Asbestos is a type of naturally occurring mineral that is resistant to fire and caustic substances. The silky, pliable fibers can be crushed into soft, flexible threads and woven into cloth. The strong, durable material can also be incorporated into products as diverse as textured paints, brake linings and household siding.
Exposure to asbestos in its fibrous form is known to cause a rare but very aggressive cancer called mesothelioma, as well as lung cancer, other cancers, and diseases such as asbestosis. This happens when the microscopic particles of asbestos fiber are inhaled or ingested into the body and become lodged in the lungs and other internal organs.
Exposure to asbestos in the workplace is the source of more cases of mesothelioma than any other occupational hazard. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reports that the heaviest asbestos exposures in the industrialized west occurred during the 1960s and 1970s and then declined as worker protection regulations were enacted and as industrial use of asbestos decreased.
However, due to an extremely long latency period between exposure to asbestos fibers and onset of symptoms, generally ten to 70 years, asbestos diseases are still being diagnosed in people who worked with and around asbestos many years ago. In fact, the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C., has reported that statistics indicate that over the next decade, four asbestos-related diseases: mesothelioma, lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancers and asbestosis, will claim the lives of over 100,000 Americans. Additionally, for every life that asbestos claims, many more will be compromised by an array of frequently debilitating, asbestos-caused illnesses.
Occupations at Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Throughout the middle of the last century, when the use of asbestos was prevalent in industries as well as households, working in any environment where asbestos products were used or made raised the risk of developing an asbestos-related illness. But some occupations where asbestos use was frequent carried more risk than others.
Occupations with a high risk for exposure to asbestos up until the early 1980s would have included any workplace where asbestos-containing products were manufactured, such as floor- and ceiling-tile factories, gasket and rope packing manufacturers, pipe insulation manufacturers and companies that made asbestos siding, asphalt roof shingles, textured paints, plasters and wall-joint compounds, and plants where friction products were manufactured, such as brake linings and clutch facings.
Other occupations carried a high risk for asbestos exposure because the workers used, installed, or applied these products. Certain members of the military, such as those enlisted in the Navy who worked in boiler rooms aboard ships, were at very high risk for developing an asbestos-related illness. Likewise, those who toiled in the building trades where powdered, asbestos-laden plasters, textured ceiling paints and wall-joint compounds were constantly being dumped into buckets, mixed with water, troweled, sprayed or painted onto surfaces, and then sanded, were exposed to asbestos fibers almost on a daily basis. Roofers who cut and applied asbestos roofing felt, and then cut and nailed asphalt-asbestos shingles into place, and those who cut and installed exterior siding, were also heavily exposed to airborne asbestos fibers.
Here is a list of occupations in which there was a risk of exposure to asbestos:
- Boiler Technician
- Boilerman (Utilitiesman)
- Boiler Repairman
- Fireman Recruit
- Fireman Apprentice
- Fire Tender
- Master Chief Steam Propulsionman
- Molder (Cupola Tender)
- Molder (Foundryman)
- Vehicle Mechanic
- Aircraft Maintenance Technician
- Marine Inspector
- Foundry Worker
- Refractory Worker
- Mine Worker
- Asbestos Textile Mill Worker
- Railroad Worker
- Steam Plant Worker
- Sample Cast Collector
- Drop Forger
- Drywall Installer
- Sheetrock Finisher
- HVAC worker
- Fireproofing Sprayer
- Hod Carrier
- Brake Mechanic
- Machinistmate (Engine Operator)
- Machinistmate (Engineman)
- Shipfitter (Plumber)
- Shipfitter (Pipefitter)
- Water Tender
- Machine Operator
- Metal Worker
- Aluminum Worker
- Refinery Worker
- Paper Mill Worker
- Oilfield Worker
- Oilrig Worker
- Chemical Plant Worker
- Shipyard Worker
- Floor tile Installer
- Sheet Flooring Installer
- Automotive Mechanic
- Linotype Technician
- Aviation Fire Control Technician
- Damage Controlman
- Motor Machinistmate
- Merchant Mariner
- Tugboat Pilot
- Machine Operator
- Aerospace Worker
- Assembly Line Worker
- Crane operator
- Cement Plant Worker
- Lumber Mill Worker
- Window Installer
- Appliance Installer
- Carpet Installer
- Autobody Mechanic
Laws and Regulations Concerning Occupational Asbestos Exposure
The history of asbestos regulation in America is long and contorted. Reports prepared by insurance companies for shipyards and mining operations in the 1950s and early 1960s, which documented increased rates of lung and gastrointestinal disease in asbestos workers, were intentionally suppressed by the corporations that paid for them.
