Monthly Archives: March 2012

Study Links Diesel Down Mines to Lung Cancer in Workers

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Whether you work on the railroad or down a mine, there are a lot of visible threats to your health. There are quite a few invisible ones too.

Heavy diesel fumes may be visible at times to the naked eye but the real danger is the tiny but unseen particles that get stuck in the lungs of workers. A new study by the National Cancer Institute links diesel fumes to lung cancer in mines.

The study that began in 1992 looked at 12,350 workers in mines in New Mexico, Wyoming, Ohio and Missouri.

“It was across the United States. We had one salt mine, we had three potash mines, we had three trona mines and one limestone mine,” Patricia Schlieff, a statistician for the project, told Essential Pubic Radio.

“The study findings provide further evidence that exposure to diesel exhaust increases risk of mortality from lung cancer and have important public health implications,” the paper concluded.

The study found 198 miners died of lung cancer in the eight mines studied. The miners were exposed to diesel exhaust.

There’s now a growing body of evidence that railroad workers exposed to diesel are also suffering from lung cancer. Research also centers on a disease called “diesel asthma.”

Diesel fumes are a complex chemical mixture containing hundreds of compounds, including nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, benzene, poly-systematic hydrocarbons and numerous other compounds.

For more than 50 years diesel has run locomotives on the railroads, resulting in railroad workers suffering heavy exposure to its effects. Levels of lung cancer spiked after diesel trains replaced steam trains in the 1950s.

In recent years the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) that permits an injured worker to bring lawsuits directly against his employers, has been used in cases of railroad workers who have developed lung cancer or asthma linked to diesel fumes.

In April 2008, an Ohio state court jury ordered the rail operator Conrail to pay $2.6 million to former locomotive engineer Frank Battaglia, for causing his diesel exhaust asthma lung disease.  Mr. Battaglia, had worked for more than two decades as an engineer, before he was diagnosed with diesel exhaust fume asthma.

Evidence of diesel asthma has significance beyond the mine and the railroad. The link between the increased use of diesel cars and a rise in asthma in the general population of Britain was highlighted in a campaign in the British newspaper The Independent.

In a 2002 report the Environmental Protection Agency pointed to a likely link between diesel fumes and lung cancer in the United States. The report concluded long-term exposure to diesel “is likely to pose a lung cancer hazard to humans as well as damage the lung in other ways depending on exposure.”

 The report led the Bush administration to propose reductions in emissions from diesel engines.

 Research suggests the young may be particularly vulnerable from asthma caused by particles in diesel. Researchers in California suggest pollutants in diesel cause as many as 3,500 premature deaths a year in the state.


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Virginia’s Ultrasound Law is the Latest Chapter in a Legal Battle over Abortion

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A controversial bill in signed this month in Virginia that has made ultrasounds for women seeking abortions mandatory, again highlights the division in America over the issue of abortion.

Abdominal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions in the Commonwealth will become mandatory after July 1, 2012. The measure was recently signed into law by Virginia’s Republican governor Bob McDonnell.

The bill was signed amid scenes of protest in Richmond, but earlier versions of the bill proved even more contentious because it proposed an invasive form of ultrasound.

The new law “requires all Virginia abortion providers to comply starting July 1 or pay a $2,500 fine for each violation,” CBS news reported.

Patients who live within a distance of 100 miles of the clinic performing the abortion must wait 24 hours after the ultrasound before having an abortion, under the new law. Victims of rape or incest who notified the police of their attacks are exempt. While woman have to be offered a chance to see the images under the new law they can’t be forced to do so.

The original measure attracted widespread criticism because it required women to undergo a transvaginal sonogram, a procedure in which a wand is inserted in the vagina to produce an image.

Critics said the measure deliberately sought to require an invasive procedure to dissuade women from having abortions when a less invasive method was available. McDonnell amended the bill to allow the use of an abdominal sonogram, in which the wand is instead rubbed over a woman’s belly. The initial bill also applied to all abortions including incest and rapes.

“As difficult as an abortion decision is, the information provided by ultrasounds, along with other information given by the doctor pursuant to current law and prevailing medical practice, can help the mother make a fully informed decision,” McDonnell said in a statement.

Virginia is not alone in requiring pre-abortion ultrasound screening. Seven other states have the measure.

The legislation closely resembles similar bills making their way through legislatures in 12 other states, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation.

Abortion law has been one of the most controversial areas of family law in the United States for more than a century, pitting arguments of a woman’s freedom of choice against those of the rights of the unborn child.

