Asbestos Exposure Lawsuit Ends in $90 Million to Plaintiffs

July 10, 2014

gavel-8.jpgMesothelioma is a rare and extremely fatal form of cancer that can only be caused by exposure to asbestos. Recently, eleven families in New Jersey banded together because of a common threat that bound them: losing a loved one to mesothelioma. These families consequently filed a lawsuit against the asbestos companies that exposed their loved ones, ultimately winning $90 million. Asbestos exposure lawyers at Pintas & Mullins are happy to summarize this case, which is a great example of justice won.

The lawsuit was filed by family members of eleven people who died from mesothelioma, either from first- or second-hand asbestos exposure. Second-hand, or take home asbestos exposure is when someone who is employed at a place that uses asbestos tracks the asbestos home with them on their work clothing. Asbestos is a white, fiber-like mineral that can easily stick to jackets, boots and other clothes. When inhaled, the asbestos fibers can cause cancer to form and grow in the lungs.

Many of the eleven victims who succumbed to mesothelioma worked at the John Manville Company, a notorious perpetrator of exposing workers to asbestos, while the others were the loved ones of these workers, who were exposed second-hand. One of the take home asbestos victims, Deborah Ann, died when she was just 49 years old.

Asbestos exposure is generally defined as at least two weeks of constant contact with asbestos. Many people, particularly in the baby boomer generation, have held jobs at asbestos plants for several decades. Statistically, about one in every 20 people who have been exposed will develop mesothelioma, however, the length of time from initial exposure to cancer diagnosis is very long.

A latency period is the amount of time between initial asbestos exposure and when a doctor definitively diagnoses the person with mesothelioma. One of the biggest reasons mesothelioma is so extraordinarily fatal is because of this latency period, which can be anywhere from 10-50 years. The beginning symptoms of mesothelioma seem harmless - coughing, wheezing, chest pain - that can be mistook for more common ailments, like the common cold or asthma.

Because of this, mesothelioma often goes undiagnosed until it's in its later stages, when treatment or cures are impossible. Unfortunately, most mesothelioma patients live for only about one year after diagnosis.

Who is Most at Risk?


The most obvious occupations most at risk of exposure and cancer development are those working directly with asbestos fibers. There are dozens of other industries and occupations, however, where asbestos exposure is common but goes undetected.

A man in California, for example, recently developed mesothelioma after working for decades as an auto mechanic and plumber. He passed away from the disease in 2013, one year after diagnosis, and his family consequently filed suit against the companies they believed exposed him to asbestos.

The case went to trial, and a jury ultimately awarded the family nearly $11 million in damages, after finding the defendants showed reckless indifference in using asbestos in their products. Another auto mechanic who developed mesothelioma from auto parts containing asbestos recently passed away just before a similar victory. The New York man in this case filed suit against Ford.

The man and his family accused Ford of causing the cancer that lead to his death, by using asbestos in their auto products despite clear, overwhelming evidence that it caused cancer. Not only did Ford know the products were harmful, but it also failed to warn those using these products of the risks, in reckless disregard for consumer safety.

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Lead Smelter Lawsuits Ends in $38 Million for Injured Plaintiffs

June 19, 2014

8572607587_fff58574bf_c.jpgA landmark lawsuit recently concluded in Missouri, focusing on an engineering and construction company, Fluor Corp., and 16 plaintiffs who were gravely injured by the company's lead smelter emissions. Originally, the verdict amounted to $358 million, however an appeals court cut the award to $38 million. Toxic exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins highlight this case and what it could mean for those similarly exposed to toxic emissions.

U.S. refineries like Fluor Corp. release about release about 37,895 tons of volatile compounds per year. This number is based on companies' own reports, however, and the EPA estimates that actual toxic emissions are actually 10 to 100 times higher.

Lead smelter emissions at the Missouri Fluor plant, specifically, caused immense harm in those who lived in the area. The 16 plaintiffs were all children (born between 1984 and 2000) when they were exposed, suffering permanent cognitive harm such as low IQ, ADHD, and other disorders.

In the court's opinion, the language toward Fluor was deservingly harsh, criticizing the company for failing to curb the plaint's toxic emissions and misleading local residents - and federal regulators - about its highly reprehensible behavior. The court found that the company was knowingly emitting levels of lead that violated national laws and was aware that local children were testing at extremely high blood lead levels, and did nothing about it.

Fluor even went so far as the blame the children's parents for the high levels of lead, along with two other companies - A.T. Massey Coal Co. and Doe Run Investment Holding - which co-owned the plant between 1986 and 1994. The resulting 13-week trial concluded in 2011 with irrefutable evidence that these three companies placed profits over the well-being of children.

Workplace Exposure and Its Consequences


Unfortunately, toxic exposure in the workplace has been common practice since the industrial revolution. Many toxins, including asbestos and radon, are conclusively associated with cancers and mesothelioma. Others, such as lead, are known to cause neurological or cognitive conditions, particularly in children or those exposed over long periods of time.

Community groups in Texas and Louisiana recently settled a lawsuit that will require the EPA to review outdated and inaccurate methods that chemical and refinery companies use to report toxic emission levels. Federal law requires the EPA to review and revise these emission factors and methods every three years - despite this, the agency has not reviewed many of the factors in more than two decades.