It wasn’t until an epidemiologist in New York by the name of Irving Selikoff published the results of his analysis of the death certificates of hundreds of members of the Asbestos Workers’ Union in 1964 that an alarm was sounded loudly enough to resonate with corporations and medical experts. Even then, the only corporate reaction to occur that year was the placement of an ineffectual caution label by Johns Manville on its cartons of asbestos insulation.
Dr. Selikoff went on to broadcast far and wide his outrage over the asbestos industry’s poisoning of innocent workers, providing documentation of prior corporate knowledge that finally struck a nerve with asbestos manufacturers. Numerous product-liability lawsuits, filed by insulation workers suffering from asbestos diseases, sought compensation for the failure of asbestos manufacturers to warn them of hazards that corporations knew about but kept secret.
Yet it was not until a landmark Texas case, upheld on appeal in 1973, ruled that a manufacturer was responsible for knowing about hazards of the products it manufactured, even it if claimed it did not know, that asbestos manufacturers like Johns Manville and Owens Corning moved their operations to different countries and stopped selling asbestos insulation in the United States.
In the ensuing years, a nationwide ban on the import and manufacture of asbestos products proved difficult to achieve. However, government agencies did take steps to regulate its use. Pre-molded asbestos pipe covering and block insulation, as well as all sprayed-on asbestos materials such as fireproofing, were barred under the Clean Air Act in 1973.
In 1977, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the use of asbestos in wall patching compounds and artificial fireplace embers. In 1978 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned pre-molded and sprayable asbestos products. Corrugated paper, roll-board and flooring felt became prohibited products in 1989.
In 1989, the EPA issued a rule under Section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TCSA) banning most asbestos products in the United States. However, the rule was overturned in 1991 by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, after asbestos industry lobbyists successfully argued that there was doubt about its deadliness.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for its part, has enacted three standards to protect workers from the hazards of asbestos, depending on the type of workplace.
SHIPYARDS — OSHA’s asbestos regulation governing workers at shipyards, Code of Federal Regulations Rule 20 CFR 1915, was enacted in 1990. It covers construction, alteration, repair, maintenance, renovation and demolition of structures containing asbestos during work in shipyards.
GENERAL INDUSTRY — Code of Federal Regulations Rule 20 CFR 1910, also enacted in 1990, protects workers in general industry, such as exposure during brake and clutch repair, maintenance work, and the manufacture of asbestos-containing products.
CONSTRUCTION — Code of Federal Regulations Rule 20 CFR 1920, enacted in 1994, covers general construction, including the building, alteration, repair, maintenance, or renovation and demolition of any structure containing asbestos.
What to do if You Find Asbestos in the Workplace
Unfortunately, many products containing asbestos fiber are still not banned in the United States, notably corrugated cement sheets, flat cement sheets, clothing, roofing felt, vinyl floor tile, cement shingles, cement pipe, millboard, roof coatings, automatic transmission components, clutch facings, gaskets and friction materials such as disk brake pads and drum brake linings. Therefore, it is possible that you might encounter a present-day workplace where one or more of these products is being manufactured or used.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, every day as many as 1.3 million people in the United States are employed at a workplace where they are exposed to asbestos.
Depending on the industry you work in and the specifics of your job description, your employer may be legally obligated to provide on-the-job protections from asbestos exposure. Most of the following safety measures are covered by OSHA regulations:
- Training of employees who will be working with and around asbestos
- Properly ventilated workspaces
- Monitoring of employees for asbestos exposure levels
- Warning signs and instructions in areas where asbestos-related work is performed
- Protective clothing like coveralls, gloves, foot coverings, face shields, and goggles
- Protective equipment like respirators
- Showers and other post-exposure precautions
- Medical examinations for certain workers who are exposed to high levels of asbestos
In most states, if a former or current employee is diagnosed with health problems that were caused by asbestos in the workplace, a lawsuit would be filed against one or more of the following:
- The company that manufactured the asbestos or any protective equipment that failed to offer adequate protection
- Owners of the premises where the work was being performed
- Contractors and sub-contractors involved in the work being performed
However, it is important to note that workers’ compensation, not a lawsuit, is typically the only legal remedy when an employer has failed to properly protect workers from asbestos exposure.
Consequences of Workplace Asbestos Exposure
After years of reviewing more than a hundred studies of the health risks associated with asbestos, as well as hearing public comments on a proposed ban, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that all forms of asbestos are a potential carcinogen at any level of exposure. In 2016, the EPA took an historic step to once again prioritize a complete ban on asbestos in the United States by naming asbestos one of the first ten high-risk substances to be evaluated and regulated under its new Lautenberg Act, which modernized and gave more authority to the original Toxic Substances Control Act signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976.
