Posts Tagged ‘CARD’

Future tied up in past as asbestos deaths continue in Libby

30 Dec 2009 by under News

As part of its look back at the year 2009, the Missioulian newspaper spoke with residents of Libby, Montana, the “poster child” for mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases. Libby and its people have been decimated by asbestos exposure from the mine that for generations operated in the town. Even those who did not work in the mine were affected, as asbestos dust blanketed the town, spilled from trucks and railway cars, and asbestos particles were used as landfill throughout the town.

W.R. Grace & Company operated the mine. In 2009, the company and several of its officers were brought up on criminal charges, but a jury returned a verdict of “not guilty.” Many following the trial closely said the government botched its case against the company, and others argued Grace’s deep pockets simply outpaced the efforts of a handful of government lawyers.

The aquittal was another in a long line of emotional blows for Libby residents, who hoped to see W.R. Grace finally brought to justice for the devastation of their hometown, their families and loved ones. Generations of Libby residents have already died of mesothelioma, and many more are currently suffering from mesothelioma, , lung cancer, and a host of other ailments caused by longterm exposure to asbestos.

On June 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finally declared a public health emergency in Libby. This designation – the first of its kind in American history – will allow the government to increase funds to provide for medical treatment for Libby residents, and for research into asbestos disease. According to the Missoulian, Libby has already received $6 million, which is designated for patient screening and care, and the town is set to receive an additional $2 million for health care and home care assistance. The paper reports the asbestos health care clinic – the Center for Asbestos Related Diseases (CARD) – and the local hospital are planning expansions.

At the beginning of December, a series of town hall meetings were held, hoping to address important questions about safety and health, including whether or not the government’s clean-up efforts are truly making any difference.

For residents who already have seen husbands, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives die terrible deaths from asbestos disease, it is too little too late. They try to remain strong, but they are angry, and sad, and it’s hard to hold onto hope.

Read the full article by Missoulian reporter Micheal Jamison.

Montana newspaper series takes a look at Libby today

9 Dec 2009 by under News

A series of stories in the Daily Inter Lake, which serves Northwest Montana and which initially broke the story about widespread asbestos contamination of the town of Libby, Mont., in 1999, is featuring a series of stories about the town. The feature is related to a recent town hall style meeting organized by the University of Montana, which is seeking to get clarification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about just how much toxicity remains in the town.

The town hall meeting, which was held Dec. 6, featured a panel discussion about the deadly fallout from town’s asbestos mine, which was operated for years by W.R. Grace & Company. Even those who didn’t work in the mine were exposed to asbestos, as dust from the mine covered the surrounding area, railroad tracks and roads used to transport the materials. Asbestos was even used as filler for gardens and ballparks.

According to the Daily Inter Lake report, more than 300 deaths have been linked to asbestos exposure from the vermiculite mine. A special health clinic established by the EPA after the story broke about the widespread asbestos disease affecting Libby area residents is currently treating about 2,800 patients with varying levels of asbestos disease.

Dr. Brad Black, who oversees patient care at the clinic, called the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD), says it’s impossible to really determine how many people have been affected by asbestos in Libby, because around 80,000 people “came and went in Libby while the mine was operating,” the paper reports.

Because of the long latency period of asbestos disease – which includes conditions such as asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs that impedes lung function and limits breathing, and , a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs or, more rarely, the abdomen or heart – which is sometimes as long as 30 or 40 years, Black estimates cases will continue to emerge well into the future, through the year 2030.

Since the asbestos contamination of Libby was brought to light, it has been a roller-coaster ride for area residents. The EPA has spent more than $206 million to date to clean up residential and commercial properties. In June, Libby was declared a public health emergency, which is the first time the agency has made such a determination under the 1980 Superfund law. This will allow more money to be put into the town’s cleanup efforts.

However, there are still lingering questions about just how effective these cleanup efforts really are. The EPA has divided the Libby Superfund site into eight geographical units, and has so far only completed cleanup on two of those units. However, some scientists argue that the type of asbestos affecting Libby – amphibole – is much more toxic than chrysotile asbestos, and that cleanup efforts are being conducted using old research on the wrong type of asbestos.