This egregious failure is resulting in not only significant underestimation of emissions, but allows hundreds of thousands of tons of pollutants to release into local communities. Per the settlement, the EPA must review emissions factors no later than August 2014, and issue final revision guidelines by no later than December 2014.

In children, the effects of lead exposure can be almost immediately evident, or take just a few years to manifest. In other cases, particularly with radon and asbestos exposure, the opposite is true.

Asbestos is a white, fiber-like mineral that was often used in insulation and friction products throughout the 20th century. Without their knowledge or consent, workers in dozens of different industries were exposed to asbestos on-the-job, breathing in these fibers and even carrying asbestos residue home with them on their clothing.

Asbestos is the only known cause of a specific, incurable form of cancer called mesothelioma. Unlike other toxic chemicals, asbestos takes decades (between 20-50 years) to develop and grow into cancer. Because of this long latency time, patients are usually unaware that cancer is forming internally and write off their symptoms (coughing, chest pain) as minor annoyances. Asbestos is also responsible for another serious illness, asbestosis, which can often lead to mesothelioma.

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Supreme Court Confirms $70 Million to Smokers

June 13, 2014

11274667403_ed74250288_o.jpgLung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report that the U.S. Supreme Court recently refused - for the eighth time in seven years - to hear appeals from cigarette manufacturers and lung cancer patients' lawsuits. Their refusal lets the $70 million smokers have won thus far stand.

These cases relied on a recent Florida ruling that allowed individual smokers (or their family members if they had passed away) to sue tobacco companies based on prior jury findings. Plaintiffs only had to show that they had become addicted to cigarettes, which caused their illness or consequent death.

As a result of this ruling (called the Engle decision), which was filed in 1994, thousands of individual plaintiffs were able to win their lawsuits against cigarette companies. This most recent "wave" of plaintiffs have won about $64 million in verdicts in total.

The Engle case involved six individuals who made separate claims of illegal behavior by tobacco companies, ranging from dangerous and flawed product designs to blatant fraud. This 1994 case was initially filed as a class action on behalf of all American smokers who had died or become seriously ill from cigarettes, however it was reduced to Florida-only plaintiffs who were only able to file individual suits.

The original Engle lawsuit ended in a jury award of $145 billion, although that award was set aside by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006. All evidence and findings produced throughout that case were binding, meaning they could be used in future lawsuits.

After this 2006 decision nearly 10,000 individual lawsuits were filed, much to the dismay of the tobacco companies, who have tried and tried again to have the Engle case reviewed and tossed. The U.S. Supreme Court has simply denied all request and refused to grant any new reviews.

Options for Lung Cancer Patients

Smoking is, overwhelmingly, the leading cause of lung cancer worldwide. One of the lesser-known causes of lung cancer is exposure to radon gas. Radon is a radioactive gas that releases from the natural decay of uranium, thorium, and radium in rocks and soil. Unfortunately, radon is odorless, tasteless, and can seep up through the ground and infiltrate pipes, diffuse into the air, or contaminate groundwater.

Although most people are unaware of it, radon is present in nearly all air, and we breathe it in every day. Those who inhale disproportionately higher levels of radon are at risk of developing lung cancer - thousands of people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year even though they never smoked, and were never exposed to second-hand smoke.

Anyone who has ever worked in an underground mine is at an increased risk of radon-caused lung cancer - and basement or first-floor apartments typically have the highest levels of radon, as they are closest to the ground. In fact, radon was first discovered to be a serious health problem when scientists noted that underground workers mining for uranium were dying from lung cancer at extremely high rates. There have also been suggestions that it can lead to leukemia in both children and adults.

Radon Lung Cancer, Then and Now

The legal implications of radon-caused lung cancers have been hotly debated since the mid-1980s (though the dangers of exposure had been known since the 50s). In 1984, a man named Stanley Watras set off alarms at his place of employment - nuclear power plant - for having high levels of radioactive radon on his clothing. Upon testing, investigators found Watras' home had radon levels over 1,000 times greater than the EPA's recommended guidelines.

It was at this point that the dangers of residential radon contamination became a national issue. It quickly became clear that the cancer risk from indoor radon was more than all outdoor pollutants combined. Attorneys specializing in real estate started analyzing the legal implications of radioactive radon exposure in residences, and litigation began soon thereafter.

Despite the clear evidence and annunciation of risk, Americans soon lost interest in the issue of indoor radon. Thus, the responsibility for mitigating the risk has fallen on the federal government; disturbingly but not surprisingly, the government has done little to regulate, control, and inform the public about indoor radon. There have been bills, laws and legislation passed, of course, but the gas is still causing thousands of cancers every year.

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Honeywell Auto Unit to Pay $11 Million for Asbestos Exposure

June 3, 2014

3210259804_7a4eec964e_b.jpgMesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins report on a major mesothelioma case against Honeywell International, which recently ended in a $10.9 million award for the plaintiffs. A jury in California awarded the millions to the family of a man who died from mesothelioma, which was caused by products made by Honeywell's automotive unit.

