A Firsthand Report On Secondhand Exposure
“Most of the time his clothes were just too dirty to put in the washer!”
said a Baron & Budd client we’ll call “Vera Johnson”, who was given a diagnosis of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma after 35 years of washing her husband’s work clothes. “I had to shake them out good on the back porch before I could even think about putting them in the washing machine, and man, did that ever raise a cloud of dust!”
Our client’s husband, “Hal”, worked as a sheetrock finisher from 1960 to 1995. He spent well over a quarter of a century dumping 25-pound sacks of powdered wall-joint compound into five-gallon buckets every weekday (and weekends, too, when he could get extra work). Dumping the dry powder into the bucket raised a cloud of dust around Hal’s head, which he couldn’t help but breathe, even when he tried to hold his breath and, later, dutifully wore a dust mask.
Hal mixed the powder with water to make a thick slurry and then troweled the paste onto strips of paper tape connecting the gypsum boards together. He slathered sheetrock mud over nail holes and dents in the wallboard, moving methodically from room to room through an entire home, or apartment building, or commercial property under construction. Once the wall-joint mud was dry, Hal came back and sanded every seam smooth and leveled every filled nail hole and dent. By the time he left work each day, Hal Johnson’s clothes and hair were covered in grayish-white dust.
Vera’s husband made a habit of stripping to his undershorts on the back porch when he got home from work, not wanting to bring the dusty clothing into their home. On laundry day, which was most days, Vera dutifully shook the dust from his clothes before washing them. Sometimes, she said, it looked like it was snowing, the dust in the air all around her was so concentrated.
A component of the powdered joint compound Hal had used every day throughout the 1960s and 1970s was asbestos fiber, used commonly in drywall mud, textured paint, plaster and other building products as a binding agent. Unbeknownst to Hal and Vera, it was also deadly.
Once overwhelming documentation emerged in the 1960s about the danger of asbestos fibers and their ability to cause asbestos disease, lung cancer and the deadly asbestos cancer mesothelioma, efforts were made by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the medical community to have it removed from construction products and banned outright. The mineral is a naturally occurring, fibrous ore which is cheap and easy to mine out of the earth in great quantities. By the early 1970s it was being used in more than 3000 consumer products. Manufacturers lobbied heavily to keep it from being banned, arguing that it would cause economic ruin to many businesses.
By 1980 most manufacturers had removed asbestos from their products, anticipating an eventual ban which, surprisingly, never happened. But the years spent defending their right to produce and sell asbestos-containing products had taken its toll. Shortly after retiring, Hal developed asbestosis and, in 2005, he died of lung cancer. Vera was distraught but thankful that she still had her own health. It wasn’t until 2013 that she suddenly developed a painful cough. She realized she couldn’t catch her breath. She went to see her physician and was shocked when he sent her to a specialist, saying she might have asbestos disease, too.
A biopsy confirmed that Vera Johnson had contracted mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen believed to be caused solely by exposure to asbestos. Vera hadn’t ever worked with or around asbestos. She had taken jobs as a nurse’s aid and a grocery store clerk before raising their children, but had never worked around construction or in an industrial setting. Vera’s only exposure to asbestos was shaking the dust from her husband’s clothing. That’s called secondhand exposure, and courts have found that manufacturers who exposed workers to dangerous asbestos fibers are also liable for exposing their spouses.
Vera asked Baron & Budd to represent her in a lawsuit against the manufacturers whose products her husband had used during his dry-walling career. You can, too. It’s bad enough that the asbestos companies exposed countless working men and women to the perils of asbestos. For their spouses to also suffer from its deadly effects seems unthinkable. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please contact the lawyers at Baron & Budd right away for a completely confidential evaluation of your case.