Asbestos, once considered a miracle material, has turned into a silent killer responsible for the suffering and loss of countless lives. The devastating health effects of asbestos exposure, particularly mesothelioma, have led to a wave of legal battles seeking justice for victims. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the world of asbestos lawyers, their crucial role in seeking compensation, and how they champion the rights of those affected by asbestos-related diseases.
Table of Contents
- Understanding Asbestos and Its Health Risks
- Other forms of mesothelioma
- The Role of Asbestos Lawyers
- Seeking Justice for Victims: The Legal Process
- Selecting the Right Asbestos Lawyer
- Types of Asbestos Cases
- Asbestos Lawsuits and Landmark Cases
- Supporting Victims: Asbestos Lawyers and Their Clients
- Asbestos Exposure and Preventive Measures
- The Future of Asbestos Legal Battles
Understanding Asbestos and Its Health Risks
Because asbestos can degrade into incredibly thin, microscopic fibers, it poses a threat. Because of their tiny size, these fibers can float in the air for days after being disturbed. People can breathe in these fibers while they are in the air. Because the fibers are so tiny, they have the ability to enter the lungs deeply and become lodged in the lung tissue.
These fibers, once embedded in lung tissue, can lead to a number of deadly illnesses, including as mesothelioma (a malignancy that affects the lining of the lung cavity), asbestosis (a condition that causes scarring in the lung tissue), and lung cancer.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to six minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers that can be separated into thin, durable threads for use in commercial and industrial applications. These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been used widely in many industries. Additional asbestos-like minerals are found in the natural environment, including erionite.
Chemically, asbestos minerals are silicate compounds, meaning they contain atoms of silicon and oxygen in their molecular structure.
Asbestos minerals are divided into two major groups: Serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos. Serpentine asbestos includes the mineral chrysotile, which has long, curly fibers that can be woven. Chrysotile asbestos is the form that has been used most widely in commercial applications. Amphibole asbestos includes the minerals actinolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, and amosite. Amphibole asbestos has straight, needle-like fibers that are more brittle than those of serpentine asbestos and are more limited in their ability to be fabricated.
Health Risks Associated with Asbestos
People may be exposed to asbestos in their workplace, their communities, or their homes. If products containing asbestos are disturbed, tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air. When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they may get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time. Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems.
Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). According to IARC, there is sufficient evidence that asbestos causes mesothelioma (a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen), and cancers of the lung, larynx, and ovary. In fact, it is thought that most mesotheliomas are due to asbestos exposure. There is limited evidence that asbestos exposure is linked to increased risks of cancers of the stomach, pharynx, and colorectum.
Asbestos exposure may also increase the risk of asbestosis (an inflammatory condition affecting the lungs that can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and permanent lung damage) and other nonmalignant lung and pleural disorders, including pleural plaques (changes in the membranes surrounding the lung), pleural thickening, and benign pleural effusions (abnormal collections of fluid between the thin layers of tissue lining the lungs and the wall of the chest cavity). Although pleural plaques are not precursors to lung cancer, evidence suggests that people with pleural disease caused by exposure to asbestos may be at increased risk for lung cancer
Mesothelioma: The Deadly Consequence
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers the majority of your internal organs (mesothelium). Mesothelioma is an aggressive and deadly form of cancer. Mesothelioma treatments are available, but for many people with mesothelioma, a cure isn’t possible.
Doctors divide mesothelioma into different types based on what part of the mesothelium is affected. Mesothelioma most often affects the tissue that surrounds the lungs (pleura). This type is called pleural mesothelioma. Other, rarer types of mesothelioma affect tissue in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), around the heart and around the testicles.
Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma vary depending on where the cancer occurs.
Pleural mesothelioma, which affects the tissue that surrounds the lungs, causes signs and symptoms that may include:
- Chest pain
- Painful coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on your chest
- Unexplained weight loss
Peritoneal mesothelioma, which occurs in tissue in the abdomen, causes signs and symptoms that may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal swelling
- Unexplained weight loss
Other forms of mesothelioma
Signs and symptoms of other types of mesothelioma are unclear since these forms of the disease are very rare.
Pericardial mesothelioma, which affects tissue that surrounds the heart, can cause signs and symptoms such as breathing difficulty and chest pains.
Mesothelioma of tunica vaginalis, which affects the tissue surrounding the testicles, may be first detected as swelling or a mass on a testicle.
The Role of Asbestos Lawyers
As a result of big businesses’ irresponsibility, thousands of individuals were exposed to asbestos and are currently suffering from deadly diseases including mesothelioma and lung cancer. An accomplished asbestos attorney has the means to bring successful lawsuits that bring victims and their families justice and financial recompense.