The victim, James Phillips, was an automobile enthusiast who spent much of his time fixing and working on race cars, trucks and heavy equipment. He started working on cars in the 1960s, when asbestos was legally used in thousands of products, including brake pads and other automotive parts.

Phillips frequently used parts made by Bendix, which is owned by Honeywell. The company has been hit with many lawsuits because of these asbestos-containing auto parts. Plaintiffs in these cases, like Philips' family, claim that the products were designed defectively for including asbestos.

Asbestos is a fiber-like material frequently used in friction materials and other products, like insulation and ceiling tiles, that are heat-resistant. The material can become airborne, so those working directly with asbestos or with products containing asbestos can easily breathe them in.

Once asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can lodge into the lung tissue and other organ linings. After several years - even decades - the asbestos fibers cause a specific type of cancer to develop. This cancer is known as mesothelioma, which is only caused by asbestos exposure, and is often diagnosed in workers who have worked with or around asbestos fibers.

The jury in California agreed that the automotive parts that Phillips was using were defectively made, and awarded his family $7.4 million in compensatory damages and $3.5 million in punitive damages.

Honeywell is also facing several similar asbestos product liability cases in Pennsylvania, where about a dozen lawsuits were recently consolidated. In addition to Honeywell, the suits name defendants like Pfizer and Owens-Illinois, which produced asbestos-containing products.

These lawsuits were transferred to the court in Pennsylvania because there are currently several parallel cases pending there. These asbestos cases related to exposure that occurred at a steel plant in Northampton County. Consolidating them will make it easier to access witnesses, medical records, and other evidence for trial.

Legal Options for Victims of Mesothelioma

It is important to remember that mesothelioma is only caused by exposure to asbestos, and the company responsible for that exposure can - and should - be held legally liable. Even if the company is now bankrupt, or is owned by another company, it can be named as a defendant in an asbestos exposure lawsuit.

For example, the bankrupt company Garlock Sealing Technologies recently agreed to a $275 million fund, which will resolve all current and future asbestos-related claims. Asbestos funds such as this are quite common - particularly since asbestos was officially banned in the 1980s.

This type of bankruptcy reorganization is intended to provide fair compensation to those seriously injured by asbestos. By providing funding, bankrupt companies are able to resolve legal claims while saving both itself and plaintiffs costs of litigation.

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Experimental Drug Could Benefit Many Mesothelioma Patients

March 27, 2014

industria-novartis_l.jpgA new pharmaceutical manufactured by Novartis, ceritinib, is showing promising results in patients with a rare form of lung cancer. The drug targets a specific gene mutation that is present in about half of mesothelioma patients. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report on this new drug and what it could mean for mesothelioma cancer care.

Ceritinib (previously known as LDK378) targets a gene known as ALK, which plays a crucial role in a small subset of lung cancers. It is somewhat similar to Pfizer's drug Xalkori, however recent reports indicate ceritinib is actually 20 times more effective in deactivating the mutated ALK gene. That report was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study examined nearly 115 patients with ALK-mutated lung cancer, including 83 patients who had been previously prescribed to Xalkori and stopped responding to the treatment. At the end of the trial, 56% of patients responded favorably to the new treatment, with 62% of those who had been on Xalkori responded favorably. Notable side effects included dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea.

Unfortunately, patients prescribed to Xalkori typically develop a resistance to the drug, and the same seems to be true for ceritinib. The average amount of time before patients' lung cancer progressed again was about seven months.

Several other drug companies beyond are developing ALK-inhibitor drugs, including Ariad Pharmaceuticals and Chugai Pharmaceutical, which is based in Japan, and is partnering with Roche Holding. Pfizer is also in the midst of making a follow-up drug to Xalkori, which was approved in 2011. At the time, Xalkori was a milestone in lung cancer pharmaceutical development because no other drug specifically targeted the ALK gene.

Novartis has already filed for premarket approval for ceritinib to the FDA, which is reviewing the drug under its "breakthrough therapy designation." Drugs in this class are typically experimental, and may be expedited through the approval process due to striking promise in trials and high demand for terminally ill patients. A decision on the drug is expected later in 2014.

Medical researchers believe the next step will be to study and prescribe ceritinib in combination with other targeted treatments. Such drugs could include immunotherapy treatments, which are intended to activate the body's natural immune system to fight tumors.

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Women More Likely Than Ever to Suffer from Asbestos Exposure

March 25, 2014

chinese-factory-1_l.jpgIn the past, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases have been predominately diagnosed in men. This is because asbestos exposure occurs most frequently in the workplace, in industries like shipbuilding, automotive repair, and construction. Now, experts are predicting that women will be suffering a larger proportion of asbestos-related illnesses. Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins explore how this could be.

Although asbestos is a known human carcinogen, and there has been a global attempt to ban the substance completely, it is still legal to use in the United States. Several attempts were made in the 1970s and 80s to outlaw asbestos from manufacturing, however, the asbestos industry lobbied the government until it gave in. Thanks to the deep pockets of asbestos lobbyists and the EPA's failure to protect the public, asbestos is still used in U.S. manufacturing processes.

Today, the substance is used in the making of roofing and insulation materials, car brakes, automatic transmission components and vinyl floor tiles. Asbestos exposure - in any amount - can lead to debilitating and fatal diseases like lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.

