Monday, July 18, 2016

Jury hits U. of C. hospital with $53 million malpractice verdict

Original Story:

A Cook County jury has awarded $53 million to a 12-year-old Hickory Hills boy and his mother in a 2013 lawsuit filed against the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was born with a serious brain injury. A Chicago medical malpractice lawyer said this will help to pay for the boy's future healthcare.

The jury's award to Lisa and Isaiah Ewing includes $28.8 million for future caretaking expenses, according to a copy of the jury verdict form provided by their lawyers, Geoffrey Fieger of suburban Detroit and Jack Beam of Chicago. Isaiah has severe cerebral palsy, is in a wheelchair, and needs his mother to feed and clothe him.

It was the biggest birth injury verdict ever in Cook County, said John Kirkton, editor of Jury Verdict Reporter in Chicago.

Their lawsuit outlined about 20 alleged missteps by doctors and nurses after Ewing arrived about 40 weeks pregnant at the hospital and was experiencing less movement by her baby. The mistakes, the lawsuit alleged, included the failures to carefully monitor mother and baby, perform a timely cesarean section, follow a chain of command, obtain accurate cord blood gases, and be aware of abnormal fetal heart rate patterns that indicated distress to the baby, including hypoxia, or a drop in the supply of oxygen.  "The University of Chicago has been, for the last 12 years, completely unapologetic, and even though the evidence was overwhelming that they caused Isaiah's brain damage, they refused to accept responsibility," Fieger said at the news conference Thursday. Ewing hadn't had any problems during her pregnancy, he added.

Before the case went to the jury, the hospital filed for a mistrial.

Fieger's "closing argument shattered the line between zealous advocacy and improper prejudicial comments, rendering it impossible for defendant to receive a fair trial," the hospital's lawyer said in a court filing. "He also prejudicially argued that the defendant's case was built on a falsehood and proceeded to equate defendant's conduct and testimony of its witnesses with the propaganda techniques notoriously and unmistakably associated with Nazi Germany."

Hospital spokeswoman Lorna Wong said the hospital had "great sympathy" for the family but "strongly" disagrees with the jury's verdict.

"Judge Kirby declined to enter judgment on the verdict, as there are pending motions for mistrial based on assertions of Mr. Fieger's improper conduct," she said, noting that it wouldn't be the first overturned verdict involving Fieger.

She said Isaiah and his mother were treated for infection, which can cause cerebral palsy. "Isaiah was born with normal oxygen blood levels," and the "injury occurred before the care Mr. Fieger criticized."

After the news conference, Fieger said he expected the judge to confirm the verdict. "The jury has spoken," he said. A Chicago Brain Injury Lawyer said this is usually how this procedure occurs.

The jury decided the case in four hours, Fieger said. A list of the damages also includes $7.2 million for future medical expenses. The document was signed by 12 jurors.

Fieger disputed that Isaiah had an infection.

"All of the medical records at the University of Chicago neonatal clinic showed that Isaiah had been suffocated at birth, that he had suffered hypoxia, lack of oxygen, yet the University of Chicago and its lawyers came to court and tried to tell the jury that their own records were false, that their own records were mistaken and that Isaiah really had a phantom infection that infected his brain that they could never have known about," Fieger said during the news conference.

Ewing said at the news conference that she has to bathe Isaiah and help him go to the bathroom. She lives in a two-story town home, so she must carry him up and down the stairs.

She said the verdict will help ensure that Isaiah is taken care of after she dies.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Exploding Fire Consumes Oil Field in San Juan Basin; Cause Unknown

Original Story:

A fire that consumed chemical storage tanks at an oil field in New Mexico is slowly burning out, and a WPX Energy spokesperson has apologized to dozens of Navajo Nation citizens who had to evacuate their homes.

“We’re deeply sorry for the lives interrupted,” said WPX Energy spokesperson Kelly Swan, after 55 homes had to be evacuated. “The Navajo Nation is an important stakeholder.”

The fire broke out in a series of explosions on Monday, July 11 at 10:15 pm at WPX Energy’s West Lybrook six-well-pad unit, a five-acre oil production site on Highway 550 near Nageezi, New Mexico, in San Juan County.

As of 7:30 a.m. on July 14 the fire, which WPX officials had hoped would burn itself out in a matter of hours, was ongoing, according to San Juan County spokesperson Michele Truby-Tillen.

“Fire department personnel are on the scene this morning working on a plan,” Truby-Tillen said, adding that while some evacuees had been allowed home, others will have to wait. “Evacuees will be allowed to return to their homes when fire chief Craig Daugherty feels that its safe for them to go back.”