By approving asbestos for priority action in 2016, EPA engineers and scientists created enforceable deadlines for the prohibition of all commercially available asbestos products in the United States, and put a complete asbestos ban on a fast track for enactment. That action was derailed by political discord in 2017, but has regained momentum more recently.
Regardless, severe health issues are the primary consequence of workplace asbestos exposure that took place in the past century. If you worked in an environment where asbestos products were manufactured or used or, even worse, used the products yourself, there are some important considerations to think about.
There are serious consequences to both short- and long-term workplace asbestos exposure. No amount of asbestos is safe to inhale or ingest and every kind of asbestos can cause asbestos disease Generally, it takes several decades for symptoms to present themselves. But for workers whose genetics cause them to have a propensity for asbestos disease, only a single exposure to asbestos is necessary to begin the process of inflammation around microscopic asbestos fibers embedded in the lining of the lungs or other organs.
The resulting scar tissue can continue building up around embedded asbestos fibers for decades and has the potential to develop into a number of asbestos diseases, including pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer, larynx cancer, colon cancer, and several types of the aggressive asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma.
Even brief or minimal exposure to asbestos can cause asbestos disease. For example, wives and children of workers who unknowingly brought asbestos dust into their homes on their work clothes (called household asbestos exposure) can result in a diagnosis of asbestos cancer many years later, even though the wives themselves never worked with or around asbestos products.
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with the asbestos cancer mesothelioma each year in the United States. A 2004 article in the British Medical Journal predicted that at least 100,000 more people alive now will end up dying of this vicious disease in the developed world in the future, despite restrictions currently in place on the use of asbestos in many countries.
If you spent your career working in an industry that used asbestos, there is a chance that you might be eventually diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos disease. Once you or someone you love receives such a devastating diagnosis, there is much to consider. You might know that you were exposed to asbestos through your longtime job or you might have no idea how you were exposed to asbestos. Diagnosis in hand, you have dozens of critical decisions to make about the direction of your future.
In addition to the essential tasks you will contemplate regarding health care, there is another undertaking you must consider: filing a mesothelioma lawsuit. One of the single most important actions you can take to fight back against the corporations that willingly hid medical information about the deadly effects of asbestos fibers on the human body is to file a lawsuit against the companies responsible for your injuries. Nothing is as good a deterrent against corporate greed as hitting malfeasant manufacturers where it hurts: in their pocketbooks.
Statute of Limitations
Although the restriction differs from state to state, by law there is a limited time-period to file a lawsuit in every state. If you do not file a lawsuit within this time-period, you forever lose the right to seek compensation for an asbestos cancer diagnosis. From the time your doctor first tells you that you have mesothelioma, most states allow only one to three years to file a mesothelioma lawsuit. This is called the Statute of Limitations.
Contingency Fee Lawsuit
If you have received an asbestos cancer diagnosis, you will want to choose a law firm that will handle your lawsuit on a contingency-fee basis. A contingency fee is an agreed-upon percentage of the total proceeds from the lawsuit. These proceeds might be obtained through a settlement, or a verdict, or an asbestos bankruptcy trust claim. It means you pay nothing upfront, and you do not have to pay any expenses or legal fees at all unless compensation is obtained for you. If and when your lawyers are successful in achieving an award for your case, then the agreed-to percentage is taken as a fee, plus court costs and expenses. The law firm of Baron & Budd only works on a contingency-fee basis. We only get paid if a positive result is obtained for you. Period.
Respect and Dignity
The attorneys at Baron & Budd believe that every mesothelioma patient should have an equal ability to seek compensation for their asbestos cancer regardless of their income or social status. Ordinary people can be devastated financially by bringing legal action against corporations which have the wealth and ability to launch a formidable defense.
The powerful asbestos companies, which continued to use asbestos in their products for years after they knew it was harmful, can afford to hire teams of expensive lawyers to defend themselves. Baron & Budd will not ask you for a deposit or a retainer fee. We will not ask you to put up any of your assets as collateral, nor will your credit history or citizenship be checked. Our attorneys have the experience and the expertise needed to fight the asbestos companies on your behalf, all the way to the Supreme Court if we need to.
The relative rarity of asbestos disease makes receiving a diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma all the more devastating. Documenting how you were exposed to asbestos is a critical first step in determining whether you can file suit against the asbestos manufacturers who failed to warn you about its deadliness. It is important that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Baron & Budd can help. Contact us online or call us at 855-280-7664 to learn more about your legal options.