Why are Women at Risk?

The health effects of asbestos are proven and well-researched; however, the social, psychological, and economic impacts are far less known. Mesothelioma patients are often given less than one year to live, and social isolation is common among families trying to cope. Those in more rural areas are particularly susceptible to isolation, as they have less access to formal support groups and mesothelioma-specific treatment centers.

The reason women are expected to make up a large proportion of asbestos-related disease patients is because of the shift of workforce. As stated, asbestos exposure traditionally occurred in blue-collar jobs, in which employees were predominantly men. Now, as more and more women gain manufacturing jobs, they too are vulnerable to workplace exposure.

Mesothelioma has also been reported in women employed as school teachers, who worked in buildings containing asbestos; in interior designers, who were exposed through spray-on asbestos insulation; and bakers, who were exposed by being around ovens and other heat-resistant products.

Fortunately, overall, women tend to have better prognoses compared to men, meaning that their expected outcomes are slightly better. This is because women tend to respond more favorably to treatments. One recent study concluded that women with mesothelioma lived longer after surgery than their male counterparts (27 months for women, 16 months for men).

At present, most women diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed in 'second-hand' exposure. This type of asbestos exposure occurs when someone works around asbestos and brings home loose fibers on their work clothing (jackets, boots, bags, etc). Those in the family, such as wives or children, are then consequently exposed to the carcinogen, which can ultimately cause asbestos-related illnesses. For the same reason, women working in laundry services could be similarly exposed.

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Pintas & Mullins Applaud Mesothelioma Fighters on Rare Disease Day

February 28, 2014

5478647222_61378d0a56.jpgEach year, the last day of February marks Rare Disease Day, which is recognized and celebrated by more than 70 countries worldwide. This year, the seventh international year of recognition, the slogan is "Join Together for Better Care." Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins join the European Organization for Rare Diseases (EURODIS) and the international medical community in fighting to help those diagnosed with rare disease.

The main objective of establishing a Rare Disease Day is to raise awareness about the real-life impact of rare disease on public health and wellbeing. It is meant to put a human face on rare diseases, to enact change through politicians, policy makers, medical professionals, industry representatives, researchers and countless others. More than 1,000 events take place around the globe every year, with hundreds of thousands of participants hoping to advance research for rare diseases.

In the United States, rare disease research is headed by the National Institute of Health and many of its branches, including the FDA Office of Orphan Product Development and the National Organization for Rare Disorders. The U.S. identifies about 7,000 diseases as "rare," about 80% of which are genetic in origin. About half of all rare diseases affect children, who face severe challenges such as delays in diagnosis or repeated misdiagnosis, lack of support services for family, and psychological burden.

Information and research concerning rare diseases is typically insufficient; Rare Disease Day offers a glimpse of hope to fighters, strengthens their voices, and inspires continued policy actions. A disease is categorized as rare when it affects less than 200,000 American patients at any given time.

Initial misdiagnosis is common, which rings particularly true for mesothelioma, which takes decades to manifest through physical symptoms. Signs of mesothelioma include:

• Pain, swelling or lumps in the torso and abdomen
• Trouble breathing
• Unexplained weight loss

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that usually starts in the lungs, however it can also originate from the tissue that lines the stomach, heart or other organs. It is often mistaken for lung cancer or other respiratory disorders, however, it is markedly different than lung cancer.

The only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, which is a fiber-like material that was commonly used in pipefitting, insulation and friction products until it was outlawed in the late 1970s. Every patient diagnosed with mesothelioma was, at some point in their life, exposed to asbestos, whether directly or indirectly.

At present, treatment for mesothelioma is the standard line of care for most cancers: a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy or vaccines. There are some clinical trials ongoing to for mesothelioma treatment, however, research remains minimal.

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Palliative Care and Mesothelioma

February 24, 2014

acupuncture-nightingale-house-hospice-5_l.jpgCancer fighters are no strangers to physical pain and emotional turmoil, and mesothelioma victims often experience these detriments even more acutely. Palliative care programs are designed to help patients cope with all aspects of their medical diagnosis: spiritually, emotionally, physically and medically. Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins detail how cancer patients can uniquely benefit from palliative care programs.

Recent evidence suggests that palliative care can help lower healthcare costs and lead to better care overall. In these programs, teams of specialists care for patients with chronic or terminal illnesses beyond traditional medical assistance. Teams can include home-care aides, therapists, acupuncturists, and social workers, among many others. They are called in to treat whatever ailment the patient is suffering or assist them through other means. For example, social workers may try to help with familial conflicts, or therapists may prescribe treatments to calm anxiety and depression.

Patients who qualify for palliative care are those suffering from terminal conditions, as mesothelioma so often is, or other chronic conditions like dementia or COPD. Insurance agencies are increasingly favoring these programs, which is helping lower healthcare costs throughout the country along with fulfilling the needs of terminally ill patients.

Advocates argue that palliative programs improve care quality because they are specifically tailored to each patient, which in turn helps reduce repeat hospitalizations and other emergency situations (thus the lowered healthcare costs). Critics of these programs believe that they encourage patients to deny certain treatments that could, theoretically, lengthen their lives. Below we hash out why this is not true.