All of the 36 storage tanks, 30 holding oil and six a mix of water and hydrocarbon, caught fire and burned, according to Swan. Chemical foam was the only alternative to letting the fire burn itself out, but the decision was made not to use it “because of the great risk to responders, and because foam could carry oil products outside of the perimeter,” Swan said.

Personnel from five local agencies are monitoring the fire, though Rosalita Whitehair, director of emergency management for the Navajo Nation, said that her office is currently not one of them. WPX said it has “mobilized environmental contractors to conduct air screenings with FLIR infrared cameras and photo ionization detectors.”

Full environmental impacts on air and water quality will be assessed once the fire has burned out and the site has cooled off, officials said.

“WPX Energy will have to remediate the area once the fire has stopped, in accordance with federal and state regulations,” said Beth Wojahn, New Mexico Oil Conservation Department’s media spokeswoman. NMOCD, which approved WPX’s application to develop the site last September, will monitor remediation.

The company does not know how much oil burned off.

“That will be part of the investigation,” Swan said. “Our priority is public safety.”

The environmental group Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Diné CARE) said the incident was proof that fracking has no place on Navajo land.

“The event demonstrates the increasing dangers of modern fossil fuel development, highlights the environment damage of the industry, and serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need to build safe, clean renewable energy in place of fossil fuels,” the group said in a statement.

The New Mexico Environment Department said it is keeping abreast of developments.

“Protecting the quality of that air that we breathe and notifying New Mexicans of dangerous conditions is a top priority for the New Mexico Environment Department,” said New Mexico Environment Department spokesperson Allison Scott Majure.

But many on the Navajo Nation do not feel that that is the case.

“For years, our community has dealt with the impacts of this industry—the noise, the light, the air pollution, and knowing that each well drilled locks in years of climate changing pollution,” said Samuel Sage, Counselor Chapter Community Services Coordinator, in the Diné CARE statement. "But today, we reached the end of our rope as we watched the biggest disaster yet pollute the skies and blacken the earth.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Biomimicry Institute announces winners of second food systems Challenge

Original Story:

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge has announced the winners of its 2016 competition, the second challenge centered on food systems and how biomimicry can help improve them. The 10 winning teams will receive cash prizes and some will get the chance to bring their project to market and compete for an additional cash prize from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. A Denver environmental lawyer thinks this is a great project.

The winning teams were chosen from a list of 86 submissions from 18 countries, with the projects assessed by 50 judges, including biologists, business leaders, venture capitalists and agricultural specialists.

Over the two years of the Challenge, the focus of the initiative has been on key food and agriculture issues, such as waste, packaging, agricultural pest management, food distribution, energy use, and others.

Student Category winners

The first prize went to a team of high school girls from Ontario, Canada. They won the top spot with a water capture device called Stillæ, which was inspired by organisms that can survive in water­-scarce regions.

It was on the Socotra archipelago in the Indian Ocean that the all-girl team found its muses: the Socotra desert rose whose bulbous trunk provided the model for the holding tank of the Stillæ, and lichen, another local organism that inspired the team with its ability to absorb moisture in the air directly through its cell walls. A beetle variety provided the concept of catching water between blades.

The device captures water from the air with solar-powered spinning blades. Then, a cooling system is used to condense air particles on the surface of the blades. Water is then collected at the base of the design, which can be utilized for personal and agricultural use.

The second prize went to a team at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan for The Home Food Garbage Decomposer, an aerobic decomposer for home use. A South Jersey Environmental Lawyer thought this was the best project.

The team wants to reduce food waste in their city and mitigate the environmental side-effects it causes. Inspiration came from various sources, including cockroaches' respiratory system, termites' nest air circulation systems, and the structure of cocoons and honeycombs.

The compost honeycomb-like unit works in a cyclic system, where the mature manure is transferred to upper planting units and a new cycle starts from the emptied unit. Each compost unit bears its own date, so the Decomposer would work like a sort of home calendar farm.

The third prize was given to EcoFruitainer, devised by a team from the Universidad Panamericana, Mexico City, Mexico. It is a transportable container to keep food fresh and avoid waste.

Tree bark inspired the spiral cooling towers to keep the interior cool and the air flowing. The roof of the container is inspired by the green birdwing butterfly's light-reflecting ability. The food is put inside waterproof sacks that farmers would have been previously supplied with, made with absorbent fabric. Inside, a spiderweb-like material absorbs impact to protect the integrity of food produce.

EcoFruitainer is made with recycled materials and runs without electricity, so its impact is kept at a minimum. 

Open Category winners

The seven winners in this category will receive a $2,000 cash prize and an invitation to enter the 2016/­17 Biomimicry Accelerator, which culminates in the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize. A San Antonio environmental lawyer was impressed by all of the entries.

