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Hurricane Katrina EPA Asbestos Warning

September 19, 2005 - EPA Urges Avoiding Problems from Airborne Asbestos and Lead Dust -- Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur if asbestos-containing materials present in many older homes are disturbed. Pipe or other insulation, ceiling tiles, exterior siding, roof shingles and sprayed on-soundproofing are just some of the materials found in older buildings that may contain asbestos. Buildings constructed before 1970 are more likely to contain asbestos. Airborne asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings. Lead is a highly toxic metal which produces a range of adverse health effects, particularly in young children. Many homes built before 1978 may contain lead-based paint. Disturbance or removal of materials containing lead-based paint may result in elevated concentrations of lead dust in the air.

-- If you know or suspect that your home contains asbestos or lead-based paint and any of these materials have been damaged or will otherwise be disturbed during cleanup, seek the assistance of public health authorities and try to obtain help from specially trained contractors, if available.

-- If possible, removed materials should be handled while still wet or damp, double bagged and properly labeled as to contents.

-- In handling materials that are believed to be contaminated with asbestos or lead, EPA recommends that, at a minimum, you wear gloves, goggles, and most importantly, OSHA-approved respiratory protection, if available.

-- While still wearing a mask, wash hands and clothing after handling such materials.

-- If at all possible, avoid activities that will generate dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming debris that may contain asbestos or lead.

-- Take precautions before your contractor or you begin remodeling or renovations that disturb surfaces that may contain lead-based paint (such as scraping off paint or tearing out walls):

-- Have the area tested for lead-based paint.

-- Do not use a belt-sander, propane torch, heat gun, dry scraper, or dry sandpaper to remove lead-based paint. These actions create large amounts of lead dust and potentially harmful fumes.

-- Temporarily move your family (especially children and pregnant women) out of the apartment or house until the work is done and the area is properly cleaned. If you can't move your family, at least completely seal off the work area.

Properly Dispose of Waste -- Caution must be exercised to assure that all waste materials are removed and disposed of properly. Open burning of materials by individuals should be avoided. Improperly controlled burning of materials not only represents significant fire hazards but can also produce additional hazards from the vapors, smoke, and residue that are produced from the burning.

James Hardie faces surge in asbestos claims
By Elisabeth Sexton

December 28, 2005 - THERE was a big surge in compensation claims against James Hardie for the fatal cancer mesothelioma last year, but an industry expert hired by the company says it may be the last big leap.

In a report released earlier this month, actuary Richard Wilkinson said publicity about James Hardie's underfunding of an asbestos compensation trust it set up in 2001 caused a spike in claims.

This was partly because the 2004 special commission of inquiry into the shortfall increased public awareness about rights to sue for compensation, and partly because lawyers and other advisers feared that the cash-strapped trust would apply for voluntary liquidation.

Mr Wilkinson's work will be sent to James Hardie shareholders before they vote on the board's proposal, settled with the NSW Government on December 1, for the company to fund all future proven claims.

The trust received 254 mesothelioma claims in the year to March 2005, a 40 per cent increase on the previous 12 months and double the 126 claims received in 2000-01. But Mr Wilkinson, from KPMG Actuaries, said there had been a "marked reduction" in the early months of this financial year.

Anecdotal evidence from other former asbestos producers, insurance companies and law firms suggested a similar experience, he said.

Mr Wilkinson has told James Hardie to expect the number to drop to 218 this year before returning to around 240-250 for another four or five years and then beginning a permanent, steady decline.

Although James Hardie stopped making asbestos products in 1987, the average 35-year latency of mesothelioma means compensation funds will be needed until mid-century. In a report earlier this year, Mr Wilkinson predicted that 5268 Australians would contract mesothelioma from exposure to James Hardie products in coming decades. His latest report reduces that number to 4915.

When less serious forms of asbestos-related disease are included, he expects James Hardie to compensate 8725 victims, down from his previous estimate of 9085.

In 2005 dollars, he expects this to cost the company $1.6 billion.

While the special commission of inquiry cast a poor light on previous actuarial studies carried out for James Hardie, which concluded that $300 million would fund all future claims, the riding instructions given to Mr Wilkinson are more conventional than the commissions issued by James Hardie's disgraced former managers, and his work is considered more thorough.

However, he has warned shareholders that his report does not cover all eventualities.

For example, he has made no allowance for a surge in so-called "third wave" claims predicted by some experts. This is the industry's terminology for people who fall ill from exposure to asbestos installed in homes and public buildings such as schools and hospitals.

Medical experts regard asbestos sheeting as safe if left untouched after installation, but dangerous if the fibres are disturbed in renovation or removal.

The first wave of illness affected asbestos miners, the second wave workers in the factories which made the sheeting or in industries which used the fibre for large-scale insulation such as power plants or shipping.

Mr Wilkinson said his calculations assumed that third-wave claims would continue at their current modest level.

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