Big Insurance Adds Palliative Care

Recently, big names like UnitedHealth Group and Highmark have established palliative care programs and many more insurers are expected to follow. This is significant for obvious reasons - more options for patients - and for less obvious ones, such as how it will affect our aging population. Americans, like many other cultures throughout the world, are aging rapidly as the baby boomers enter the later stages of life and modern couples are choosing to have fewer children.

Insurers and medical professionals now have to shift priority to caring for people at the end of their lives. Reports confirm that an inordinate amount of money is spent on patients with complex diseases like mesothelioma during their final months. For example, about a quarter of Medicare's spending overall is dedicated to the last year of patients' lives, and a single day visit to an intensive care unit can cost over $4,000.

Unfortunately, mesothelioma has one of the most devastating prognoses; most patients are given less than one year to live. The Wall Street Journal found that about 65% of poor-prognosis cancer patients are hospitalized during the last month of their life. Palliative care programs typically allow patients to spend that final month at home, with the assistance of an in-home caregiver or nurse, among other specialists.

Aetna Inc. established a palliative program in 2004 and saved more than $55 million (or $12,600 per patient) in 2012 from the program. The company now offers it to any patient with medical coverage who requests it. Palliative care team members often sit in with patients during meetings with their doctors, help families make tough decisions, and coordinate complex treatment plans. They can even help draft wills and do-not-resuscitate orders.

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Experimental Lung Cancer Drug Shows Promise

February 20, 2014

mesotheliomacxr_l.pngEli Lilly recently announced promising results from clinical trial of one of its experimental cancer drugs, ramucirumab. The drug is designed to treat several different types of cancer, including lung and stomach. Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins look forward to further advances in cancer treatment from Big Pharma.

Experts expect ramucirumab to be Eli Lilly's next blockbuster drug, with sales expected to reach $1.5 billion by 2020. The latest trial, referred to as Revel, enrolled patients diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer and divided them into two groups. The first group received a combination of ramucirumab and another popular chemotherapy drug, docetaxel. The second group received docetaxel and a placebo.

Results showed that patients taking ramucirumab had significantly higher overall survival rates compared to patients who took the placebo. Ramucirumab patients also showed lower rates of cancer progression and spread. Full details from the Revel trial are will be released soon at an unnamed scientific conference.

Eli Lilly plans to send an application for ramucirumab's approval to the FDA later in 2014. There have been two other studies conducted on the drug, one in colorectal cancer patients and the other in liver cancer. Results from these trials are also expected later this year.

Ramucirumab works by preventing the blood vessels that feed tumors from growing. Industry insiders note that ramucirumab will have to demonstrate that it improves overall survival by at least two months to be considered a meaningful new cancer treatment.

Lung Cancer and Asbestos Exposure

Mesothelioma is a type of non-small cell lung cancer that is only caused by exposure to asbestos. A mesothelioma diagnosis can be incredibly confusing and devastating to families, because the disease has a particularly low survival rate. Mesothelioma patients have many questions, most poignantly how and why they were ever exposed to asbestos in the first place.

Most people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace - asbestos was commonly used as an insulator in pipes, floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, friction products, and countless other industrial products. The occupations most at risk of asbestos exposure include those employed in shipbuilding, automotive repair, construction, or pipefitting.

Asbestos is a natural, white, fiber-like substance that can easily be inhaled. Once asbestos fibers enter the lungs, the often lodge themselves into the lung tissue, where they can remain permanently. Over time, often several decades, these asbestos fibers change the biology of the lungs and surrounding tissue to create cancerous tumors, and ultimately mesothelioma.

This disease is particularly insidious because many people are exposed unknowingly - for example, if their father was employed at a shipyard and frequently brought asbestos dust home on his work clothes, the entire family was at risk for exposure to asbestos. This was the case in a recent lawsuit filed in Ohio. The plaintiff, John Panza, was diagnosed with mesothelioma when he was just 40 years old.

Panza never worked with asbestos materials himself, but was exposed from his father, who died of lung cancer at age 52. Panza's father worked for three decades at Eaton Airflex Brake Company, where he frequently worked among peers who drilled and abraded asbestos-containing brake products. The products were largely made by the National Friction Products Corp., which is now the Kelsey-Hayes Company.

Continue reading "Experimental Lung Cancer Drug Shows Promise" »

Mesothelioma Update: Yoga to Reduce Fatigue, Judges Recognize Merit of 'Second-Hand' Exposure

February 3, 2014

5794094085_d987bacd78.jpgThe mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins are always trying to keep our clients up-to-date on the most recent news out of the mesothelioma community. We recently came across two unrelated articles that we think could prove beneficial to mesothelioma patients and asbestos exposure victims throughout the country. The first centers on the medical benefits of yoga in cancer fighters, and the second on the legal permissibilitly of second-hand asbestos exposure and its harmful effects.

Researchers at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center recently led a study to determine the physical benefits of yoga in patients with cancer. Patients fighting cancer have higher rates of fatigue, inflammation, and disability than the general population, which is often attributed to lack of physical activity during and after cancer treatment.

Ohio State researchers enrolled about 200 recent breast cancer survivors, all of whom finished their last cancer treatments at least two month before the study began. The women were randomly split into two groups: the first participated in two 90-minute yoga sessions per week for 12 weeks, and the second was told to avoid yoga altogether.

