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Archive for June, 2020

Baby powder contains asbestos

An appellate court in Missouri upheld more than $2 billion in damages against Johnson & Johnson, saying the company knew there was asbestos in its baby powder.

“A reasonable inference from all this evidence is that, motivated by profits, defendants disregarded the safety of consumers,” the court said.
Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A Missouri appeals court on Tuesday ordered Johnson & Johnson and a subsidiary to pay $2.1 billion in damages to women who blamed their ovarian cancers on the company’s talcum products, including its iconic baby powder.

The decision slashed by more than half a record award of $4.69 billion in compensatory and punitive damages to the women, which was made in July 2018.

Johnson & Johnson still faces thousands of lawsuits from consumers who claim its talcum products were contaminated with asbestos that caused cancer. The company announced last month that it would stop selling baby powder made from talc in North America, though it would continue to market the product elsewhere in the world.

A spokeswoman said Johnson & Johnson would seek further review of the ruling by the Supreme Court of Missouri and defended its talcum products as safe.

“We continue to believe this was a fundamentally flawed trial, grounded in a faulty presentation of the facts,” Kim Montagnino, the spokeswoman, said. “We remain confident that our talc is safe, asbestos free and does not cause cancer.”

Mark Lanier, the lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, urged consumers to discard any baby powder they had in their homes. Six plaintiffs in the case died before the trial started, and five more women have died since the jury trial ended in 2018, he said.

Since this is a civil suit, “all you can do is fine them, and we need to fine them sufficiently that the industry wakes up and takes notice,” Mr. Lanier added.

In its decision, the appellate court noted that the company’s internal memorandums from as far back as the 1960s indicated that its talcum products — referred to as the “golden egg,” “company trust-mark” and “sacred cow” — contained asbestos, and that the mineral could be dangerous.

“A reasonable inference from all this evidence is that, motivated by profits, defendants disregarded the safety of consumers despite their knowledge the talc in their products caused ovarian cancer,” the court said.

The plaintiffs “showed clear and convincing evidence defendants engaged in conduct that was outrageous because of evil motive or reckless indifference,” the court said.

The court awarded $500 million in actual damages and $1.62 billion in punitive damages, reducing the original award of $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages after dismissing claims by some of the plaintiffs.

Johnson & Johnson has argued that faulty testing methods and shoddy science were responsible for findings of asbestos in its products. But thousands of people — mostly women with ovarian cancer — have sued, saying they were never warned of the potential risks.

The main ingredient in baby powder and many other bath powders was talc, a natural mineral known for its softness. Talc also helped lend baby powder its unique fragrance, said to be one of the most recognizable in the world.

In 1980, after consumer advocates raised concerns that talc contained traces of asbestos, an infamous carcinogen, the company developed an alternative powder made from cornstarch.

Though talcum powder has been promoted as soft and gentle enough for babies, and is sold with other infant products in stores, adult women have long been the main purchasers, using baby powder in pubic areas and to prevent chafing between the legs. Many women in hot climates use baby powder to stay dry.

Early lawsuits against the company pointed to talc as a cause of ovarian cancer, though the scientific evidence was not conclusive. In later cases, plaintiffs’ lawyers zeroed in on asbestos contamination as the culprit, saying the carcinogen could cause cancer even in trace amounts.

Talc is used in many cosmetic products, including lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, blush and foundation. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration issued several alerts warning that asbestos had been found in makeup, including eye shadow sold at Claire’s, a retailer popular with teenage girls.

Talc and asbestos are natural minerals, and their underground deposits develop under similar geological conditions. As a result, veins of asbestos may crisscross talc deposits in mines.

Indeed, internal memos unearthed during litigation revealed that Johnson & Johnson had been concerned about the possibility of asbestos contamination in its talc for at least 50 years. Asbestos was first linked to ovarian cancer in 1958, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer affirmed it was a cause of the cancer in a 2011 report.

As of March, Johnson & Johnson faced more than 19,000 lawsuits related to talc body powders. So far, the legal record has been mixed, with the company prevailing in some cases and losing in others. It is appealing nearly all of the cases it has lost.

Late last year, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after F.D.A. investigators said they had discovered asbestos in a bottle bought from an online retailer. But the company later said its own tests exonerated the product.

