Asbestos is the name for a group of minerals that was once popular as insulation and fireproofing in a variety of industrial applications. The mineral’s tiny fibers are now known to stay in the body when inhaled, causing a host of deadly diseases, including asbestosis, a chronic and incurable lung inflammation, and mesothelioma, a deadly form of lung cancer. Symptoms may not manifest for decades after asbestos exposure, which can occur through jobs in mining, manufacturing and construction as well as through living or working in older buildings. Asbestos was known to cause health problems as early as 1906; it was confirmed to cause lung cancer in 1955. Scientists estimate that 27.5 million people in the United States were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1979.
For more information on mesothelioma or finding a mesothelioma lawyer visit our informational page:
• Mesothelioma Information
Asbestos — An Overview
More than 100 years ago, asbestos was seen as the ideal building material: it was fireproof, cheap, and easy to use. During the last century, it is estimated that more than 25 million tons of asbestos were used to construct factories, offices, schools, shipyards, and homes. Asbestos was used for fireproofing and insulation on industrial equipment and insulating millions of miles of piping. Even the most common household items contained asbestos. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the medical field began to recognize that a large number of people were dying from pulmonary and lung diseases in areas where asbestos mines and asbestos fabrication plants were located. By 1940, studies were showing a suggested link between asbestos exposure and cancer. In 1955, scientists confirmed a distinctive correlation between ingestion of asbestos fibers and mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer. It has now been well documented that the asbestos industry was well aware of these problems, and acted overtly to prevent the public and victims from learning of the dangers of asbestos.
Four diseases have been directly related to asbestos exposure. Duration of the asbestos exposure and type of asbestos exposure directly affects the chances of contracting these diseases:
Pleural Plaque/Thickening: a scarring of the lining of the lung, but not a cancerous condition. Plaques or thickening impairs lung function by restricting breathing capacity.
Asbestosis: a non-cancerous fibrous hardening and scarring of the functional tissues of the lungs. Scarring causes lung impairment and can contribute to heart disease. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, and a dry, crackling sound upon inhalation. Advanced chronic asbestosis has been thought to contribute to or cause cardiac failure. A slow and progressive disease, asbestosis has a latency period of 15 to 30 years or more.
Lung Cancer: The most common type of cancer found in individuals with prolonged exposure to asbestos, it develops through the lung tissue, obstructing air passages. Lung cancer found in the lower lobes of the lungs is most typically associated with asbestos exposure. Latency period can range from 20 to 30 years or more, and cigarette smoking, along with asbestos exposure, puts individuals at a much higher risk for lung cancer.
Mesothelioma: An unusual type of lung cancer within the thin tissue membranes lining the thoracic and abdominal cavities and surrounding internal organs, it is most commonly associated with asbestos exposure. Symptoms include shortness of breath, pain in the lower back or side of the chest, coughing, and weight loss. This is the most dangerous of the asbestos-related diseases, because it can affect those who have had only low or intermittent levels of asbestos exposure.
If you have been exposed to asbestos and have medical issues, you may have a legal case. If you would like to speak with an attorney, please use the Find Attorney button at the top of the page.
Asbestos: A Cautionary Tale from South Africa
The British multinational company Cape PLC mined asbestos in South Africa, and moved into South Africa after deciding that the costs for labor and asbestos disease compensation were too much in the UK. The result was 7,500 sick and dying workers. It took a five-year legal battle, but finally a meager settlement was reached. Each injured worker got only a few thousand dollars to compensate for the loss of their health — and in some cases, the loss of their lives.
Clearly, globalization threatens the advances labor has made in employment protections. At the same time, it brings new meaning to labor’s belief that “an injury to one is an injury to all.”
Asbestos in the United States: Claims and the Trust Fund
The South Africa story brings into sharp focus the reality that asbestos is the new scourge of the modern workplace. For decades, the legal profession has been working hand-in-hand with labor to protect and compensate workers. The enormity of this legal battle is staggering. More than 600,000 people have filed claims for compensation for asbestos-related injuries in the U.S. And business has had to pay out more than $54 billion because of its negligence. Some experts predict that as many as 2.4 million additional asbestos claims will be filed, and business will have to pay an additional $210 billion to compensate workers for asbestos injuries.