EPA Fines Arizona School Districts for Asbestos Violation

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fined six Arizona school districts a combined total of $94,575 for Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) violations. More than 15,000 children attend the 25 schools not in compliance with the federal AHERA in these districts. 

During inspections conducted in 2011, EPA inspectors discovered numerous violations, from failing to inspect facilities for asbestos containing materials, failing to re-inspect campuses with known asbestos containing materials, and failing to have an Asbestos Management Plan. All of the school districts have since taken necessary actions to comply with the law, with the cost of compliance reducing the penalties in most cases to zero. 

“Asbestos in schools has the potential to harm the health of students, teachers, and maintenance workers,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “EPA takes these violations seriously, and we are satisfied the schools have now conducted inspections and put their asbestos plans in place.” 

Each school district is allowed to subtract properly documented costs of complying with the regulations from the penalty amount. The six school districts are: 

· Apache Junction Unified School District (Pinal County): fined $21,675, but this was reduced to $7,933 because of the school district’s cost of achieving compliance. 
· St. John’s Unified School District (Apache County): fined $14,195, reduced to $824 by the school district’s cost of achieving compliance.
· Florence Unified School District (Pinal County)fined $31,705, but no cash payment was due because the documented costs of compliance exceeded the penalty. 
· Vernon Elementary School District (Apache County): fined $2,700, but no cash payment was due because the documented costs of compliance exceeded the penalty. 
· McNary Elementary School District (Fort Apache Indian Reservation): fined $14,200, but no cash payment was due because the documented costs of compliance exceeded the penalty.
· Round Valley Unified School District (Apache County): fined $10,100, but no cash payment was due because the documented costs of compliance exceeded the penalty.
Federal law requires schools to conduct an initial inspection using accredited inspectors to determine if asbestos-containing building material is present and develop a management plan to address the asbestos materials found in the school buildings. Schools are also required to appoint a designated person who is trained to oversee asbestos activities and ensure compliance with federal regulations. Finally, schools must conduct periodic surveillance and re-inspections of asbestos-containing building material, properly train the maintenance and custodial staff, and maintain records in the management plan.

Local education agencies must keep an updated copy of the management plan in its administrative office and at the school which must be made available for inspection by parents, teachers, and the general public.



Sequester Whacks Injured Workers

Today’s post comes from guest author Jay Causey from Causey Law Firm.

Injured workers with claims under the Longshore & Harbor Workers Act and the Defense Base Act, who are awaiting hearings by federal administrative law judges (ALJs), have now had their cases seriously impacted by the Sequester.  The Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ), with District Offices in seven cities including San Francisco, schedules hearings not only in those cities but in other venues in the District.  The San Francisco office schedules hearings in San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Denver and elsewhere, and so-called Calendar Calls are scheduled in those cities by traveling ALJs. 

The Sequester has caused the San Francisco office…to cancel all travel by ALJs until at least October, when a new fiscal year for OALJ may refresh its travel budget.

The Sequester has caused the San Francisco office, which covers a larger geographical territory than any other, to cancel all travel by ALJs until at least October, when a new fiscal year for OALJ may refresh its travel budget.  No further Calendars in outlying cities will be scheduled until at least October.  In the meantime, the parties may agree to bring their witnesses to San Francisco for hearings (or agree to a telephonic hearing – rarely a good alternative), but both sides must to agree to the alternative process.  The cost of bringing the claimant and expert witnesses to San Francisco, even if jointly agreed to, makes that a mostly unrealistic option.

The cancellation of travel for ALJs makes the system even more unfair to claimants.

The likelihood is that, in claims where the insurance carrier is denying benefits, many carriers will simply choose to wait out the claimants for the many additional months delay the Sequester budget issue gives them.  An terribly-burdensome delay already exists in this system, as ALJ decisions on cases typically take one to two years to issue after the trial.  The cancellation of travel for ALJs makes the system even more unfair to claimants.  Because of the long delay in getting to a hearing and then to a decision, a large number of cases in which hearings are requested ultimately end up settling in an alternative dispute resolution process called “mediation,” as both sides wish to arrive at settlement without the work and expense of getting ready for trial and then a long wait for a decision.  A scheduled hearing is what mostly drives the parties to mediate these cases.  But with six months of cancelled Calendars in non-District Office cities,  claimants attorneys worry that insurance carriers will feel under far less pressure to bring these cases to the mediation table.


