Top 10 Mesothelioma and Asbestos News Stories of 2018

David Sugarbaker at Baylor College of Medicine

The death of renowned thoracic surgeon Dr. David Sugarbaker stunned the mesothelioma community, while asbestos awareness reached new heights in 2018.

The loss of Sugarbaker, who pioneered mesothelioma treatment advances through three decades, was devastating to so many that he touched.

On the other side, companies that continue to ignore the dangers of toxic asbestos were exposed — in the courtroom and in news coverage — about the problems they caused.

Toxic asbestos was found in cosmetics, crayons and on the hands of executives at Johnson & Johnson, which is already paying the price.

Here are the 10 most circulated mesothelioma and asbestos-related news stories of 2018.

Claire’s Bankruptcy After Asbestos Revelation

Claire’s, a retail chain marketed to young girls, filed for bankruptcy shortly after a second round of laboratory tests found asbestos fibers in its cosmetics products.

In 2017, Claire’s recalled nine of the 17 products that tested positive for traces of asbestos by Scientific Analytical Institute, an independent lab based in North Carolina.

Another report in early 2018 revealed three more makeup products tested positive for asbestos.

Claire’s officially filed for bankruptcy soon afterward.

Talc, a common ingredient in cosmetic products, naturally forms with certain minerals, including asbestos.

Dr. David Sugarbaker Dies at 65

The mesothelioma community was stunned by the death of Dr. David Sugarbaker, a world leader in advancing the treatment of pleural mesothelioma for much of three decades.

Sugarbaker, 65, was director of the Lung Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

He previously spent 26 years at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where he built the most prestigious mesothelioma program in the world. He also trained many of today’s leaders in the field.

Russian Asbestos Company’s Trump Stamp

In a strange-but-true story, the image of President Donald Trump is being stamped on palettes of chrysotile asbestos from the Russian mining company Uralasbest, the world’s largest producer of the product.

Trump, in the past, has been dismissive of the push for an outright ban of asbestos in the United States, much to the dismay of his critics. He also spoke years ago about its usefulness as “the greatest fireproofing material ever made.”

Only 5 percent of the asbestos being imported into the U.S. today comes from Russia, but that number could increase now that Brazil has banned the toxic mineral.

New Tool Makes Finding Asbestos Easier

Identifying toxic asbestos in vermiculite insulation became easier this year with a newly-created, hand-held spectrometer designed by scientists at the United States Geology Survey.

The device will be used mostly by home and commercial inspectors, who previously sent samples to off-site laboratories to make that evaluation.

Although vermiculite insulation is not used in new construction today, an estimated 1 million homes still have it in the United States.

Vermiculite is safe when pure, but much of it in America was mined in Libby, Montana, where it often was contaminated with asbestos fibers.

EPA Adds Controversial Regulation

The Environmental Protection Agency released its Significant New Use Rule for asbestos that would require approval from the EPA before any asbestos-containing products can be processed, imported or manufactured in the United States.

The rule was an update to the Toxic Substances Control Act and gives the agency the power to evaluate and prevent new uses of asbestos, the mineral which was once so prominent in construction.

Anti-asbestos advocates protested the new-use rule, believing it did not go far enough in regulating the toxic mineral and could lead to potential approvals of new uses.

Report Says J&J Knew Asbestos Was Mixed with Talc

Reuters News Service unleashed a detailed report in December that claimed Johnson & Johnson knew for decades asbestos fibers were in its iconic baby powder but failed to warn the public.

The blistering report, which included previously unreleased internal documents and company memos, caused the value of Johnson & Johnson stock to drop by 10 percent in a 24-hour period, its worst single-day drop in almost two decades.

The next business day, the chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson adamantly defended his company, saying, “We unequivocally believe that our talc, our baby powder, does not contain asbestos.”

Mesothelioma Numbers Continue to Grow

The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimated 9.6 million people around the world died in 2018 from cancer, including 26,000 from mesothelioma.

The agency believes cancer has now become the leading barrier internationally to increasing human life expectancy.

It estimated more than 23 million people will be diagnosed annually with cancer by 2035.

The deaths from mesothelioma included 18,332 men and 7,244 women.

Asbestos Found in Crayons — Again

A consumer advocacy group found traces of tremolite asbestos fibers in 36 different boxes of Playskool crayons, sparking a nervous moment this summer for parents in back-to-school shopping mode.

The findings, in Chicago, were part of a Safer School Supplies Shopping Guide that was being done by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Six other brands of crayons were tested, but all others came back clean.

Sports Illustrated Spoofs Asbestos Abatement

In one of the year’s most bizarre stories, the back cover of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition included a model wearing an asbestos abatement suit and a respirator mask.

It included the title: “Goddesses of Asbestos Removal.”

The cover was an advertisement by Snickers, the popular candy bar. The tagline below that advertisement read: “This is what happens when hungry people brainstorm swimsuit issue themes.”

Johnson & Johnson Paying the Price

Johnson & Johnson lost its first case against a plaintiff claiming the company’s asbestos-contaminated talcum powder caused cancer.

A New Jersey court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $80 million in damages to a man who said the talcum powder was responsible for his diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma.

Johnson & Johnson denied claims its products ever contained asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral often mined in close proximity to talc.

More than 11,000 plaintiffs already have filed legal action against Johnson & Johnson for 2019.

Senior Content Writer

Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His specialty is interviewing top mesothelioma specialists and researchers, reporting the latest news at mesothelioma cancer centers and talking with survivors and caregivers.

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