$40 million lawsuit alleges asbestos cover-up at SW Portland apartments

Taping the joints between sheets of plywood

A $40 million lawsuit claims that managers of a Southwest Portland apartment complex endangered employees by exposing them to asbestos even though construction crews had warned that the cancer-causing fibers were present.

The suit was filed Monday by two former employees of Tandem Property Management. They claim they were fired in retaliation for knowing about the alleged asbestos “cover-up” at the Commons at Sylvan Highlands apartments.

The company and its president, Thomas Clarey, didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.

The complex is at 1380 S.W. 66th Ave., and spans multiple buildings.  It’s unclear how many people live there. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said he doesn’t think residents have been notified that they also may have been exposed to asbestos.

The lawsuit claims that after crews remodeling five vacant apartment units discovered what appeared to be asbestos in May, the company’s president was furious. He visited the site, “yelling that there was no asbestos and that they all needed to get back to work,” the suit says.

Three of the workers were removed from the job and within a few days were fired because management thought “they were ‘loose cannons’ that might call the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about the potential asbestos,” the suit says.

In June, the suit says, management directed a new crew to carry debris through the building’s halls and down its elevator. After the new crew discovered what appeared to be asbestos, someone on the crew had a sample tested and the results came back as containing the tiny, dangerous fibers, the lawsuit alleges.

The crew notified management, but the next day, management told two employees to remove the asbestos-laden sheetrock without proper protective gear or training, the suit claims.

Michael Fuller, a Portland attorney who filed the lawsuit, represents Khataun Thompson, an apartment groundskeeper who was asked to work on one of the renovation teams. The suit alleges that management removed him from the project and ultimately fired him in July because of his knowledge and because of his race. Thompson is black.

Thompson filed an OSHA complaint about the asbestos, the suit states. An OSHA spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for more information.

Fuller also is representing Thompson’s fiancee, Alyssa DeWeese, a leasing agent who contends she was fired in July as retaliation after she found out about the asbestos.

Asbestos has long been a known carcinogen believed to be so dangerous that even brief exposures can develop into life-threatening diseases decades later. Public pressure has mounted in recent years to tighten controls, and government regulations outline specific procedures for properly removing asbestos. The process can be time-consuming and expensive.

Government officials take the proper handling of asbestos so seriously that in recent years, at least two Oregon businessmen have been convicted of crimes for their mishandling of asbestos removal projects.

In 2012, developer Daniel Desler was convicted for negligently releasing asbestos into the air as he tried to redevelop an old sawmill in Sweet Home into a housing development.

In 2015, real estate agent Bill Gaffney was convicted of recklessly endangering others after hiring untrained day laborers to remove asbestos-laden materials from a Southeast house he was remodeling.

Article Source: https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2018/09/40_million_lawsuit_claims_sw_p.html

Asbestos found in some crayons, consumer group finds

Parents buying school supplies for grammar schoolers would be wise to avoid Playskool crayons. The brand, sold at Dollar Tree, was found to have trace elements of asbestos.

“The good news is that when we were testing three years ago, all sorts of brands came back with asbestos,” said Kara Cook-Schultz, toxics director at U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which conducts annual tests of toys and school supplies. “Now it’s just this one.”

Indeed, in tests run in 2015, many major brands, including Disney Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Crayons and Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crayons, contained trace amounts of asbestos fibers — a substance that can cause breathing difficulties and cancer if inhaled. Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission acknowledged that it was unclear whether the asbestos trapped in crayon wax posed a danger, it noted that kids sometimes eat crayons and recommended that parents avoid asbestos-containing brands as a precaution. Since then, most brands have revamped their crayon manufacturing process to eliminate even trace elements of asbestos fibers.

However, in tests run this year on green Playskool crayons, U.S. PIRG found tremolite fibers — a type of asbestos. A handful of other products that U.S. PIRG tested also contained dangerous chemicals, according to the organization’s just released back-to-school report.

  • Blue three-ring binders made by Jot and sold at Dollar Tree tested positive for phthalates, a substance linked with asthma, obesity and lower-IQ scores, for instance.
  • Dry erase markers made by Expo and The Board Dudes tested positive for carcinogenic BTEX chemicals, such as benzene, xylene, and toluene.
  • Additionally, two types of children’s water bottles were previously recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for containing lead — Reduce Hydro Pro Furry Friends water bottle, sold at Costco and Amazon, and GSI Outdoors Children’s Water Bottles, sold at L.L. Bean. Despite the recall, a CBS New reporter was able to order the Hydro Pro Furry Friends product from Costco online. A Costco spokesman failed to return a reporter’s phone calls.

Retailers and manufacturers of these products said they were scrambling Monday to evaluate the PIRG data, which some said conflicted with their own laboratory tests.

A spokesman for Dollar Tree said all of its children’s products are independently tested and meet all legal and safety standards.

Julie Duffy, a spokeswoman for Hasbro, which owns the Playskool brand, said the company would investigate the US PIRG claims thoroughly, “including working with Leap Year, the licensee of the product.”

“We are aware of a report of trace amounts of asbestos being detected in a small amount of product testing conducted by a private group and are reviewing our own certified lab testing, which to our knowledge, passes all regulatory requirements and had no detectable asbestos,” added a spokesman for LeapYear.  “We will issue a formal statement upon the completion of our review.  Consumer safety is most important to Leap Year and we take these matters very seriously.”

