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France embarrassed over asbestos-laden ship


PARIS - February 17, 2006 - When it first took to the seas nearly 50 years ago, the aircraft carrier Clemenceau was the crown jewel of the French navy. Today, it is a decommissioned albatross amid an uproar over the toxic materials inside it.

The saga underlines the trouble countries have in getting rid of old ships. It is also an embarrassment for the French Defense Ministry, which environmentalists criticize for sending the ship to a breaker's yard in India without first removing environmental hazards.

The Clemenceau - now known as the Q 790 - first set sail in 1957. Taken out of service in 1997, it is in the Arabian Sea, having left the Mediterranean port of Toulon on Dec. 31. Egypt kept the ship from crossing the Suez Canal for more than a week last month before officials there ruled that it would not harm the environment.

It was expected to reach a breaker's yard in western India early next month, though the voyage has been delayed by French and Indian courts trying to determine how much asbestos is on board and the risks to workers taking it apart.

French officials have said that there is 45 tons of asbestos on the ship, but environmentalists say there is as much as 1,000 tons.

Environmentalists say that the Clemenceau should have been cleaned up before leaving France and that France's transfer of the ship violates the Basel Convention, an international accord on trade in possibly hazardous waste.

On Tuesday, President Jacques Chirac's spokesman said that Chirac was personally handling the Clemenceau issue, just days before leaving for a visit to India.

When the Clemenceau was built, asbestos was not widely known to be a health hazard.

San Diego County drops suit on asbestos

By Anne Krueger
March 29, 2006 - County supervisors voted yesterday to drop a lawsuit against Sempra Energy and three workers so that it won't interfere with the prosecution of a criminal case with similar accusations in federal court.

The board voted 4-0 in closed session to drop the suit filed last August alleging that San Diego Gas & Electric Co., two of its employees and a contractor improperly removed asbestos from nine miles of pipe at a 16-acre site in Lemon Grove during late 2000 and early 2001.

A federal indictment handed down more than four months after the suit contains similar allegations.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said the lawsuit was dropped because the defendants could have used information from witnesses in the civil suit to their advantage in the criminal prosecution.

“The county does not want to jeopardize the U.S. Attorney's criminal action against SDG&E in any way,” Jacob said. “This is the best course of action.”

The lawsuit and the criminal charges both name as defendants SDG&E; employees Jacquelyn McHugh, a supervisor in the environmental department; and David Williamson, an environmental specialist; along with Kyle Rheubottom, a project superintendent for the contractor. The lawsuit also names Sempra Energy, SDG&E's parent company.

SDG&E and the workers are charged with five federal counts of conspiracy, violating asbestos work practice standards and making false statements. The charges carry potential prison sentences and fines.

In February, a Superior Court judge denied a request by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson to delay the lawsuit for six months. Judge Jan Goldsmith ruled that the suit should proceed, noting that the county was seeking $75,000 a day for the period of the alleged violations.

The federal indictment alleges that in order to save time and money, the defendants decided to tell government inspectors that the pipe did not contain a hazardous form of asbestos.

Attorneys for the defendants say that tests by government agencies and independent consultants found no asbestos in the air or soil. County officials acknowledge that the asbestos was properly cleared in April 2001 and the site has been safe since then.

Nurse worries about the agony of lung cancer

Apr. 23, 2006 - As I understand it, St. Paul is trying to protect bar workers and patrons from secondhand tobacco smoke, but bar owners worry about having to adjust.

I'm a nurse. I worry about different things. I was counting lately about how many people I have been with when they die, pass over, go to the light, whatever. I think it is about 75 to 100 people who I have witnessed leave this Earth.

While the bar owners worry their worries, I worry that the worst deaths I have seen are the people who have lung cancer. You see, lung cancer patients don't just get their diagnosis and go to glory. They linger and linger, and are eaten from the inside out.

Their lungs fill up. Their physician makes a hole in their back, simply by pounding this metal tube with a mallet, so this brown fluid can be drained out of the lungs. This gets the patient relief, for about two days. Then they begin to fill up again.

Family has to watch: The medical profession can only do this so long, because patients become so weak they can't tolerate the procedure. Their family has to watch this happen. Those who love them die a bit each day, inside.

Their loved ones stand by helplessly and watch this entity take over their body.

Doing this work does funny things to you. Sometimes I daydream about getting a research grant to find out if we could communicate with cancer. I would tell the cancer that it is killing its host.

I would tell it that it will die when the host dies, and suggest that maybe we could coexist. Just a long-standing idea I have had. I am accepting all grants.

But in the meantime, cancer can't be reached and doesn't seem capable of logic.

I guess it's not alone in that respect. The bar owners who are worrying their worries should worry about something bigger.

Try this at home: They should put their hands over their mouth and nose, and cup their face, fairly hard. No, really, I really want you to do this. Now try to breath through your hands.

Welcome to emphysema. That's about as good as it's going to get.

They fight for every breath they take. I know, because I have to stand there while families lose 20 or 30 years of having their loved ones by their side.

And 87 percent of lung cancer is caused by cigarette smoke.

The tragedy is great when it is a smoker, and when it is one of the 3,000 nonsmokers who, according to the National Institute of Cancer, get lung cancer from secondhand smoke.

As a nurse, I've seen too much, and I hate watching this happen. I worry about different things than the bar owners do.

Diane Staeheli is a resident of Eagan and is a nurse.

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