The Daily Inter Lake reports that EPA officials have admitted they are using toxicology assessments from 1985 data on less toxic asbestos, not Libby asbestos. This is despite a more recent study completed in 2003, which “established exposure benchmarks for mesothelioma and lung cancer based on asbestos epidemiologic studies,” the news agency reports.

According to the paper, federal government risk assessment standards say cleanup efforts are necessary when there is evidence of one death per 10,000 people. In Libby, where the population is around 10,000 people, there have already been 31 deaths just from mesothelioma. This doesn’t even take into account the suffering and death from other asbestos-related diseases.

The asbestos contamination also has been a see-saw on the legal front. In May, W.R. Grace & Co. and several of its top leaders were acquitted of criminal charges related to the widespread asbestos disease affecting its residents. Nearly 800 people still have pending civil suits against the company, which have been delayed by bankrupcy claims on the part of Grace. The company is expected to emerge from bankruptcy in January.

Testimony resulting from the bankruptcy trial in October revealed that there is a 59 percent probability of death for Libby residents exposed to asbestos dust.

“No other place on the planet has that,” the Daily Inter Lake quotes attorney John Heberling, who is representing asbestos clients.

This is a fascinating and tragic series of stories, and I encourage you to visit the Daily Inter Lake online to read the full series. It includes a feature on Gayla Benefield, who, along with compatriot Les Skramstad, began the campaign to expose the Libby contamination and lobby for justice for the town. Here are just a few of the links:

What is a safe dose for Libby?
What’s next for Libby?
Asbestos victims try to stay upbeat
Advocate’s work for asbestos victims spans 35 years
Grace lawsuit claimants still in limbo

Registration now open for ADAO Sixth Annual International Asbestos Awareness Conference

2 Dec 2009 by under Events, News, Organizations

adao logo Registration now open for ADAO Sixth Annual International Asbestos Awareness ConferenceThe Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization has announced registration is now open for its Sixth Annual . The conference is scheduled for April 9-11, 2010 in Chicago, Ill. This annual event brings together renowned doctors, scientists, researchers and asbestos victims and their families in a united forum for asbestos awareness, education and collaboration. Each year the event coincides with national Asbestos Awareness Day, April 1.

In addition to providing educational information, advocacy support, a special remembrance ceremony and networking opportunities, each year the conference honors individuals or organizations that have demonstrated outstanding work and dedication to asbestos awareness related activities. ADAO has announced this year’s honorees:

  • The Honorable Richard Durbin, United States Senator – Tribute of Hope Award
  • Dr. Hedy Kindler – Selikoff Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD), Libby, Montana – Tribute of Unity Award
  • – Tribute of Inspiration Award
  • June Breit (posthumous) – The Alan Reinstein Memorial Award

At the conference, the ADAO also will announce the recipient of the Warren Zevon “Keep Me in Your Heart” Memorial Tribute.

“I’ve received countless requests for my father’s song, ‘Keep Me in Your Heart,’ to be used at memorials for asbestos victims,” said ADAO Spokesperson Jordan Zevon. Jordan is the son of Warren Zevon, acclaimed singer and songwriter, who died of mesothelioma in 2003. “You can imagine how proud it makes me to know that my father’s Grammy winning song has touched so many families, but it is bittersweet because of the nature of those requests. In his honor, I will continue to work with ADAO to ban asbestos to spare future generations from the same fate.”

“As we get closer to a full asbestos ban, we are encouraged, yet simultaneously reminded that the reverberations of asbestos exposure can last decades,” said Linda Reinstein, Co-Founder and Executive Director of ADAO. “Our annual conferences drive home the importance of the need for increased awareness, education and research.”

Additional conference details are available on the ADAO web site, and online registration is available at

The International Asbestos Awareness Conference is made possible with the support and collaborative efforts of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).

Jury aquits W.R. Grace & Co. of criminal charges

10 May 2009 by under Events, Legal, News

Libby, Montana, residents were devastated Friday afternoon when a jury returned a judgment aquiting W.R. Grace & Co. of criminal charges regarding its asbestos mining facility in the town. The case began in 2005 when a federal grand jury handed down an unprecedented indictment, alleging a 30-year conspiracy to defraud the government and knowingly endanger the residents of Libby. The indictment alleged Grace company officials knew they were exposing Libby workers and residents of the nearby town to asbestos fibers, and that they knew the exposure posed a dangerous health risk to those workers and residents. Grace denied the claims, saying they were diligent in efforts to protect workers and to meet government regulations for managing the substance.

