cleared.

Ms Capell said she has since had Flagship Housing’s health and safety officer visit her house and apologise for not warning residents of the asbestos removal.

However, she said it was not an official apology and she is yet to hear from the housing association otherwise.

A spokeswoman for Flagship said the type of asbestos being removed meant that Ms Capell had no reason to be concerned.

“We take any works containing asbestos very seriously and always use professional contractors who work within strict health and safety guidelines.

“In this case, our contractors were removing low level asbestos containing material, and with no wider risk to the public, it was not necessary to notify all properties within the area.

“If any members of the public have any questions on such works we happily discuss this with them,” she said.



Thetford mother’s fear over asbestos risk

Asbestos timeline

Some key dates in the history of asbestos, including its presence in Bloomington through the UNARCO plant.

1st century: Asbestos cited in Roman tests

1828: First U.S. patent for asbestos as a roofing material

1897: Vienna doctor notes asbestos inhalation causes “emaciation and pulmonary problems”

1914: German pathologist brings attention to “crystals” in lungs of a 35-year-old worker

1918: U.S. Prudential Insurance report identifies asbestos work as a “hazardous trade”

1926: UNARCO makes unibestos insulation in Cicero

1927: Asbestosis named as disease; Massachusetts asbestos factory worker compensated for occupational lung disease

1933: British doctors note link between cancer and asbestos

1934: Patent filed for asbestos brake material

1942: Patent filed for floor tile with asbestos

1943: Doctor at U.S. Cancer institute identifies asbestos as a carcinogen

1949: UNARCO files patent for insulating tape with asbestos

1951: UNARCO closes Cicero plant and moves to Bloomington

1955: National Cancer Institute holds conference on carcinogens and includes asbestos

1959: Patent filed to include asbestos in diapers and sanitary napkins

1970: Occupational Safety & Health Act passed; Owens-Corning buys Bloomington UNARCO plant

1971: Vinyl flooring second biggest U.S. market for asbestos

1972: Bloomington Owens-Corning plant closes

1976: American Mutual Insurance Alliance and American Insurance Association begin meetings on how to handle asbestos litigation

1982: UNARCO files Chapter 11 bankruptcy

1988: Trust established to pay UNARCO claims

1991: Former Bloomington UNARCO plant razed

SOURCE: Mike Matejka

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Asbestos timeline

Family Members Unwittingly put at Risk From Asbestos Exposure

LONDON, March 7, 2013 /PRNewswire/ —

An industrial disease expert has warned how family members of workers might have been unwittingly exposed to deadly asbestos by their loved ones decades ago.

Bridget Collier, head of the Industrial Disease Claims team at Fentons Personal Injury Solicitors LLP, said the recent case of a woman in her 70s who died from mesothelioma had highlighted how asbestos dust represented a danger not just to those who worked in heavy industry, but also to their wives and children.

“Only last month a coroner recorded a verdict of death by industrial disease after a 78-year-old woman succumbed to mesothelioma,” said Bridget (left), a partner with the firm. “The court heard how the woman had breathed in asbestos fibres as she shook out the work clothes of her husband and son, who worked at a power station.

“Whilst a tragic case in itself, it has served as a stark warning that entire families might be unaware that they have been exposed to asbestos.”

Bridget, who for many years has seen first-hand the devastating effects mesothelioma has on victims and their relatives, said that although the number of mesothelioma cases reported in the UK continued to increase, there was a concern that some were still being overlooked because people simply did not realise they had been exposed to asbestos.

“Mesothelioma is a dreadful, cruel and painful disease, and kills one person every five hours in the UK,” she said. “This tragic case is just the latest where the victim was not directly exposed through her own work, but instead from washing dirty clothes and cleaning up after her family members.

“We have encountered a large number of cases like this one, where a diagnosis of mesothelioma has been met with complete surprise because the victims themselves never worked in one of the industries readily associated with the disease – such as mining, ship-building, construction, plumbing and electrical work,” she said. “However once we learn more about the history of the victim, the root of the exposure becomes clear.”

Bridget said she had heard stories of wives beating their husband’s dusty overalls as they hung on a washing line, or shaking them off in a doorway before putting them in a washing machine.

“Children and even grandchildren have also been put at risk, running up to a returning parent to give them a hug as they return from work, or sitting on their knee as they wear their dusty work clothes,” she said. “The risk of loved ones being accidentally exposed is unfortunate and just adds to the tragic legacy of asbestos. But as this latest case shows, it is something that family members need to be made aware of.”

She advised anyone who begins to suffer from symptoms – such as a cough that will not go away, or developing breathlessness when doing something that would ordinarily not have caused such a problem – to see their doctor.

“It can take between 15 and 60 years after being exposed to asbestos before any related disease becomes apparent,” said Bridget. “Many people who are diagnosed often came into contact with asbestos several years ago and didn’t even realise, so it is vitally important to be vigilant now.”

How can Fentons Solicitors help?

Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of industrial diseases including mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses.

Search: Fentons Industrial Disease Claim

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Family Members Unwittingly put at Risk From Asbestos Exposure