Laws banning abortion first appeared in America in the 1820s, originally forbidding abortion after the fourth month of pregnancy.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, remains the most important judicial decision in this volatile area.

Jane Roe was a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, woman from Texas who was pregnant but unmarried.  She wanted an abortion, but was denied under Texas law. A federal lawsuit was filed seeking to have the Texas law overturned as unconstitutional.

The US Supreme Court on a 7-2 vote agreed with Roe that the law criminalizing abortion violated her right to privacy. The case decided a state cannot regulate abortion in the first trimester beyond making sure the procedure is carried out by a licensed doctor in medically safe conditions. The court also ruled that a fetus is not a person protected by the constitution.

Before Roe v. Wade all states had laws on their books criminalizing abortions dating back to the 19th century. These laws stayed on the books until the 1960s and 1970s in many cases.

The landmark case failed to take the sting out of the abortion debate. If anything, it became more intense.

Opponents led by the Catholic Church, became more organized. In the 1980s, the Republican President Ronald Reagan, an outspoken opponent of abortion, argued for the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

The President appointed C. Everett Koop, an abortion opponent, to the position of surgeon general. But Roe v. Wade remained in place.

By the 1980s the abortion issue was spilling over into violence in the organized blocking of access to clinics which provided abortion services, organized primarily by a new group called Operation Rescue.

There were also bombings of abortion clinics by radicals. On Christmas Day, 1984, three abortion clinics were bombed. One of those convicted described the crimes as “a gift to Jesus on his birthday.”

Although the violence has died down, abortion continued to be a political and legal battleground as witnessed in Virginia.

The legal focus shifted to later term abortions in recent years. In the 2000 case of Stenberg v Carhart, Nebraska’s law that made the performing of partial-birth abortion illegal, was struck down by the Supreme Court.

In 2003, the federal government moved on the issue, enacting a Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Although several federal judges struck down  the law, citing the precedent of Stenberg v. Carhart, it was upheld by the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart.

Rules requiring a woman to get “informed consent” or parental consent have proved to be another volatile area for legal action

Generally an abortion provider must give information about the risks, the alternatives, the age of the fetus, and information about assistance available for the woman to have the child. Requirements by states for women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds, is part of the informed consent agenda.

The Supreme Court generally has upheld parental consent laws, provided they allow a minor the ability to obtain permission to have an abortion from a judge rather than a parent. There are 26 states that require parental consent to abortion and 37 states that require some kind of parental involvement such as parental notification short of consent. In all cases the lack of consent can be overturned by a court ruling.

Wide variations in abortion law remain at state level. For instance, 46 states allow individual health care providers to refuse carry out an abortion. And 43 states allow institutions to refuse to perform abortions.

In all 19 states mandate that women receive counseling before an abortion including information on factors such as the possible link between abortion and breast cancer in seven states and the ability of a fetus to feel pain in 11 states.

The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives is currently considering the “Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act” that would effectively federalize state laws of abortion for teens, and is aimed at preventing women under 18 from obtaining an abortion. It would impose harsh penalties on doctors or anybody else who helps a minor obtain an abortion without first informing her parent or guardian.

The law on abortion remains a fast moving and bitterly contested area.

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All the Danger of the Fun Fair

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In 2008 the fun of a fair in South Florida turned into a nightmare when a mother fractured her ribs and clavicle when the kiddie ride she was on with her son turned over and landed on top of her.

She is not the only victim of a fun fair or an amusement park.

The website, that describes itself as the world’s most comprehensive database on these accidents, contains details of numerous horrendous mishaps at fair grounds and fun fairs, some of which have ended up claiming the lives of those who took the rides.

In Feb. 2012, at Hopi Hari theme park in São Paulo, Brazil, a 14-year-old girl died after falling 80-90 feet from a drop tower named “La Tour Eiffel.”

It was a horrifying accident. The drop tower features cars that are pulled slowly up to the top of a 224-foot tall tower and then dropped 129 feet in a matter of seconds, reaching speeds of near 60 miles per hour.

Similar drop towers are found at amusement parks across the United States. The website reported that a 12-year-old boy was killed after he fell from a drop tower in 1999 at Paramount’s Great America theme park in Santa Clara, California. The cause of that accident was never discovered.

In another accident human error was clearly to blame. In Nov. 2011, at the State Fair of Louisiana, a 4-year-old boy suffered serious injuries when a ride suddenly started as the ride operator unloaded passengers.