Asbestos exposure causes serious disease, including asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs that worsens with time and impairs the ability of its victims to breathe, and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and, more rarely, the stomach and heart.

According to the report in The Missoulian, statistics compiled by the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD), located in Libby, indicate that to date 227 community members have died from asbestos disease, and there are more than 1,800 active cases resulting from exposure to the deadly fiber. The newspaper notes that “the study also attributes scores of deaths to non-occupational asbestos exposures, and finds that 77 people who never worked at Grace’s mine in Libby have died of asbestos disease since 1998.”

David Uhlmann, who is former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section, who was instrumental in developing much of the early indictment against Grace, said the Government’s case against Grace was severely limited by the court, which did not allow much of the evidence to be presented to the jury. This included some of the most incriminating internal memos, he said.

The Post quotes Uhlmann as saying, “The verdict is a fair reflection of the evidence that jurors were allowed to hear. But the question that hangs over this case is what would have happened if the government were allowed to present all of the evidence that it had amassed in this multi-year investigation.”

According to a report in The Washington Post, in a court filing the government acknowledged it “has committed discovery violations in this case,” which led to many rulings excluding its evidence and weakening its case against Grace.

The Missoulian reported the reaction of two Libby residents familiar to our readers – Gayla Benefield, who was perhaps the first to raise the outcry about the dangers of deadly asbestos in the town, said the company has “gotten away with murder.” And the paper quotes our friend , who worked in the asbestos mine and has lost family members to asbestos related disease and suffers himself from asbestos disease.

The Missoulian says Mike cried upon hearing the verdict. The paper quotes him: “What did they die for? What am I dying for?” Crill sobbed. “They are guilty of killing us.”

CARD physician predicts mesothelioma epidemic

11 Aug 2008 by under News, Research/Treatment

An article published by the Daily Inter Lake, which serves Northwest Montana, reports on a new study by , a pulmonologist affiliated with the Center For Related Disease (CARD) in Libby, Montana. Dr. Whitehouse’s study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, predicts an epidemic of mesothelioma cases in Libby in the next 10-20 years.

Dr. Whitehouse, along with four other physicians including CARD’s Dr. Brad Black, studied 31 mesothelioma cases, including 11 cases not previously reported. The study focused specifically on non-occupational asbestos exposure, including exposure to contamination of the community, the surrounding forested area, and areas in proximity to the Kootenai river and the railroad tracks used to haul vermiculite.

It is estimated that more than 200 people in Libby have died from asbestos-related disease, and CARD is following 2,000 additional asbestos cases. CARD primarily serves Libby residents who were affected by the W.R. Grace-operated vermiculite mine, which was in operation for many years, and at high capacity from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Focus has recently shifted to include people suffering from asbestos disease and mesothelioma who never came into direct contact with the vermiculite mining operation. In June, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency announced an $8 million grant to fund a five-year study of the effects of low-level asbestos exposure.

$8 million asbestos study in Libby

19 Jun 2008 by under News, Research/Treatment

After years of ignoring the dangers of asbestos, and the resulting nationwide epidemic of asbestos disease, including mesothelioma, there is a renewed interest in studying this deadly material. This week, the Billings Gazette announced the federal government will fund an $8 million study to understand the health effects of low-level exposure to asbestos. The study will be based in Libby, Montana, where more than 200 people have died to date as a result of asbestos mining operations in the town, and hundreds more people suffer from asbestos related diseases.

The Libby program, dubbed the Libby Amphibole Health Risk Initiative, is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The study is expected to span 5 years with a goal of expanding knowledge about the potential and real health issues of asbestos exposure.

Libby already has proved a tragically rich source of knowledge about long-term exposure to high levels of asbestos, as the EPA’s initial examination and cleanup of the town focused on miners with direct exposure to the substance in their jobs, as well as people who handled asbestos mineral and were exposed to asbestos dust secondarily on a daily basis.

