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Employees Accuse Tennessee VA Hospital of Allowing Asbestos Exposure

A VA hospital located in Murfressboro, Tennessee is facing allegations that it knowingly risked the health of hospital employees by exposing them to asbestos.

According to current and former employees, the VA hospital failed to warn them about the presence of asbestos in the basement areas of the facility and failed to provide employees with respirators and other protective gear – even when employees requested such gear in writing.

An investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) corroborated the allegations; the hospital received 6 citations for asbestos-related violations. The hospital is now conducting air quality tests to determine the potential threat posed by asbestos.

CDC: Deaths from Mesothelioma to Peak in 2010

According to a study conducted by federal health officials at the Centers for Disease Control, deaths from malignant mesothelioma in the United States is still increasing, but should peak in the year 2010.

As part of the study, the CDC reviewed death records from 1999 to 2005, finding that the number of mesothelioma deaths per year increased during that period, from 2482 to 2704. Maine was hardest hit by asbestos-related deaths, with an annual death rate of 27 per million.

Mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, tends to appear 20-40 years after initial exposure. Because asbestos use in the US was heavily restricted after the 1970s, its health impact is expected to decrease after 2010. Experts caution, however, that instances of malignant mesothelioma are unlikely to disappear; asbestos is still legally used and shipped into the United States. Furthermore, scientists are currently investigating several substances which may act like asbestos when inhaled, including carbon nanotubes and erionite.

Prosecution Winds Down Case in W.R. Grace Trial

The prosecution in the W.R. Grace & Company asbestos trial called their final witness this week, as the trial neared the end of its first phase.

Former assistant surgeon general Dr. Richard Lemen, testifying on behalf of the prosecution, told jurors that the vermiculite asbestos mined by W.R. Grace created immediate and several health risks for the residents of nearby Libby, Montana. Lemen criticized the widespread usage of asbestos-contaminated material throughout the city of Libby, blaming it for the epidemic of mesothelioma and other diseases among residents. To date, hundreds of Libby residents have died from asbestos-related illnesses, and thousands more continue to struggle with the long-term effects of asbestos exposure.

Five former executives of W.R. Grace are on trial for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act and criminally exposing the residents of Libby to toxic asbestos dust and fibers. If convicted, the five men could face millions of dollars in fines and up to 15 years incarceration.

The defense is expected to call its first witness on Tuesday, April 28.

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