Asbestos Exposure

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Asbestos Exposure

If you've been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma or lung cancer, then you've been hearing a lot about asbestos. The fibrous, naturally-occurring mineral has been used for centuries: there's evidence of it being incorporated into ceramic pots during the Stone Age, and the benefits of its strength and fire resistance were described in detail in writings from Ancient Egypt. However, as its popularity and use accelerated during the dawn of the industrial age, researchers began noticing and studying its association with early death and lung cancer. Today we know that asbestos kills roughly 250,000 people around the world every year.

Asbestos exposure can happen in many ways, but whether you were exposed at work, in school, while serving in the military, or in your own home, once its microscopic fibers are inhaled or ingested, you are at risk for developing lung cancer, malignant pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma, or another asbestos-related illness.

The most frightening thing about asbestos is that its fibers are so tiny that you may not even realize that you've been breathing them in, and the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases don't develop until decades after exposure. This long latency period is one of the reasons why mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer are so deadly.

Unfortunately, despite early research and reports about the dangers of asbestos, mining companies, and asbestos processing plants, manufacturers, and sellers of products containing asbestos all kept this vital information to themselves. This was because asbestos was both effective and inexpensive. The companies put interest in their profits ahead of the health of the people who came into contact with asbestos or asbestos-contaminated materials, and this decision has resulted in countless deaths and debilitating illnesses.

How Do People Come into Contact with Asbestos?

When you look at asbestos under a microscope, you'll see that it is very fibrous. Different types of asbestos have different structures, with chrysotile asbestos having a curly shape and others being more needle-like. As long as asbestos is undisturbed and intact, it is not dangerous, but when it is disturbed or damaged its microscopic fibers get released into the air, where they can be inhaled or ingested.

Though asbestos is found in nature, most people diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer are exposed to it in their workplace or while serving in the military, though there are many examples of people being sickened by exposure to asbestos in their schools or their homes as well. Though its use in the United States has been severely restricted over the last few decades, it was once commonly found in products including cement, insulation, roofing materials, and textiles, and today we know that asbestos also contaminated many household and consumer products, including talc-based powders.

Workspace Exposure

There is a very long list of occupations and work settings that have placed people at higher risk for diagnosis of an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma or lung cancer. Because asbestos is both strong and heat resistant, it was useful in numerous commercial applications, including:

  • Boilers
  • Cement pipes
  • Electrical wiring
  • Textiles
  • Papermaking
  • Insulation
  • Concrete
  • Pipe insulation
  • Sealants and coatings
  • Joint compound
  • Roofing materials
  • Flooring materials
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Brake linings
  • Gaskets
  • Fire protection

Industrial workers who were most at risk for being exposed to asbestos included:

  • Construction workers
  • Factory workers
  • Auto mechanics
  • First responders
  • Plumbers
  • Electricians
  • Shipyard workers
  • Roofers
  • Steel mill workers
  • Power plant workers
  • Transportation workers
  • Boiler workers
  • Carpenters
  • Oil refinery workers
  • Farmers
  • Miners

Though today we are well aware that asbestos is carcinogenic and there are regulations that protect workers' health, many years went by before that information was made public and those rules were put in place. Manufacturers who knew about the mineral's dangers failed to warn those who were working in asbestos-contaminated environments or with asbestos-contaminated products to protect themselves, putting them at risk for later diagnosis with incurable diseases.

  • Secondary Exposure – Tragically, the risks of exposure to an asbestos-contaminated workplace or asbestos-contaminated products were not limited to workers. There are many instances of family members of these workers being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases as a result of breathing in asbestos fibers that were carried into their homes on their family members' clothing, hair, or skin. Wives, mothers, and daughters who shook out and laundered asbestos-covered clothing breathed in the fibers have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases decades later, and the same is true of children who welcomed their fathers home from work each day with hugs and by climbing onto their laps. Employees drove their family cars to and from work, not realizing that they were filling the interiors with asbestos that was inhaled on the way to family movie night or Little League games.
  • Teachers – Industrial workers are not the only ones who were exposed to asbestos. Many federal and institutional buildings were constructed using asbestos-contaminated materials. Asbestos was used in almost every school that was built in the first half of the 20th century, exposing teachers to contaminated ceiling tiles, vinyl floors, and insulation around heating pipes and electrical wiring that is beginning to fray and deteriorate with age. A concerning number of teachers have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
  • Military Service – Roughly 30 percent of all victims of malignant mesothelioma are military veterans, with most having served in the U.S. Navy. The reason for this is clear: In the years leading up to and during World War II, military vessels, vehicles, barracks, and buildings were built using large quantities of asbestos. Ships' boiler rooms and engine compartments contained equipment that was insulated with asbestos, and the same is true of airplane and truck parts.