But, the Gazette reports, too little is know about exposure to lower levels of asbestos. EPA officials hope that results of the study will benefit not only the residents of Libby, but people throughout the country.

In April, the Minnesota state legislature approved $4.9 million for its own five-year study, to be conducted under the direction of the University of , in connection with unusually high levels of mesothelioma affecting Iron Range mine workers. A large question in the area is whether dust from the taconite mined there – a fibrous mineral similar to asbestos – could also cause mesothelioma.

A key part of the Minnesota research will be an examination of previous asbestos exposure among mine workers, which will expand the base of knowledge about the affect of asbestos on health, in addition to the new studies about the effect of taconite.

According to the Billings Gazette, among tests to be included in the Libby study are a comparison of film and digital chest X-rays to determine which is best for assessing the lungs, a comparison of the health of people exposed to Libby asbestos in childhood versus people who weren’t, an expanded evaluation of Libby residents who were exposed to asbestos, an assessment of whether the health problems related to asbestos exposure extend beyond lung disease.

Researchers in Libby also hope to make improvements to public health tracking systems and patient health record databases, to better link exposure information to health conditions, the Gazette reports.

Gayla Benefield, perhaps one of the best-known residents of Libby for her early outcry about the health effects of asbestos on the people in her town, says she is happy to see an emphasis on research.

She was a charter member of the board of directors of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD), a not-for-profit clinic governed by a volunteer community board and devoted to healthcare, outreach, and research to benefit all people impacted by exposure to Libby amphibole asbestos. She only recently retired from her position with that organization.

“This is something I’ve wanted from the onset – more study and more research,” she says. “I’ve been especially interested in how much or how little of the (asbestos) fiber can cause meso, and I’ve been really concerned about the schools having been contaminated.”

The key, Benefield says, is to detect mesothelioma at its earliest stage, when there is still time for treatment to prolong life. When people around her in Libby began being diagnosed, she says, their mesothelioma was so advanced that many died within days of the diagnosis.

“We all – everyone in Libby – live under the threat of developing mesothelioma,” she says. “They’re never going to get all that (asbestos) fiber out of Libby, or anywhere for that matter, homes with asbestos insulation, so the research is the big thing. Any and all research having to do with mesothelioma is fantastic. A dream come true.”

Why haven’t we won the war?

18 Jun 2008 by under Events, News, Research/Treatment

Earlier this month, about 33,000 medical professionals gathered for the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The event is the world’s largest gathering of cancer specialists, and includes among its programs updates about various cancer treatments, as well as an opportunity for physicians to visit vendors from drug companies to learn about new products.

A special focus of this year’s conference was lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs, and may also affect the abdomen or the pericardium (the sac around the heart).

There was a great deal of hope for a new drug, Erbitux, which doctors hoped would prove to have significant results in prolonging survival for lung cancer patients (it didn’t), as well as review of a currently popular lung cancer drug, Avastin, which in its Phase III trial was shown to help keep the disease from progressing.

But among the reports of facts and figures and products and treatments, was a report by Robert Bazell at Why, he wondered, are we not further along in the War on Cancer, which was declared as a national health priority in 1971, when President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act.

The Act, Bazell points out, created the as a separate entity from the National Institutes of Health, with a dedicated budget for curing cancer. The NCI started with $230 million per year, and now has a budget of $5 billion.

Certainly, progress has been made, and there have been steady declines in breast, colon and prostate cancers, most due to better methods for early detection, Bazell points out. But, overall, he says, the death toll from cancer has declined only 5 percent between 1950 and 2005. FIVE percent!

What are the challenges? Why are we not winning this war?

Certainly, the nature of cancer itself has something to do with it – there are more than 200 diseases that fit into the definition of “cancer,” uncontrolled cell growth, he points out. And, even though funding has increased, if you adjust that $5 billion budget for inflation, spending on cancer research has actually been falling in recent years, he says.

But I was intrigued by his most compelling argument, which seems so simple. He notes that “it would be very useful to have a discussion on how much we spend on BASIC RESEARCH and PREVENTION, compared to how much we spend on marginally useful treatments.”