Johnson & Johnson is fending off lawsuits on other fronts as well, most notably ones related to opioids. In August 2019, an Oklahoma judge ruled that the company had oversold the benefits of the drugs while playing down the risks, and ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million in damages.

In October, in an unrelated case that involved the antipsychotic drug Risperdal, a Philadelphia jury ordered the company to pay $8 billion to a Maryland man who claimed he had been harmed by using the drug.

Johnson & Johnson is one of several companies racing to develop a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus. The company recently announced it would move up the start date for its safety trials in humans to the end of July. Johnson & Johnson has already signed deals with the federal government to create enough manufacturing capacity to make more than a billion doses of a vaccine, once it is found safe and effective.

“At some point there is a reputational question that mass tort cases bring, and they’re going to have to be concerned,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor who teaches about product liability at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

“They’ve built their entire reputation on being a family-friendly product producer,” Mr. Tobias said. “The classic example of that is talc, and the injuries these women suffered are severe.”

Proposed amendments to the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality

In February 2020, the Ministry for the Environment released a suite of proposed amendments to the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (NESAQ). Standards currently exist under the NESAQ for particulate matter less than 10 micrometres in diameter (PM10) and wood burners. The proposed amendments include:

  • new ambient standards for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5),
  • more stringent national wood burner design standards, and
  • new standards for mercury emissions to air.

The aim of these proposed amendments is to bring New Zealand’s current air quality standards in line with international standards, improve air quality and associated health effects.

The Ministry is currently seeking feedback on these proposed amendments. The consultation documents and related information are available on the Ministry’s Improving the quality of our air website. Submissions close at 5pm on 31st July, 2020.

Cleaner air during UK lockdown relieves asthma for millions

 A woman walks across an empty Deansgate in central Manchester in late April.

A woman walks across an empty Deansgate in central Manchester in late April. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

Two million people in the UK with respiratory conditions such as asthma have experienced reduced symptoms during the coronavirus lockdown, according to the British Lung Foundation.

A survey by the charity of 14,000 people with lung conditions found one in six had noticed improvements in their health. Among children, the figure was higher, with one in five parents saying their child’s condition had been alleviated. Asthma sufferers in particular reported benefits, with one in four noting relief.

There is a well-established link between air pollution and lung disease. Of the 12 million people in the UK who live with conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, about 8 million have been diagnosed with asthma, of which 5.4 million are receiving treatment. 

The number of visits to hospital emergency departments for asthma in England have also fallen by half during lockdown, according to Public Health England data. But it is unclear how much of the decrease is due to a reduction in symptoms or people’s reluctance to visit hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Zak Bond, of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Now, more than ever before, we have all become aware of how important it is to look after our lungs, and the government has a duty to ensure that as the country recovers from Covid-19, we can continue to keep air pollution levels down and keep pushing them lower.”

There is growing evidence from around the world linking increased Covid-19 infections and deaths to air pollution exposure. On Friday, a cross-party group of MPs said air pollution must be kept at low levels to help avoid a second peak of infections.

Bond called for the rapid introduction of clean air zones in cities, where charges deter the use of the most polluting vehicles. But these have been delayed in cities such as Manchester, with officials citing the need to focus on the coronavirus response. 

Bond said more support was needed for public transport, cycling and walking, and tougher air quality laws: “We want to see the government commit to reaching the World Health Organization’s guidelines for fine particulate matter by 2030 at the latest.”

How to solve the UK’s transport problem in the time of coronavirus – video

Each year, air pollution leads to tens of thousands of early deaths in the UK. More than a third of local authorities in England have levels of fine particle pollution above the WHO’s limit. Nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant produced largely by diesel vehicles, is at illegal levels in 80% of urban areas.

Stephen Holgate, Medical Research Council clinical professor of immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton, said: “As one of the biggest health problems of our time, air pollution has the potential to harm everyone. It is so important we take this opportunity to recognise the lived experiences of people with lung conditions and apply what we have learned from the impact of lockdown to build a future where we prioritise clean air.” 

The lockdown led to traffic falling to 1955 levels while both fine particle and NO2 pollution fell by up to half in cities. The British Lung Foundation survey found that more than 50% of people with lung conditions said they had noticed a decrease in air pollution since the start of lockdown.