    Though asbestos has been removed from these assets, military personnel continue to be exposed to asbestos today when they serve overseas, where they frequently enter or are exposed to buildings constructed with asbestos that have been damaged or destroyed during a conflict.
  • Consumer Products – Before the dangers of asbestos were known, many household items were assembled using asbestos. In most cases, it served as insulation, as was the case with many brands of hair dryers, irons, portable heaters, and other small appliances. But asbestos has also been used in other products ranging from fake snow used to decorate homes during the holidays to yarn and crayons.

    Most concerning are revelations that talc-based products run a significant risk of contamination with asbestos, highlighting a critical aspect of asbestos law. This risk arises because talc is often mined near asbestos, leading to cross-contamination. Asbestos contamination has been found in popular talc-based powders, including Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder and products from brands like Colgate-Palmolive and Avon. Despite denials of responsibility for asbestos-related illnesses, court evidence suggests company executives knew about the asbestos risk but ignored public safety concerns. This has led to several high-profile mesothelioma lawsuits, with some resulting in multi-million-dollar verdicts, underscoring the importance of informed legal action in asbestos law.

Diseases Caused by Asbestos Exposure

Ingesting or inhaling asbestos can result in serious and deadly diseases. Most do not manifest symptoms until decades after exposure.

  • Malignant Mesothelioma – Mesothelioma is a cancer of an organ called the mesothelium. The mesothelium forms the lining of the lungs and abdominal cavity. Though it is not entirely understood how mesothelioma forms, it is generally believed that the needle-like points of asbestos fibers become embedded in mesothelium cells, causing them to die and leading to mutations in surrounding cells that eventually grow into tumors. These tumors grow and spread slowly, and victims are unaware of their presence until they are large enough to cause discomfort or other symptoms such as cough or abdominal pain. By the time the tumors are this large, the tumor is generally too far advanced for treatment to be effective.

    Mesothelioma tumors can form in the chest (pleural mesothelioma); the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma); the cavity around the heart (pericardial mesothelioma); and the testes (testicular mesothelioma).
  • Lung Cancer – Lung cancer's symptoms are very similar to those of malignant pleural mesothelioma, and physicians often mistake mesothelioma for lung cancer. Though lung cancer is traditionally associated with tobacco use, asbestos exposure has been shown to significantly increase the risk of developing lung cancer for nonsmokers, and smokers' risk of lung cancer increases tenfold if they have been exposed to the carcinogenic material. Many asbestos companies attempt to defend themselves against lung cancer lawsuits by pointing to victims' use of tobacco, but these assertions can be defeated by a skilled mesothelioma attorney.
  • Ovarian Cancer – Ovarian cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that forms in a woman's ovaries. It has been linked to the use of asbestos-contaminated feminine hygiene products such as body powders. Notably, Johnson & Johnson's specifically marketed the use of its baby powder product for feminine hygiene use, and there are tens of thousands of ovarian cancer lawsuits that have been filed against the company accusing them of negligence in encouraging the use of an asbestos-contaminated product.
  • Asbestosis – Asbestosis is an inflammation of the lungs that leads to scarring and stiffening of the lung tissue. It causes significant difficulty in breathing. It is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers and can often progress into more serious conditions.

Navigating Asbestos Claims and Lawsuits

Asbestos claims have become increasingly prevalent as more individuals are affected by exposure to asbestos, leading to a surge in asbestos lawsuits. These claims often target manufacturers and companies that used asbestos in their products, holding them accountable for negligence. Asbestos law suits are complex, involving detailed investigations into the exposure history and the health impacts on the claimants. Legal expertise in asbestos law is crucial for navigating these asbestos law suits, ensuring that the victims' rights are adequately represented.

On the other hand, an asbestos trust fund has been established to streamline the compensation process for those affected. Bankrupt companies set up this trust fund to provide a source of compensation for future asbestos claims. Accessing the asbestos trust fund requires navigating a specific set of procedures and documentation to substantiate the claims. This process is designed to ensure that all valid claims against the trust fund are honored fairly and efficiently, providing a critical financial lifeline to those impacted by asbestos exposure.

Choosing the Right Asbestos Legal Representation

Asbestos lawyers play a pivotal role in providing justice and compensation to those affected by exposure to asbestos. Specializing in asbestos law, these attorneys possess the expertise necessary to navigate the complex landscape of asbestos-related cases. Choosing an experienced asbestos attorney means gaining an advocate who understands the intricacies of asbestos law and can effectively argue your case. This expertise is crucial, as the legal framework surrounding asbestos claims is intricate and requires a nuanced approach.

The importance of selecting the right asbestos law firm cannot be overstated. Law firms specializing in asbestos cases bring together teams of skilled lawyers and attorneys, each contributing their knowledge and experience. These law firms are not just about an individual attorney; they represent a collective effort to tackle the challenging aspects of asbestos litigation. With their combined expertise, these law firms provide comprehensive support, from investigating the claim to representing clients in court. The goal of these attorneys and their law firm is not only to win cases but also to ensure that justice is served for those who have suffered due to asbestos exposure. Their dedication is reflected in their relentless pursuit of fair compensation and commitment to holding responsible parties accountable.