Photo credit: jaymallinphotos / Foter.com / CC BY-NC


Cell Phone Ban for Many Nebraska Rigs Set for 2013

Today’s post comes from guest author Rod Rehm from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Starting in 2013, Nebraska is adopting a federal regulation that bans cell-phone use in any truck over 10,000 pounds. The rule applies to truck-driving professionals with 18 wheels, as would be expected. But it also includes pick-up trucks pulling horse trailers and lawn-care companies – anyone who meets the weight requirements. Many more folks in the state will benefit from decreased distracted driving, so plan ahead to change cell-phone habits! Put that Cell Phone Down and Come Out with Your Hands Up (www.nebraska.tv) Let me call you back when I get to Kansas! That’s what commercial truck drivers will have to start saying starting January 1st of next year.


Diesel Fumes and Lung Cancer

Diesel Fumes Cause Lung Cancer

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. It’s greater than breast and colon cancer in women and greater than prostate, colon, pancreatic and liver cancer in men. If diagnosed early there is a 70-80% survival rate for 5 years, and a low-dose CT scan of the chest can detect 60-70% of lung cancers at an early stage. Unfortunately, there has been no significant progress in the treatment of lung cancer in 40 years and between 10,000–20,000 occupational lung cancer deaths occur each year in the United States.

One area of concern is the relationship between diesel exhaust exposure and lung cancer. In June of 2012 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified diesel engine exhaust as carcinogenic to humans, and studies of underground miners support that statement and also indicate that others who are around diesel fumes may be at an increased risk. Toxic chemicals in diesel gas are nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, benzene, PAHS (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), aldehydes and nitro-PAHS.

Railroad workers, miners, truck drivers, bus operators, longshoremen and others who have been heavily exposed to diesel fumes are obviously at greater risk than those with less exposures, but even minimal exposures may cause harm. In urban areas, like lower Manhattan, there is concern that diesel exposures may be a public health hazard and detection systems have been placed in areas to collect exposure data. As for workers who have experienced intense, short-term duration to diesel fumes, a chemical called 1-hydroxypyrene may be elevated in urine, but the test for this marker is not performed by most commercial laboratories. The Mount Sinai – Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational & Environmental Medicine is studying diesel exposure and may be a good resource for future information, as well as the National Clean Diesel Campaign: www.epa.gov/diesel.


UN Announces Treaty to Restrict Use of Mecury

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

Over 140 governments meeting at a United Nations forum in Geneva have agreed to a global, legally-binding treaty to address mercury, a notorious heavy metal with significant health and environmental effects.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury – named after a city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid-20th Century – provides controls and reductions across a range of products, processes and industries where mercury is used, released or emitted.

These range from medical equipment such as thermometers and energy-saving light bulbs to the mining, cement and coal-fired power sectors, according to a news release issued today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which convened the negotiations.

“After complex and often all-night sessions here in Geneva, nations have today laid the foundations for a global response to a pollutant whose notoriety has been recognized for well over a century,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“Everyone in the world stands to benefit from the decisions taken this week in Geneva, in particular the workers and families of small-scale gold miners, the peoples of the Arctic and this generation of mothers and babies and the generations to come. I look forward to swift ratification of the Minamata Convention so that it comes into force as soon as possible,” he added.

The treaty, which has been four years in negotiation and which will be open for signature at a special meeting in Japan in October, also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal and safe storage of waste mercury.

Pinpointing populations at risk, boosting medical care and better training of health care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects will also form part of the new agreement.

UNEP noted that mercury and its various compounds have a range of serious health impacts, including brain and neurological damage especially among the young. Others include kidney damage and damage to the digestive system. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment alongside many other well documented problems.

Among the provisions of the treaty, governments have agreed on a range of mercury-containing products whose production, export and import will be banned by 2020. These include batteries, except for ‘button cell’ batteries used in implantable medical devices; switches and relays; certain types of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs); mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps; and soaps and cosmetics.