At the beginning and end of the 12 weeks, the women's blood was tested for symptoms of inflammation and they were given surveys to measure their fatigue, mood, and overall vitality. By the end of the study period, the women who participated in yoga had higher scores of vitality, however there was no marked difference in rates on inflammation, mood or fatigue.

Then, another three months later, the women were tested again. These tests indicated that the women who participated in the 12 week yoga regimen were substantially less fatigued and had higher vitality scores than the group of women who did not partake in yoga. There was no difference in mood between the two groups.

Researchers noted that the women who practiced yoga were less tired and had between 13 and 20% less inflammation in their blood samples. They also stated that cancer fighters should choose low-to-moderate intensity yoga classes to avoid overexertion. Their findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Jury Awards Over $27 Million to Victims of 'Second-Hand' Asbestos Exposure

Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma and asbestosis, however, only recently has scientific and medical researchers acknowledged the possibility that second-hand exposure can also cause these ailments. Second-hand exposure to asbestos occurs when someone who frequently works around asbestos, say, a shipbuilder or construction worker, tracts the substance home on their work clothing, and contaminates the home.

In the case of John and Jane Panza, John's father was responsible for the take-home asbestos exposure. The elder Panza worked at a brake manufacturing company, Eaton Airflex, for over three decades, and was the president of their union. Over those 30 years, Panza routinely tracked home asbestos dust on his work clothing, and eventually died of lung cancer.

His son, John Panza, was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma at just 40 years old. Mesothelioma typically takes between 20 and 50 years to develop in the body, so his exposure undoubtedly occurred when he was a young child. Panza has undergone several surgeries to treat his mesothelioma cancer, ultimately removing his right lung completely.

Panza and his wife Jane sued Eaton and the company that manufactured the asbestos-containing brake pads his father worked with every day. After an 11-day trial, the jury decided that that company, Kelsey-Hayes Co., manufactured a defective product, and failed to warn workers on the dangers of asbestos and how to avoid its risks.

Continue reading " Mesothelioma Update: Yoga to Reduce Fatigue, Judges Recognize Merit of 'Second-Hand' Exposure" »

Naturally-Occurring Asbestos in the U.S. - An Illustrative Map

January 20, 2014

NOA-in-the-US.jpgMost people familiar with asbestos and mesothelioma know that exposure most often occurs in the workplace, such as in shipyards and construction sites. Lesser known is the prevalence of natural asbestos mineral deposits, many of which were previously mined before it was made illegal in 1989. Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins highlight this graphic of naturally-occurring asbestos deposits from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Click on image for larger view.

The USGS began publishing this information in 2004, however it is important to note that the information is not comprehensive because it is compiled from each state's individual geologic data. Because of the expansive geographic size of the state, California has by far the most asbestos occurrences, dwarfing other states in comparison with 193.

What is perhaps most surprising is the amount of former asbestos mines and projects in Arizona (46 and 49, respectively). Most of these abandoned mines and projects are in Salt River region of Gila County, Arizona, and were established to mine chrysotile asbestos. Beginning in 1913, mines in that region produced over 75,000 tons of chrysotile asbestos, and one mine was still operating as late as 1982.

Toxic Clean-Ups Delayed

Overall, 34 of the continental states report natural asbestos deposits, ranging in size and exposure potential for the surrounding community. Perhaps the most immediately dangerous is the former Lowell and Eden chrysotile mines, located in Orleans County, Vermont. These were the largest asbestos mines in the Eastern U.S., and negotiations over who will fund the clean-up project are still ongoing.

Recently, the Vermont Asbestos Group negotiated a deal with the EPA and Attorney General's Office to put $50,000 toward the clean-up. The defunct mines ceased operations in 1993, and the Vermont Group has been given until 2023 to complete its payment. Considering the devastating health effects of asbestos exposure, thirty years to complete a clean-up is unacceptable, dangerous, and negligent any way you look at it.

The current plan for this site is to flatten the piles of asbestos waste and cover them with soil and other natural materials. According to state environmental officials, "there is little to no chance all the waste will ever be totally removed." The air surrounding the site continues to be monitored.

Appalachian Exposure Concerns

There are six types of asbestos minerals, chrysotile being the most prevalent. In the Southern Appalachians, there are dozens of anthophyllite asbestos deposits. Anthophyllite asbestos is more dangerous than chyrsotile (though this distinction is relative; they both cause mesothelioma and asbestosis), and was most commonly used in composite flooring. Anthophyllite was mined from 44 sites in North Carolina and Georgia into the mid-1990s despite federal bans.

Public Health Consequences

Naturally-occurring asbestos resembles hair-like mineral fibers, and can be transported through water, wind, clothing, and cars. Simply put, the health risks of natural asbestos exposure are largely unknown. In patients diagnosed with mesothelioma and asbestosis, it is clear that, when inhaled, the fibers permanently lodge themselves deep into lung tissue, eventually causing cancers and other respiratory illnesses.

