Mesothelioma is linked to asbestos exposure. People who breathe in or swallow asbestos are at risk of developing the disease.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of fibrous minerals that are found in rock and soil. Asbestos fibers are strong, as well as heat- and fire-resistant. They are mined and used to make a variety of products, including building materials, fire-resistant fabrics, and talcum powders.
Because of the fibers’ natural resistance to heat and fire, asbestos was commonly used in a wide range of building construction materials for insulation, like roof shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and cement products. Asbestos can also be found in friction products like automobile clutches, brakes and transmission parts, heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings.
Asbestos can also be found in talc, another mineral found naturally in rock. Talc is used to make talcum powders used in personal hygiene, including baby powders, and some cosmetics.
More than 60 years ago, asbestos was linked to serious illnesses including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis, a progressive lung disease caused by severe fibrosis. Patients with asbestosis may also develop malignant mesothelioma.
The onset of mesothelioma symptoms can take anywhere from 15 to 50 years.
Once asbestos became known as a carcinogen, its use in the U.S. declined. Those who work in environments where asbestos is present are now required to wear protective clothing such as coveralls or similar full-body clothing, head covering, gloves and foot coverings. Despite these protective measures, people can still be exposed to asbestos in the workplace. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) recently estimated that more than a million American employees in construction and general industries face significant asbestos exposure on the job.
The mining and use of asbestos continues in other parts of the world including the Russian Federation, China, Kazakhstan, Brazil and Zimbabwe. Canada stopped mining asbestos in 2011 and completely banned the manufacture, import, export, sale and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products as of Dec. 30, 2018. In 2005, the World Health Organization estimated that 125 million people have been exposed to the carcinogenic mineral at their job sites.
How Does Asbestos Exposure Happen?
Asbestos fibers can be released into the air when material containing asbestos is disturbed, such as during use, demolition work, building or home maintenance, repair, remodeling, and in the manufacturing of products that contain asbestos.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can stick to mucus in the throat, trachea, or bronchi (large breathing tubes in the lungs). From here, the fibers can be cleared by being coughed up or swallowed. Some fibers can work their way to the ends of the small airways in the lungs or penetrate the outer lining of the lung and chest wall, called the pleura. These fibers can irritate cells in the lung or pleura and eventually develop into mesothelioma.
Asbestos fibers can also be swallowed in other ways, such as when people consume contaminated food or liquids. For example, water can become contaminated if it flows through pipes made from asbestos-containing cement.
People with the heaviest exposure to asbestos are at greater risk of developing mesothelioma, and are typically those who worked in industries where asbestos was present, such as shipbuilding and insulation. However, experts emphasize that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Secondary Asbestos Exposure
Secondary asbestos exposure carries the same risk as primary asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. People with primary asbestos exposure tend to be those who worked in environments that were contaminated with asbestos. These workers can bring home asbestos fibers on their bodies, clothing and shoes, putting family members – spouses, children and parents – at risk for secondary asbestos exposure.
For example, washing the clothes of someone whose clothes are contaminated with asbestos can increase the risk of secondary asbestos exposure, which can lead to the development of mesothelioma.
Men are more likely to have mesothelioma through workplace exposure, as traditionally more men have worked in manufacturing and industry jobs while their wives stayed home and did household chores, like laundry. A 1997 study conducted by Durham and Duke University Medical Centers involving women with mesothelioma found that more than half of them were victims of secondary asbestos exposure either from a parent, spouse or child working in asbestos-contaminated environments.
Asbestos Industry Cover-ups
Decades after the dangers of asbestos had become widely known, some companies continued to try to cover up evidence that their workplaces were toxic to workers and their families.
The EWG Action Fund/Asbestos Nation is a nonprofit organization that works to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide variety of environmental issues. The organization called the attempt of corporations and their lawyers to hide the risks of asbestos a “70-year conspiracy,” and references numerous examples of how the asbestos industries paid tens of millions of dollars to sway public opinion about asbestos and protect their profits.
The asbestos industry is not finished. A well-funded lobbying effort is currently underway at both the state and federal levels pushing legislation that would make it more difficult for asbestos victims and their families to be compensated from corporations responsible for making them sick.
All too often these giant corporations are choosing profits over people and until they are forced to pay they will continue on with their blatant disregard for the health and well being of their employees and their consumers. An experienced asbestos lawyer can help families make it through a very difficult time and make certain the manufacturers of these unsafe asbestos products compensate victims fairly.
Asbestos Regulation and Litigation
Asbestos has been linked to serious diseases by the medical profession since the late 1920s, which led to the handling of workers compensation cases in secret. By the 1970s, the fight became more public when those sickened by asbestos exposure and their loved ones began filing lawsuits. Cases continued to be filed through subsequent decades and into today.
A massive multidistrict litigation involving asbestos claims has been pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for more than 20 years. Some cases have been resolved, but many continue to be fought by individuals.
Current-day asbestos lawsuits alleging workplace asbestos exposure target a variety of defendants including manufacturers of machinery; owners of workplaces where asbestos-containing products were installed; banks that financed ships or buildings where asbestos was used; retailers of asbestos-containing products like hardware, home improvement and automotive parts stores; corporations that allegedly deliberately withheld asbestos risks from workers; makers of tools used to cut asbestos-containing parts; and manufacturers of respiratory protective equipment.
Since asbestos was linked to mesothelioma and other serious diseases, 60 countries around the world have banned the use of asbestos in whole or in part.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates asbestos as a hazardous material. There is no general ban on asbestos in the U.S., however, asbestos was one of the first hazardous air pollutants to be regulated under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act of 1970. Many applications of asbestos were later forbidden under the Toxic Substance Control Act. Today, asbestos use is regulated according to federal, state and local laws, but the regulations are not consistent across the board and are complicated.
Asbestos is still allowed to be used in some products, but workers are required to wear protective clothing, such as coveralls or similar full-body clothing, head covering, gloves and foot coverings, to protect themselves as much as possible from asbestos exposure.
If you or your loved one has suffered a serious injury, or your loved one has died as a result of asbestos exposure or mesothelioma, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, loss of wages, and pain and suffering. Please contact our asbestos lawyers today by filling out the brief questionnaire, or by calling our toll free number (1-800-898-2034) for a free, no-cost, no-obligation legal evaluation of your case.
American Cancer Society/Malignant Mesothelioma
Environmental Protection Agency
EWG Action Fund