Certain kinds of non-electronic medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices are also included for phase-out by 2020.

Governments also approved exceptions for some large measuring devices where currently there are no mercury-free alternatives. In addition, vaccines where mercury is used as a preservative have been excluded from the treaty as have products used in religious or traditional activities.



Seattle Shooting – Another Case of Workplace Gun Violence, and Another Call to Action

By working together we can bring an end to gun violence in America

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case from Causey Law Firm.



     A man entered a Seattle bar late Sunday night, January 27, 2013, and confronted his ex-girlfriend, brandishing a gun.  The gunman shot both his ex-girlfriend and the doorman before the gunman was fatally shot by Seattle police.  Both the ex-girlfriend and the doorman were taken to Harborview Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.  Both were victims of senseless gun violence, but the doorman is also a workers’ compensation claimant due to this occurring while he was on-the-job.


2012 has been the worst year for these events in modern US history, with 151 victims injured and killed.


       Quoting an article published by Mother Jones (Mother Jones Investigates: The NRA Myth of Arming the Good Guys), Washington CeaseFire shared that there have been at least 62 mass shootings in the last three decades, attacks in which the killer took the lives of four or more people (the FBI’s baseline for mass murder) in a public place—a school, a workplace, a mall, a religious building. Seven of them have occurred this year alone. Along with three other similar though less lethal rampages—at a Portland shopping mall, a Milwaukee spa, and a Cleveland high school—2012 has been the worst year for these events in modern US history, with 151 victims injured and killed.

    On Tuesday, January 22nd, Washington CeaseFire presented the results of a statewide poll conducted by Alison Peters Consulting. The poll of 600 randomly selected registered Washington voters reveals a strong preference for stronger gun safety laws on both Eastern and Western sides of the state. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. Findings included :

  • 76% of state residents support tighter gun laws;
  • 87% support a state law to require that everyone who buys a gun at a gun show undergo a background check;
  • 66% support a state law to ban semi-automatic assault weapons;
  • 68% are in support of a state law to increase mandatory penalties for youth firearm possession, starting with house detention at the first offense ;
  • 68% would support a state law to limit ammunition clips on guns to 10 bullets;  and,
  • 66% of respondents are in support of a state law requiring the signature of local police on every concealed weapons permit application.

     Washington CeaseFire states that it’s time to end gun violence in America, noting that gun deaths outnumber traffic fatalities in Washington and nine other states.  Now is the time to make our voices heard.  Please consider participating in a candlelight vigil and march on February 9, 2013 in Seattle, Washington, co-sponsored by CeaseFire.  More than 1000 people attended a similar march held in January (see prior post for details) and it is hoped that the upcoming vigil and march will draw more attention to this issue.


I Filed For SSD on My Own and Got Turned Down – What Should I Do Next?

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

If you get a denial notice from Social Security after filing your application for benefits on your own, don’t be surprised. Most people are turned down the first time they apply for benefits. Social Security recently released a study showing that people who filed on their own were slightly more likely to get denied initially, although they received their initial decision a little sooner. Many people make one of two common mistakes when they get turned down – they either don’t do anything or they file a new application. People who don’t do anything will, of course, not receive Social Security disability benefits. Those that file a new application are just as likely to get turned down again, and may lose entitlement to benefits they otherwise would have gotten.

When you get a denial, you should file an appeal of that decision.

When you get a denial, you should file an appeal of that decision. Filing an appeal is different than filing a new application. Depending on where you live, you will either file a request for reconsideration or a request for a hearing. A request for reconsideration means that someone else at Social Security reviews your file and makes a new decision. If you get denied at reconsideration (and about 90% of people do) you should file a request for a hearing.

After you file a request for a hearing, you’ll be scheduled for a hearing held by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ will ask you questions and issue a written decision after the hearing. People who appear at a hearing before an ALJ are much more likely to get SSD than those who file a new application after getting denied.

Once you receive a denial, you should contact our office right away to discuss your options. You only have sixty (60) days to file an appeal, so it’s important to act fast. Our staff will be able to handle the appeals process for you, and one of our attorneys will appear at the hearing with you. The most important thing is to not get discouraged and continue your medical treatment so that you’ll have the medical evidence you need to prove your disability.