There are many concerns about new residential developments being built on top of asbestos deposits, such as those in El Dorado County, California, near Sacramento. In Libby, Montana, where one of the most devastating asbestos mines operated, about one-fifth of the population now suffers from mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases. Another recent study of the Iron Belt mines in Minnesota concluded that there was an increased risk of death among those working in mines containing asbestos deposits. These are just a few examples.

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Mesothelioma Patients may Benefit from Meditation to Cope

January 13, 2014

7961496868_8bb4b63de5.jpgA new study recently published in the esteemed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that meditation has the same effect of antidepressant pills on depression. Mesothelioma is a devastating cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, which typically occurs in the workplace. Given its nature, depression among mesothelioma patients is extremely common. Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins are always researching ways to help our asbestos exposure clients cope with the disease.

The meditation study was led by a doctor at Johns Hopkins, Madhav Goyal, who aimed to examine the effects of meditation on the brain. Dr. Goyal and his team reviewed about 50 earlier clinical trials to analyze mindful meditation and easing the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Among mesothelioma patients - and all types of cancer patients - anxiety, pain and depression can greatly reduce quality of life at the most critical time. Taking a few minutes every day to mindfully meditate, the researchers found, was just as effective as medication.

First, it is important to define what defines meditation in this context. It is not, as many assume, simply sitting in a room alone in chanting in silence. At its most basic level, meditation refers to actively training your mind to heighten awareness of thoughts and/or bodily sensations. This can be achieved through many different modes, however this study found 'mindfulness meditation' to be most beneficial. An abstract of the study can be found here.

Mo' Pills Mo' Problems

What was most interesting about this study was its comparison to the health benefits of antidepressants. One in ten Americans taken an antidepressant medication, and over a quarter of cancer patients are depressed, with about 16% taking an antidepressant. All medications carry a wide range of side effects and possible adverse events; there is no known harm that can come from meditating.

Cancer fighters are treated with a slew of medications throughout their therapy, and many drugs do not mix well together, decreasing efficacy or causing life-threatening side effects. Knowing that major depression can be treated with counseling and meditation with the same results as medication can enable patients to live healthier, more enjoyable lives while fighting their disease.

Dr. Goyal and his team found that the effect size for meditation and medication on depression was exactly the same - at 0.3 (depression has an extremely low treatment success rate). Their next endeavor will examine whether health benefits increase with more training, practice and skill between both meditation trainer and trainee.

It is worth noting that talk therapy (and especially cognitive behavioral therapy) is also known to be just as effective as antidepressant medications, and combining the two therapies seems to be most effective. It will be interesting to see the effects of meditation, combined with talk therapy, on depression symptoms.

Biologically, MRI scans show that meditation reduces activity in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that regulates stress response. It is also linked to decreased activity in the brain's default mode network, which is typically cited as the center of unhappiness and stress. Scientists now believe that meditation enhances body awareness, changes in self-perspective, attention regulation, and emotional regulation.

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Cancer Centers Launch Startup to Treat Late-Stage Patients

December 4, 2013

8949408195_9e5fcb08cc.jpgTwo prominent cancer centers, former competitors Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, recently joined with the Seattle Children's Research Institute to form a new startup. The institutions have already raised over $120 million for the new venture, Juno Therapeutics, to create treatments for late-stage cancer. Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins hope this new startup will focus some of its fund on mesothelioma and lung cancer treatment.

Juno's CEO recently stated that the startup will combine investment partners and renowned scientists to deliver cutting-edge cancer immunotherapy treatments. Juno is pursuing two immunotherapy approaches: the first, referred to as chimeric antigen receptor-modified T cells approach (CART), involves drawing a patient's blood and enriching it to locate T cells. Scientist them perform gene therapy on these cells so they are better equipped to target and destroy cancer cells.

This entire CART process takes only 15 days, its ultimate mission to destroy all cancerous tumors and establish a memory in the immune system so any future cancer cells will be recognized as foreign and consequently killed. The second platform is called high-affinity T cell receptors, which seeks out T cells with a naturally high-affinity to bind to specific markers on cancer cells. Once these high-affinity T cells are located, Juno scientists use gene therapy systems to transform the remaining T cells to express the same qualities to fight cancer antigens.

How Immunotherapy Could Change Cancer Treatment

Juno Therapeutics is named for the Roman goddess of protection, which is exactly what researchers are trying to achieve for their cancer patients. Researchers are confident because they have an illustrious, though short, history of immense success. Over the past year or so, scientists connected to Juno have treated about 24 patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia who were given only a few weeks to live. Using their T cell immunotherapy techniques, researchers were able to trigger molecular responses in at least 15 of these patients. Molecular response means that there was no trace of cancer anywhere in the blood after the T cell therapy.

Juno now plans to set up as many as 13 new clinical trials for patients battling various forms of cancer in the next year or so, though the specifics of these trials have not yet been announced. Several other pharmaceutical companies have expressed interest in immunotherapy, including Novartis, which has plans to commercialize a new brand of immunotherapy soon. Bristol-Myers Squibb also recently gained FDA approval for its antibody medication, Yervoy, which prompts the immune system to fight melanoma.

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Congresswoman's Asbestos Lawsuit Prompts Debate

November 26, 2013

4730728956_0c545d7335.jpgNew York Representative Carolyn McCarthy was, sadly, recently diagnosed with lung cancer. Consequently, she filed a lawsuit against several companies who she believes exposed her and her family to asbestos while she was a child. Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins highlight this case to remind the public of the very real and very dangerous effects of so-called "second-hand" asbestos exposure.