Reports suggested the ride operator left the control panel active, with its key engaged. As he helped children exit the ride, a child standing in line to board the ride pressed the start button on the control panel and the ride began to move, trapping the child underneath a car.

In August 2011, one of the deadliest fairground accidents in recent decades occurred when a carnival ride broke apart in Villacañas, Spain, sending a row of passenger seats flying across the fairground, killing three men and seriously injuring a girl.

The equipment had passed inspections according to reports, but clearly somebody was to blame because a major mechanical breakdown has occurred when equipment breaks apart in this manner.

In other cases liability can be less clear. In 2011, Abiah Jones, 11, was on a trip for honor-roll students when she plunged 150 feet from the Giant Wheel at Morey’s Mariner’s Landing Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey.

The girl’s parents filed a lawsuit against the ride’s operator. Although investigators could not discover how the girl got out of the gondola, her parents said the Ferris wheel should have had more restraints.

After the accident New Jersey’s supervisor of enforcement, Michael D. Triplett, issued a letter to operators of Ferris wheels with open compartments, saying the state is establishing a minimum height requirement of 54 inches for children going on rides without a parent or guardian, as well as recommending the minimum of two riders, ABC news reported.

According to a 2010 report from the National Safety Council, the estimated number of injuries on fixed-site rides nationwide was 1,086, or 0.6 per million patron rides.

There’s a perception that the top tier amusement parks in central Florida, have safety standards that are as high as their admission prices.

But an investigation by the Orlando Sentinel in 2009 questioned amusement park safety. The newspaper found almost 500 suits had been filed against the parks between 2004 and 2008, and 101 of them dealt with rides or attractions.

The others related to “everything from food poisoning to scratches from a wayward vulture during a trained-bird show,” the Sentinel reported.

But riders are probably safer at places such as Universal and SeaWorld than anywhere else.

“They have to have a safe environment or they’re going to face a lawsuit,” Michael Spellman, a Tallahassee attorney who specializes in the Americans with Disabilities Act, told the Sentinel.

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Filed under Amusement park accidents, Serious personal injury, Wrongful Death

The Tide Turns for Juveniles being Treated as Adults by Courts

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A bill recently introduced into the North Carolina General Assembly has reopened questions about what age a teenage offender should be treated as an adult in the criminal justice system. It’s a issue that’s occupying legal minds not just in North Carolina but across the nation.

A juvenile justice center in Texas.

North Carolina has been tough on this issue in the past. The state law that treats 16-year-olds as adults is one of the most uncompromising in the nation and has been in effect since 1919.

Rep. Marilyn Avila hopes to soften it in a new bill that would raise the adult criminal offender age from 16 to 18, reported.

“I feel very good about it,” she said. “We’ve just got to do a lot of ground work.”

At present in North Carolina 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds are charged as adults for any crime, even for misdemeanors. Only New York’s law is as strict, reported.

Other states may have less stringent laws but exceptions mean teenagers can be tried as adults in many of them.

More than 10 years ago in neighboring Virginia, lawmakers gave more leeway for a juvenile to be tried as an adult. “In many instances, prosecutors can take a teen’s case to adult court even if a juvenile judge rules that the case doesn’t belong there,” the Roanoke Times reported.

Reports since have suggested  treating teens as adults in the criminal justice system does little to deter crime. A state commission looked into whether by sending them to adult prisons, they were more likely to become repeat offenders.

Roanoke lawyer Chris Kowalczuk, who has defended teenagers in murder cases, told the Roanoke Times, the problem with putting teens in an adult prison is clear: “All you’ve succeeded in doing is permanently and irrevocably scarring them for life.”

What’s now happening in North Carolina and elsewhere appears to be a reflection of a retreat from the zero tolerance laws of the 1980s and 1990s and an admission that they may have failed in respect to teens being charged in the adult system.

Over the past four years Mississippi, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Illinois have all passed laws that now send certain 16- and 17-year-old defendants to juvenile courts, instead of automatically sending them to adult courts as was the case in the past.

“What’s pushing these states is the realization that minors don’t think like adults, and that treating them as such is counterproductive,” the Christian Science Monitor reported.

Recent Supreme Court decisions have provided new impetus for the retreat from the tough laws of 20 and 30 years ago. In 2005 the court overturned a death penalty ruling for youths under 18. In 2010 the court banned life-without-parole for under 18s who are convicted of crimes short of murder.

Justice Anthony Kennedy referred recently to “fundamental differences between juvenile and adult minds.”