The bright side: The vast majority of products tested by U. S. PIRG this year were found to be devoid of toxic chemicals. U.S. PIRG also tested glue, lunch boxes, spiral notebooks and rulers, as well as multiple other types of crayons and pens. Indeed, Cook-Schultz said the Art and Creative Materials Institute has also begun testing and labeling products and all of the ACMI-labeled items proved safe.

“I think there’s good news here for parents,” said Cook-Schultz. “You can look for these labels and buy safe products.”

— This story has been corrected to exclude Crayola and Rose Art crayons from those found to have trace amounts of asbestos in 2015. Both brands tested negative for asbestos that year.

Asbestos exposure at West Los Angeles apartment complex leaves 15 people displaced

 

California Mobile Home Park Shuts Down Due to Asbestos

Journey’s End Mobile Home Park will remain closed at least until Wednesday pending laboratory test results of materials found last week in the fire-ravaged community that may contain asbestos, officials said Sunday at a community meeting.

The park, located on Mendocino Avenue just north of Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, was shut down by city officials Friday morning following consultations with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials who are leading a countywide cleanup of household hazardous waste in the wake of fires that destroyed more than 5,000 Sonoma County homes.

The wind-driven Tubbs fire, which raced from Calistoga into Santa Rosa on Oct. 8, incinerated about 140 of the park’s 160 homes, fire officials said last week.

Materials that may contain asbestos were found by EPA crews at 25 sites in Journey’s End, Tom Dunkelman, an on-scene coordinator for the federal agency, told a crowd of about 200 people at the Steele Lane Community Center.

“We don’t know for sure if these materials are asbestos-containing or not,” he said.

The entire park was closed due to concern about public health, said Paul Lowenthal, the city’s assistant fire marshal.

 “It was for your protection,” he told the estimated crowd of about 200.

It’s unknown how extensive the asbestos contamination in Journey’s End may be or how long it could take the clean it up, he said.

The “best-case scenario,” Lowenthal said, is the asbestos is limited to “isolated areas” that can be cleaned quickly, but there are concerns it “could be scattered throughout the mobile home park.”

Test results won’t be known until at least Wednesday, he said, and the Fire Department has determined Journey’s End is currently “an unhealthy place to be.”

Journey’s End had been reopened to residents Oct. 20.

Inhaling high levels of asbestos is known to cause lung damage, including cancer, Sonoma County Health Officer Karen Milman told the crowd.

“It’s definitely a toxin,” she said, noting that most harm is related to prolonged exposure but short-term contact with asbestos is also a concern.

Asbestos is found in construction materials including roofing, pipes and pipe wrapping, floor tile, shingles and attic insulation, according to an EPA bulletin made available at the meeting. EPA crews found no “obvious asbestos” in Coffey Park, where fire leveled more than 1,000 homes in a neighborhood across Highway 101 from Journey’s End, Dunkelman said.

Several residents whose mobile homes survived the fire questioned why they are off-limits.

“Why can’t I go in there and get my belongings?” asked Michele Trammell, a 12-year resident of Journey’s End.

EPA is checking other mobile home parks around the county, but Journey’s End is the only one where possible asbestos has been found, Dunkelman said, adding the trailer park setting is risky because homes are close together.

In an interview after the meeting, Trammell said, “I don’t really care about asbestos. I want to go home and get my stuff.”

Steven Morrow, a resident for two years, asked during the meeting if Journey’s End would be condemned by the city.

“It’s a community, it’s a home. I love these people,” he said.

Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey said the mobile home park will remain “unless the owner decides to do otherwise.”

Louise Smith, an octogenarian who said she is park’s longest-tenured resident at 37 years, said she’s unsure if she wants to return but wasn’t impressed with the asbestos issue.

“I think it’s a bunch of bull— if you ask me,” she said after the meeting.

Article Source: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/7604053-181/journeys-end-mobile-home-park?artslide=0

Former workers exposed to asbestos urged to sue Japanese government to claim damages

The labor ministry said Monday it will encourage individual former asbestos plant workers who suffered mesothelioma or other health damage, and relatives of such workers who have died, to file damages lawsuits against the government.

The ministry decided to make the unusual move because such lawsuits need to be settled before the government pays damages to the victims.

There are 2,314 workers exposed to asbestos who are believed eligible to receive damages but who have not yet filed lawsuits against the government, according to the ministry. The ministry plans first to send related leaflets to 756 whose names and addresses are known.

In October 2014, the Supreme Court for the first time found the government responsible for asbestos pollution affecting plant workers in Osaka Prefecture, ruling that it was illegal for the government to neglect to oblige asbestos plant operators to install exhaust air ducts.

Following the ruling, the ministry decided to pay damages, under certain conditions, after settling lawsuits with victims.

As of the end of last month, a total of some ¥2.1 billion had been paid to 236 plaintiffs, while 197 others were in the process of claiming ¥1.5 billion.

Article Source: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/10/02/national/crime-legal/former-workers-exposed-asbestos-urged-sue-japanese-government-claim-damages/#.WdcJr1uCzIV