People are most often exposed to asbestos through the workplace - commonly in industries such as shipbuilding, construction and automotive repair. When the asbestos dust is unintentionally brought home on the clothing, hair, boots and work gear of these workers, infiltrating the home and affecting family members, this is known as second-hand asbestos exposure.

McCarthy's father and brothers worked as boiler makers at U.S. Navy Yards and power plants while she was growing up. Asbestos was used for decades in the United States, particularly in boiler manufacturing and shipbuilding, because of its high resistance to heat, excellent insulating properties, high tensile strength, and low costs. Asbestos appears as a fiber, which is actually thousands of fibrous materials that can break off, become airborne, stick to clothing, and be inhaled most directly by the workers themselves, and later by their families.

Asbestos, Smoking and Cancer

Inhaling asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of internal organs, as well as asbestosis. It is also a major contributing factor to lung cancer. The McCarthy case is so hotly contested because she is a long-time smoker, known for taking cigarette breaks between votes on Capitol Hill.

Some argue that partly blaming her lung cancer on previous exposure to asbestos is baseless because of her 40-year smoking habit. Scientific evidence however, does provide some ground for her claims that it was a contributer. According to a quote in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the rate of lung cancer in smokers who were previously exposed to asbestos is 4,000 times higher than smokers not exposed. Though the source of that number remains unclear, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine recently published that smokers exposed to asbestos were at least five times more likely to develop lung cancer than unexposed smokers.

The significant increase in risk is largely related to how cigarette smoke paralyzes the cilia (slender protuberances in the lining of the windpipe that sweep debris out of the lungs). The cilium protects the lungs from toxic substances, asbestos and toxins in cigarettes alike, and when it is paralyzed, it is unable to keep the toxins out.

McCarthy filed the lawsuit against multiple asbestos manufacturers, including Pfizer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and the Con Edison utility, not for exclusively causing her lung cancer but for significantly contributing to it and increasing her risk. The synergistic relationship between asbestos and smoking is irrefutable, but it will be interesting to see whether a judge agrees that the companies should be held financially liable for her second-hand exposure.

This case merely reemphasizes how important it is to stop smoking, especially in those previously exposed to asbestos. A study by Queens College in New York found about a 50% decrease in lung cancer rates when insulation workers exposed to asbestos stopped smoking. That study involved over 2,000 insulation workers and focused on the synergistic relationship between smoking, lung cancer and asbestos exposure.

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Combination Therapy Best Bet to Fight Mesothelioma

November 19, 2013

6878043269_7c43349159.jpgFor a disease as complex and serious as mesothelioma, choosing a course of treatment can be stressful and overwhelming. Unfortunately, there is no one therapy that has shown drastically positive results in most patients, so doctors are often left to treat the cancer through traditional means. Recently, a team of medical scientists in Italy conducted a study that yielded excellent survival results in mesothelioma patients. Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins highlight this study, along with others that were recently published to help our clients choose the correct treatment path.

The Italian study required patients to undergo radical pleurectomy/decortication (P/D) - a surgical procedure to remove tumors - followed by high doses of radiation. Radiotherapy differs from chemotherapy in several ways, although they are usually used together. Chemotherapy uses medicines or drugs to destroy cancer, while radiation uses high-energy waves or particles to destroy it. More information on radiation therapy, what it is and how it works, can be found on the American Cancer Society's website, located here.

Who can Undergo P/D and Radiation?

Typically, patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), the most common type of mesothelioma cancer, are the best candidates for this type of treatment. The Italian researchers enrolled MPM 20 patients in their study, who first underwent radical P/D procedures and then radiotherapy. P/D surgeries remove the entire pleura lining of the affected side of the chest wall, along with the lining of the lung, diaphragm and mediastinum. During radical P/D, the diaphragm and pericardium are entirely removed.

External radiation is usually the preferred type of radiotherapy for mesothelioma patients, and is similar to an x-ray procedure but takes more time to complete. These types of therapies are usually conducted five times per week for several weeks and helps ease the pain of mesothelioma symptoms, such as shortness of breath and pain. Radiotherapy was used in these patients to identify and kill small areas of cancer that could not be seen and removed during P/D.

P/D is not used to treat peritoneal or pericardial mesothelioma, although radiation and chemotherapy can be. 19 out of the 20 patients in the Italian study also underwent chemotherapy as well, using a combination of two drugs, cisplatin and pemetrexed.

The median overall survival rate for these patients was 33 months, or nearly three years. More than half of patients enjoyed progression-free survival during this time, and only seven patients' cancer spread. Fortunately, there were no deaths associated with the P/D and radiotherapy themselves. This is significant because, at present, the majority of mesothelioma patients succumb to the disease within one year after diagnosis.

Other Treatment Options

Other surgeries available for mesothelioma patients include cytoreductive surgery and extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP). The former is preferable for patients with peritoneal mesothelioma, and the latter for pleural. Cytoreductive surgery removes cancerous cells from the abdominal area, which may mean parts of the intestines must be removed.

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