One asthma sufferer, Paul, 14 from Liverpool, has often found it difficult to breathe, but has had to use his reliever inhaler a lot less during lockdown. “You can really feel the difference now,” he said. “I walk out, and I’m hit with clean air which is like a utopia compared to before.”

Dr Alison Cook, the chair of the Taskforce for Lung Health, a coalition of 30 organisations, said: “Children deserve to breathe cleaner air and to grow up in a country where their health is not put at risk by going outside.”

[Source: The Guardian 4 June 2020]

Building equity into the infrastructure-led recovery for Māori and Pasifika

This is a huge opportunity – and a wero – to demonstrate commitments to diversity, write sector engineers Troy Brockbank, Elle Archer, Sifa Pole and Sina Cotter Tait.

Aotearoa is awash with discussion on how we might re-imagine our post-Covid future; what could and should our economy and society look like? The budget announcement of infrastructure spend and training is an chance for the construction industry to develop specific, targeted actions for impact. As Māori and Pasifika engineers working in the construction and infrastructure sector, we’re calling on the industry to build equity into its response for Māori and Pasifika workers. It’s a huge opportunity – and a wero – for our government and industry to demonstrate their recent public commitments to the Diversity Accord.

The construction industry is headed into difficult times, with industry analysts predicting up to a third of jobs at risk. Māori and Pasifika workers are heavy lifters in the industry, over-represented in the lowest-earning tiers of the industry, and exposed to a disproportionate and inequitable share of the recessionary risks. The consequences of this are grim – loss of crucial income and wellbeing for Māori and Pasifika families and communities, with significant downstream effects for our already-marginalised communities. However, the prospect of a well-funded Infrastructure-Led recovery presents the construction industry with a unique opportunity to address these inequities faced by Māori and Pasifika communities in Aotearoa, and to advance its own goals towards a diverse and inclusive industry.

Elle Archer, Sina Cotter Tait, Troy Brockbank, and Sifa Pole

What should our industry be doing? The TL:DR

Five ideas for meaningful change:

  1. Expand the criteria for ‘Shovel-Ready Projects’ to consider how these projects will give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  2. Align priority work to the Wellbeing Budget Priorities, by adopting social procurement to select for firms offering employment to, and investing in, Māori and Pasifika workers
  3. Engage with, and increase Māori and Pasifika representation in industry leadership groups
  4. Rebalance the notoriously unfair risk carried by subcontractors and contract/casual labour through smart procurement and grounded risk allocation
  5. Ensure adequate accessibility to opportunities and career paths through innovative skills training and cross-industry partnerships.

What could it look like to consider Māori and Pasifika voices and values in the Covid-19 construction industry and infrastructure sector response?

This is a once in a generation opportunity to change how we think about our industry, calling for commitment, courage and long-term vision.

Project procurement is the most powerful lever our government has to effect change for Māori and Pasifika in the construction industry. Infrastructure New Zealand’s inclusion of social procurement as a guideline for the selection of “Shovel Worthy Projects” is excellent. We suggest also attaching well-considered diversity conditions to support Māori and Pasifika inclusion and representation, as a way of aligning with the Budget2020 priority. This isn’t as radical as it sounds – such conditions are becoming commonplace for other outcomes we value, such as environmental sustainability and gender diversity.

We don’t believe that our industry and our country can afford not to prioritise social outcomes in a nationwide recovery effort.

…As Minister Kris Fa’afoi has said: “We don’t succeed unless all of us succeed.” These words are resonant today. Protection of the construction industry must include our most vulnerable members and by extension our wider communities – and opportunities must be designed to be extended equitably to all. 

Abridged – Full article here:

Troy Brockbank (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi) is kaitohutohu matua taiao / senior environmental consultant; Elle Archer (Ngati Tamatera, Ngapūhi, Tuhoe) is a tech industry director and adviser; Sifa Pole (Pasifika-Tonga) is a professional engineer; Sina Cotter Tait (Pasifika-Samoa) is a chartered professional engineer and director.

The contributors acknowledge their identities as individual industry participants of Māori and/or Pasifika heritage, and do not claim to speak on behalf of a wider collective.

[Source: The Spinoff]