Is it possible that we can no longer see the forest for the trees?

Compassionate Communications for the sick

2 May 2008 by under Events, News, Organizations

Amy Peterson of the Lung Cancer Alliance posted to the LCA message board / support group on yesterday to let cancer survivors know about a new program that aims to provide hope and cheer during a difficult time. The LCA is partnering with Compassionate Communications, a company dedicated to connecting people in need of support and encouragement with people who want to reach out to them.

Compassionate Communications will operate a web site, which will be launched sometime this month, that will feature photos and information about people struggling with cancer, including mesothelioma, and other life-threatening illnesses. Visitors to the site can view profiles, and if they choose to register (for a fee of $25), they will receive five Hallmark greeting cards with pre-paid postage, to send to patients to encourage them, and other support materials. Twenty-five percent of the registration fee will benefit patient-serving organizations.

There is no charge for a patient to register his or her profile. The program operates in cooperation with Hallmark Business Expressions (a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards, Inc.).

Patients may download an “opt-in” registration form and waiver directly from the web site, or call 888-337-6416. The waiver must be completed and returned by mail or fax to Compassionate Communications, which will then provide participants with an account so they can set up their personal profile on the site. There is a place on the waiver form for patients to designate the patient-assistance organization they would like card-sender registration fees to benefit.

You may also get more information or ask questions by emailing Amy at the at

Living with Meso – Charlene’s story, Part 1

24 Mar 2008 by under People

Charlene Kaforey, 48, had been troubled by stomach problems for almost four years. She and her doctors tried a variety of things to determine the cause, settling on a tentative diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. But none of the medications typically used to treat Crohn’s had any effect on Charlene’s condition.

Frustrated, in the fall of 2006 she tried a new medication for a two-week protocol, plus a gluten-free diet for six months, and finally experienced some relief. But then, six months later, the pain and discomfort returned.

Since she had been off Crohn’s medications during the experiment with her diet, doctors decided it would be a good time to try some new tests, and included a CT scan. In March 2007, tests showed nothing wrong with Charlene’s stomach, but something odd at the base of her left lung. The doctor conducting the scan didn’t think it was anything serious, but recommended that she follow up with her primary care physician anyway.

In May 2007, Charlene received a chest CT scan, which revealed three spots on her left lung. Doctors suspected lymphoma. A cardio-thoracic specialist followed up with a PET scan, which showed the same three spots. He recommended a “wait and see” approach, suggesting they could check the area again in three to six months.

“I didn’t want to wait,” Charlene said.

At her request, doctors did a lung biopsy in July, and she was told she has mesothelioma.

The actual number of tiny tumors inside her chest were “too numerous to count,” and obviously most of those had not shown up on her scans.

“I’d never heard of it,” she says. “There are a few commercials on TV, but other than hearing the word, I was not familiar with it. Most people I tell just look at me, and they’ve never heard of it either.”

The diagnosis was particularly surprising, since the average median age of onset of symptoms is 70, according to most studies, and mesothelioma usually affects men more frequently than women. Charlene said she was exposed to when she was a child, but she cannot discuss the details because she is currently pursuing legal action.

“When you think of the numbers of people that have been exposed to asbestos in their lives, you wonder why there are few people that get [mesothelioma], as compared to other types of cancer. It’s still pretty rare,” Charlene said.

In the U.S. current statistics show between 2,000-3,000 people are diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma each year. However, 10,000 Americans die each year from all asbestos-related diseases, according to statistics compiled by the . And, mesothelioma was not tracked as a specific cause of death by federal health officials until 1999, EWG points out, so actual totals for mesothelioma may be much higher.

“There is a possibility that my brother and my parents could be at risk of mesothelioma, because they would have been exposed at the same time as me,” Charlene worries. “You just don’t know what causes you to get it, and not someone else.”

As she continued to research her new diagnosis, Charlene was disheartened to find that the outlook for most mesothelioma patients is bleak. The Center for Mesothelioma and Asbestos-Related Diseases at the University of Maryland Medical Center estimates median survival time between 4-12 months after discovery.

Next: Charlene begins her fight.

What is Mesothelioma?

27 Feb 2008 by under