Asbestos Can Still Be Found in Older Buildings, Present Cancer Risks

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Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

Where Can Asbestos be Found?

The health risks associated with asbestos exposure are well-known; inhaling the fine toxic fibers causes lung disease and a rare and aggressive type of cancer called mesothelioma. Although government regulatory agencies have since implemented strict laws on asbestos, the hazardous material can still be found in many older buildings.

The personal injury attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP have decades of experience representing clients in lawsuits involving occupational and environmental hazards, including asbestos mesothelioma cases. The firm continues to offer free legal consultations to individuals with questions about filing an asbestos exposure lawsuit.

From the 1940s through the 1970s, asbestos was used as an effective low-cost form of fire-retardant an insulation in many buildings. Homes, offices, schools and other buildings built before 1975 may have asbestos as thermal insulation.

According to This Old House, asbestos can also be found in many other places in a home built before 1975. This includes: siding material, plaster, some forms of paint, HVAC duct insulation, some forms of linoleum, floor tiles, glue that attaches floor tiles to concrete or wood, window caulking and glazing, and other areas.

Asbestos is primarily hazardous when it is disturbed, kicking up the toxic fibers which are subsequently inhaled. Examples of disturbed and damaged asbestos that can cause health problems include asbestos that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder. If the asbestos crumbles easily when handled, then it is also releasing fibers into the air.

Asbestos could be a concern, for example, in old office buildings or schools that were damaged by a storm or after maintenance.

According to a recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 45,221 people have reportedly died from mesothelioma between 1999 and 2015. The number of mesothelioma fatalities rose from 2,479 in 1999 to 2,597 in 2015. Asbestos-linked mesothelioma has a long latency period. This means it takes many years for the cancer to manifest after the patient is exposed to asbestos.

The CDC notes that in the past, asbestos exposure in the workplace mostly affected people working in the mining and milling, manufacturing, shipbuilding and repair, and construction industries. Now, most cases of occupational exposure occur through building maintenance and remediation of buildings that contain asbestos.

The CDC reports notes that deaths from mesothelioma are still significant, stating, “Despite regulatory actions and decline in asbestos use, the annual number of malignant mesothelioma deaths remains substantial.”

“Contrary to past projections, the number of malignant mesothelioma deaths has been increasing. The continuing occurrence of mesothelioma deaths, particularly among younger populations, underscores the need for maintaining efforts to prevent exposure and for ongoing surveillance to monitor temporal trends.”

The CDC says patients with malignant mesothelioma have a median survival of approximately 1 year. The American Lung Association says 70 to 80 percent of mesothelioma cases are caused by asbestos exposure.

Symptoms of mesothelioma include difficulty breathing, fluid buildup in the lungs, nausea or vomiting, weight loss and anemia (particularly in women).

Asbestos is designated as a known human carcinogen by several health regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Asbestos Lawsuits and Verdicts

Parker Waichman comments that a number of lawsuits have been filed over asbestos exposure. While many cases of asbestos exposure relate to occupational hazards, there have also been some concerns related to asbestos in schools. Many school buildings were built before 1975, when asbestos was used for insulation and other purposes.

In late 2014, a claim was filed against Ocean View School District alleging that the school district had failed to protect students from asbestos. Three schools were closed over the asbestos scare. According to LA Times, parents became concerned when learning that the school district may have been removing asbestos while the students were present.

In 2014, a jury awarded $7.7 million in an asbestos mesothelioma lawsuit filed against bus manufacturer Navistar International Corp. The wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the plaintiff decedent was regularly exposed to asbestos while working as a bus driver for several decades. Specifically, the suit said he inhaled asbestos fibers while work was being done on asbestos-containing bus parts.

Another asbestos lawsuit resulted in an $80 million settlement. The lawsuit, which named Jackson County and Kansas City-based U.S. Engineering as defendants, alleged that plaintiffs were recklessly exposed to asbestos during an asbestos removal project for a courthouse in the 1980s. According to the complaint, workers removed asbestos while plaintiffs were present without any safeguards to prevent them from inhaling the harmful fibers.

A portion of the settlement is going into a medical monitoring fund available to roughly 7,500 people.

One plaintiff recounted the conditions of the building during the removal project at a 2014 hearing, saying that workers brought dust in throughout the building. “The particles would be … all over the papers,” she said. “The dust from their boots and their work shoes was on the stairway and in the hallways.”

Another woman who also worked at the courthouse during the asbestos removal died of mesothelioma in 2010. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit and obtained a $10.4 million settlement.

Asbestos mesothelioma litigation began in the 1960s, after the public became aware of the health hazards. Many asbestos lawsuits are class action lawsuits, in which one complaint represents numerous plaintiffs (called a plaintiff class) against a common defendant. These plaintiffs allege being wronged by the defendant in the same way. In asbestos class action lawsuits, the plaintiffs allege that the defendant failed to protect plaintiffs from exposure to harmful asbestos fibers.

Defendants named in asbestos mesothelioma lawsuits include companies that allegedly knew about the risks of asbestos, manufactures and distributers of asbestos-containing products, mining and construction companies and shipbuilders.

Legal Help for Asbestos Mesothelioma Victims

If you or someone you know developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos, you may have valuable legal rights. Parker Waichman personal injury attorneys offer free, no-obligation case evaluations. For more information, fill out our online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).