Here's a rundown on the winning projects:

Happy Soil, from Woodland in California, is a system to replenish soil and was inspired by nature's capacity to recycle everything. It is meant as a low-cost addition to a farming operation and consists of a soil replenishment innovation to create a healthy soil microbiome and increase water retention.

Happy Soil is a natural time-release, dissolvable application embedded with dried mycorrhizae (fungi) and bacteria that are very efficient at getting rid of weeds (almost 100 percent) while encouraging the desired crop to grow. Seeds for the incoming year are incorporated into the blanketing process to give them a microbial jumpstart for the coming crop cycle. This makes for stronger seedlings and plants.

b-all, from Bogota in Colombia is an edible food packaging system to maintain the integrity of produce during its journey from farmer to consumer. The idea is to create an organic protective peel coating, a foam-like layer covered with an impermeable varnish and packed as a complete meal in an external package. It was inspired by the fruit from the the Pittosporum Undulatum tree and the Elytra beetle variety with its hard shell, double layer and foam structure.

ANSA, from UC San Diego, California, is a hydroponic growing system inspired by cyanobacteria and its synthesizing inner membrane. It allows growers to extract nutrients from compost through several filters where the nutrients are then used to feed their multi-layer, polyculture hydroponic unit.

The unit is a tower divided into several compartments and powered with solar and LED lights. A pump moves water from the bottom of the tower and directs it to each crop compartment above. To avoid non-organic fertilizers, it uses permeable membranes and specific microbes as well as beans, alfalfa or peas to provide nitrogen to crops in the central unit. Organized waste is filtered and metabolized into complex, plant-ready inorganic matter before being introduced into the central unit. A Pittsburgh environmental lawyer hope this type of project can help to feed those in need around the world.

Slant is an app inspired by ants, specifically the way they influence each other's behavior, in a bid to reduce food waste. The user can tell the app what food item they want and the app can show where the best local option is, which the user can then review. This food source is marked like a pheromone (a chemical factor ants exude to trigger a social response), a temporary geo-reference signal. The app uses signals from other users to map out the best food choices near the user.

Concept(non)Restaurant is a restaurant where customers cannot eat more than they need. The concept was inspired by bees, bacteria and monkeys to foster an ethos of solidarity and participation. Food in this conceptual restaurant is always seasonal and local. A screen shows how resources decrease as customers choose their meals. If the choice is sustainable, resources will go down at a rate that allows others to eat and keep the restaurant working. Otherwise, fewer people will eat and the restaurant will have a shorter lifespan.

Next Loop is rainwater collection system. It is designed into modules that would initially be retrofitted on multi-story buildings to collect rainwater to be distributed to a hydroponic cultivation system. Individual modules integrate water storage and collection while mycorrhisal networks of fungi maintain plant hydration by transporting fluid between the root systems of neighboring plants.  This means that they may not need to use chemical holding tanks.

GetFresh was inspired by how animals choose preys to devise a solution to bring health food to "food deserts" in Baltimore in the US. The idea is to access excess fresh produce from local farmers that meets needs and desires of local people in the city. GetFresh would would provide a consistent supply of fresh food in stations placed in corner shops in order to create a health food habit through easy and adequate availability.

The upcoming accelerator program will be the second one the Biomimicry Institute has run as part of the annual competition. Currently, the first accelerator teams are finalizing their prototypes and business plans in preparation for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize award event, to be held at the Bioneers conference in San Rafael, California, on October 22, 2016.

"This is our first cohort of finalists to produce working prototypes, which makes them trailblazers," says Beth Rattner, executive director of the Biomimicry Institute. "Doing biomimicry is hard, submitting practical and inspired design concepts is far harder, and making them actually work and solve the problem is extraordinary. We are immensely proud of these teams and I believe we will being seeing at least a few of them make it all the way to market."

Looking ahead

The Ray C. Anderson Foundation has pledged $1.5 million over four years to support the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. Having started in 2016, the two organizations will award the $100,000 prize to the most viable prototype that best encapsulates the principles of biomimicry. A Royal Oak environmental lawyer hope that many other will join in to make these types of visions a reality.

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge will open in October with a focus on climate change. Once again, teams will be able to compete for the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize

Friday, July 1, 2016

Hanford workers report illnesses linked to chemical vapors

Original Story:

Dave Klug walked out of a Hanford tank farm control room on a cold, calm night in January 2010 into air that took his breath away.

“Immediately, I had tightness in my chest. I lost feeling in my face. My heart rate was going crazy,” he said.