If North Carolina also relaxes its law on the age an offender can be tried as an adult, it will be a clear signal that the tide has turned.

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Facebook is Cited as a Factor in a Third of Divorces, says Report

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Social media may allow us to track down old friends again. But it has also become an increasingly significant factor in divorces.

This may not come as news to many divorce attorneys. Every year more of them are using information from sites such as Facebook in divorce proceedings. 

A recent study from the United Kingdom website Divorce-Online found Facebook to be a driving force behind about a third of divorces in which unreasonable behavior was a factor.

Facebook typically is causing relationship problems where a spouse finds flirty messages, photos of their partner at a party they did not know about or with someone they should not have been with. This suggests Facebook may be playing a part in exposing behavior that would not otherwise have been known about, but there’s also evidence the site is fostering illicit connections.

Family lawyers have been seeing the nefarious influence of social networking sites on relationships for some time. Emma Patel, the head of family law at Hart Scales & Hodges Solicitors, in the United Kingdom told the Daily Telegraph, Facebook acted like a “virtual third party” in splits.

“Facebook is being blamed for an increasing number of marital breakdowns, and it is quite remarkable that all the petitions that I have seen here since May have cited Facebook one way or another,” Patel said in a Jan, 2011 article.

The extent to which some spouses will use Facebook to cheat was highlighted in an article in on Missouri’s site.

Dana Williams of Springfield, MO believed she had a good marriage. 

“She and her husband had been together for eight years when she was faced with a gut-wrenching reality online.  She said her friend showed her pictures of her husband with another woman on,” the channel reported.

“And it was him saying he was so happy.  He had his three month anniversary with this girl,” said Williams.

Williams said her husband even set up a secret Facebook account with a profile picture that showed him with another woman.

“People need to be careful what they write on their walls, as the courts are seeing these posts being used in financial disputes and children cases as evidence,” Mark Keenan, a spokesman for Divorce-Online, said.

Users of social networks often make the mistake of assuming the information they put on those sites is private. In fact, information posted on Facebook, Google+, Twitter or any other network can be used in divorce proceedings.

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Concerns over Diet Pills Spark Lawsuit Against the Kardasians

Kardashian Sisters Face a $5 Million Lawsuit over Support for a Potentially Dangerous Diet Supplement

There’s no question that manufacturers of a dangerous or defective drug can face a lawsuit. But what about celebrities who endorse a product?

The question is raised by a new $5 million lawsuit filed against the Kardashian sisters over their endorsement of the diet pill QuickTrim, a quick fix that may not do exactly what the sisters, who are famous for being famous, say it can do in the ads.

The sisters are well known for the reality TV show Keeping up with the Kardashians. It now appears the law is catching up with the Kardashians over their endorsement of QuickTrim.

The lawsuit filed by four angry consumers pulls no punches. “Kim, Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian ‘lied’ about getting their amazing figures from over-the-counter diet pills, according to a $5 million lawsuit,” the Daily Mail reported this week.

The enraged plaintiffs are claiming the main ingredient in these pills is caffeine. It may be fine in coffee, but it’s  not an effective or a safe diet treatment, they clain in the suit. It’s not yet known if the litigants are claiming harm was caused by the product. Nor are these pills endorsed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The lawsuit points to numerous none too subtle ads in which the Kardashians have posed with the product while wearing bikinis showing off their figures.

The litigants claims the sisters often tweet about the benefits of the product, a powerful strategy given that Kim Kardashian alone has more than 13 million followers on Twitter.

The lawsuit  raises the intriguing question of whether a celebrity who has endorsed a product can be held liable for harm caused by it if it proves to be dangerous or defective, in the same way as the manufacturer.

The Kardashians are not the only celebrities to be involved in lawsuits,

In a list of ridiculous celebrity lawsuits in Time magazine a lawsuit launched by Lindsay Lohan was detailed in which the actress took out a lawsuit against the financial company E-Trade because a TV ad “used her name and characterization” without her permission. in the ad a baby named Lindsay is referred to as a “milkaholic.”

In the lawsuit, filed against Jimmy Fallon, Paul Tarascio — claimed he was dropped from his position as first stage manager at the show “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” … and by a woman who was incompentent, TNZ reported.

In 2010 the singer Lady GaGa successfully obtained an injunction against Moshi Monsters singer Lady Goo Goo. She took legal action against Mind Candy – the parent company of a children’s social networking site called Moshi Monsters, banning the animated character Lady Goo Goo from performing on YouTube.


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Identity Theft – a Threat Close to Home

In this article in the Daily Press in 2008, I explored the growing problem of identity theft.

David Macaulay, The Daily Press, June 29, 2008

HAMPTON — The fast-growing crime of identity theft conjures up notions of shadowy strangers diving into dumpsters to find personal information.

But for many victims, the threat is closer to home.

Identity theft is a lot more subtle than this

It often involves family members, friends, colleagues and partners, according to police.

Hampton police arrested 35-year-old Gladys Arrizza this month and charged her with 11 counts of identity fraud. They claim she applied for credit cards on the Internet under her ex-boyfriend’s name, running up thousands of dollars of debt.

“She started using two of his credit cards,” said Detective Randy Mayer of the Hampton police. “When he realized that, he kicked her out of the house and split off with her.”

About six months later, when he applied for credit, the man checked his credit report and realized there were 11 additional credit cards that had been opened in his name without his knowledge, police say.

More than $13,000 had been charged to his cards, Mayer said.

Arrizza was charged with 11 counts of identity theft/fraud, 11 counts of credit card fraud and 11 counts of obtaining goods using stolen credit cards.

Mayer said Arrizza opened up a post office box to keep the bills from being sent to her ex-boyfriend and made minimum payments by opening up new credit cards and transferring the money to pay old debts.

Mayer said the Internet has made it easier to steal someone else’s identity.

“It’s becoming a really huge problem the way the economy is,” Mayer said. “What’s really surprising to me is the amount of close friends and relatives that are doing it. That’s probably because it’s easier to obtain the information.

“A lot of my cases are even grandchildren or aunts and uncles.”

He said the first place the thieves are using stolen cards is at gas stations, where they fill up on expensive fuel.

“That’s huge. There are embezzlements where employees have company credit cards. They are using them to fill up their own gas tanks. We are seeing a rash of that,” Mayer said.

Newport News police also have seen a large increase in identity theft reports over the last decade, although they don’t break down fraud cases as specifically as Hampton.

“We are extremely busy. We are inundated with reports,” said Newport News Detective Lorain Crain, who is also on the Hampton Roads Regional Crime Task Force.

Crain said that while she does see some “black sheep” cases where someone may steal a family member’s identity, most of her cases involve suspects who are not known to the victim.

She said many identity fraud cases are prosecuted through the federal system – if they are serious enough – because more stringent sentences are usually passed down.

And although there have been instances of thieves digging through trash, a practice that is legal under a Supreme Court decision of 1988, most identity thefts are crimes of opportunity.

“Most people are too lazy to dig through trash,” said Hampton police spokeswoman Allison Good.

Mayer said that in the 14 years he has dealt with identity theft, it has grown as a crime.

“Dealing specifically with it now it seems overwhelming,” he said.

Over the past three years, Hampton police have dealt with more than 1,000 cases of identity theft or fraud.

There were 442 reports in 2006, 416 in 2007, and 218 reports have been made so far this year.

“It seems like we might see a slight increase on last year,” said Good.

Along with the ease of the Internet, police say new technology also makes it easier to create fraudulent checks.

Hampton and Newport News detectives are currently working a large fraudulent-check case that has already led to seven arrests in the last month.

Mayer said checks have been made with a company logo and the names of the suspects’ friends are printed on them. The suspects then use their own identification to cash them.

“The checks look very real. They have also gone out and stolen other people’s IDs. Then they use those IDs to cash these checks. They print the name on the check. When I try to pull up the name on the check it comes back to the victim who was at a shopping center,” Mayer said.

Angela Blythe, 23, of Roanoke Avenue in Newport News, was arrested on June 16 and charged with two counts of identity fraud and obtaining money by false pretenses for her alleged involvement in the check scam.

Blythe is accused of stealing a friend’s ID. And when she was arrested, Mayer said, Blythe looked a lot like the victim looked on her identification.


* Run regular credit checks. They can be accessed via

* Shred all documents that you intend to discard.

* Never give information in response to e-mails supposedly from financial institutions that ask for personal information.

* Don’t write your bank account PIN on paper.

* Don’t carry your Social Security number on you.

* Don’t leave personal documents in your car.

* Don’t leave personal items in a handbag in a shopping cart unattended.

* If you are a victim of identity theft, call the credit company immediately to report it.

* Keep a list of credit card companies you have accounts with in case your cards are stolen.

Source: Hampton Police Division

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