Klug, a longtime Hanford tank farm worker, was one of several workers who talked about their experiences with chemical vapors at a forum Wednesday night in Pasco. Was this coming from a chemical storage tank nearby?

Klug was off work for 11 months after that night and now has 30 percent permanent, partial disability for reactive airway disease and occupational asthma, he said.

Those who talked at the forum kept coming back to two types of illnesses they believe are caused by chemical vapors — breathing problems, as Klug described, and neurological issues, including a brain disease called toxic encephalopathy. This could involve a Baton Rouge toxic torts lawyer for assistance.

Toxic encephalopathy is what Barbara Sall said led to the dementia and death of her husband, a Hanford carpenter who died at the age of 57.  This could have been solved by a good chemical holding tanks with proper seals.

The forum — organized by Hanford Challenge, union Local 598 and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson — drew about 200 people. The two agencies and the state of Washington have filed a federal lawsuit seeking better protection from chemical vapors for Hanford workers.

The Department of Energy, the target of the lawsuit along with its tank farm contractor, has said that all air samples analyzed from the breathing zones of workers since 2005 have not found chemicals in concentrations above the occupational limits set to protect workers.

In recent months, about 53 workers have received medical checks for possible exposure to chemical vapors at Hanford, but all have been cleared to return to work when no symptoms were detected, according to DOE. Blood tests also have come back clear.

But such statements have been met with skepticism.

One worker at the meeting said it seemed that the tank farm contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, did not care about sick workers when it recently pointed out that it had the second-best safety record in the nationwide DOE cleanup complex. Will these workers need a New Orleans toxic torts lawyer for help?

“They are going to eat those words” when they lose the lawsuit, said James Hart, national president of the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

Mike Lawrence, the DOE Hanford manager from 1984-90, said he has been following the issue closely.

A significant number of workers have experienced health effects or symptoms, Lawrence said. There could be a correlation between the illnesses and toxic fumes from chemicals in chemical storage tanks.

But DOE says it cannot measure chemicals in vapors at levels that current occupational standards say would cause a problem.

“Obviously people are hurting, people are sick and something needs to be done,” Lawrence said.

He proposed that an independent, experienced and qualified third party, chosen jointly by DOE and the state of Washington, collect data.

Although a team of experts led by the Savannah River National Laboratory prepared the latest report on Hanford tank vapors, the report has no credibility to some because the lab is part of the DOE system, Lawrence said.  This story has caught the attention of a Jackson toxic exposure lawyer.

He suggested the University of Washington School of Public Health as a possible independent agency for the work.

Unless DOE can prove that workers are not being exposed to chemical vapors, protective gear should be worn, he said.

Supplied air respirators are required if Hanford officials suspect conditions that could cause the release of chemical vapors. The Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council has demanded that supplied air respirators be mandatory for any worker in the tank farms, and in some cases workers near the farms.

Klug said the tank farm contractor just needs to fix the problem. Work to raise discharge stacks from the tanks so they are farther from worker’s noses is not enough, he said.

It has to be DOE’s responsibility to keep workers safe, said Steven Gilbert, director of the nonprofit Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders in Seattle and a Hanford Challenge board member.

“It’s a witches brew of chemical in the tanks,” he said.

Exactly which chemicals workers are exposed to is not known, Gilbert said. But he can say that inhaled chemicals can cause problems. The chemicals can go from the lungs to the brain quickly.  They wonder if there was proper use of a chemical holding tank.

People have different sensitivities to chemical vapors, said Rick Jansons, a former Hanford worker who is running for the state Legislature. Incumbent Brad Klippert also was at the meeting.

Jansons has been exposed three times and has developed no symptoms, but it is obvious that other people are getting sick, he said.

Diana Gegg, a former heavy equipment operator at Hanford, said she was 600 yards away from a reported vapor cloud in 2007 when she was exposed. Within a week she developed flu-like symptoms, plus vision problems diagnosed as muscle dysfunction.

She eventually had to stop driving and has been diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy and neurotoxicity, she said. Hanford officials have denied she was injured.

“My life ended that day as I knew it,” she said.

Hart, the national union official, said he has looked at the cause of death for Hanford workers represented by Local 598 back to 1988 and sees a pattern of deaths caused by cancer and respiratory illness for workers not yet 65 years old. This is the type of research that a Jacksonville toxic torts lawyer would have to do.

Younger workers at the tank farms are afraid to speak up about their concerns, Klug said.

Any worker under the union umbrella of the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council who raises tank vapor concerns will have the full protection of the AFL-CIO’s national Metal Trades Council, Hart said.

“We are all fighting for the people in this room,” he told the crowd.