Who Are Asbestos Lawyers?
An asbestos lawyer is a legal professional who specializes in helping people who have been harmed by asbestos exposure. They are experienced in handling legal cases related to mesothelioma and other diseases caused by asbestos.
It’s important to work with an asbestos lawyer since they have a history of holding companies accountable for asbestos-related diseases and filing successful mesothelioma claims.
These lawyers handle asbestos cases regularly. As a result, they can use their knowledge and experience to fight for you and your family. They are more likely to win your case than a general personal injury attorney.
Why Asbestos Lawyers Matter
Asbestos claims lawyers are better equipped to build strong cases for their clients than other types of attorneys who don’t specialize in mesothelioma claims.
Top asbestos attorneys provide clients with these unique benefits:
- Free legal consultations. The best asbestos lawyers will review your case for free to see if you can file a claim. During this initial conversation, the asbestos attorney can explain all of your legal options.
- Focused expertise. Asbestos law is constantly changing. Lawyers who focus strictly on asbestos exposure are usually much more familiar with the latest laws and rulings about asbestos litigation.
- No upfront fees. Top attorneys for asbestos exposure work on a contingency fee basis, which means they do not get paid unless they secure compensation for you. If your lawyer does not obtain compensation, you do not have to pay them.
The Asbestos Legal Landscape
An important starting point for all cases that asbestos lawyers take on is doing careful research. They need to find out all the information possible about your asbestos case. This information can help determine how strong a case you have and how likely you are to win it or receive favorable settlements. In legal terms this research phase is called “Discovery” because facts are being discovered. These facts give clarity to the lawsuit and help both sides understand what happened that caused your asbestos exposure and resulting asbestos-related illness.
Of course, the defendant’s attorneys will be following the same procedure. Their goal is also to discover information about the case. But they are looking for information that will help their client, not you. Your asbestos attorneys are responsible for protecting you and helping you when the opposition’s attorneys question you about anything on the case.
The discovery research will mostly pertain to your work history, your medical records and any military service. Information about specific asbestos-containing products you may have had to work with and a lack of safety procedures at the job site will also need to be researched by your asbestos attorneys.
Three important discovery research procedures are:
- Interrogatories – Attorneys asking written questions for background information
- Subpoenas – Attorneys requesting specific documents for the case
- Depositions – Live questioning sessions under oath that often are recorded on video. Both sides are given a chance to ask questions. Your asbestos attorneys should meet with you before a deposition to help you get ready, and will protect you throughout the process.
Experienced asbestos lawyers tend to work at national mesothelioma law firms that manage cases for clients around the country.
This national reach is helpful because:
- National firms will typically fly their asbestos attorneys out to visit you in person — no matter where you’re located — so you don’t have to travel.
- An asbestos lawyer with a national firm can file your asbestos lawsuit in the state court system (jurisdiction) which is most likely to result in the best outcome for your case.
- Experienced mesothelioma lawyers at national firms usually have a professional network of other attorneys across the U.S. who can help determine when, where, and how you were exposed to asbestos.
An asbestos lawyer’s comprehensive nationwide resources often provide their clients with greater access to legal aid compared to a local law practice’s general resources.
Seeking Justice for Victims: The Legal Process
The majority of asbestos lawsuits are settled out of court. Long before a trial starts, a lot of cases are resolved out of court. And several more are resolved throughout the trial procedure. In any case, as soon as you choose to submit a claim, your asbestos lawyer’s responsibility is to get ready for trial.
Lawyers will think about how best to present your case. The lawyer will develop a strategy during case development for the type of trial that will best utilize the medical data and employment history that you can supply. It will be crucial for you to understand the trial procedure if your case goes to trial.
If an asbestos-related case is deemed strong enough to go to trial, the following steps are generally followed:
Determining the Type of Trial
There are two types of trials. The first type is held before a judge, in what is known as a bench trial. The second type of asbestos trial is held before a judge and jury. Your attorney will help you decide which option is better for you, and the decision depends on the facts and strength of your case.
Setting a Trial Date
From start to finish, a mesothelioma lawsuit could take a couple of years or more depending on your case. Most of that time is spent filing various court documents and collecting evidence before the court schedules an asbestos trial.
Parties involved in the lawsuit usually file several motions and memoranda to decide various legal issues before the case reaches the trial stage. If the motions are decided, discovery ends and there is no settlement, the parties work with the court to set a trial date. The number of cases on the court’s calendar ultimately determines the date of the trial.
After the date is set, more court filings and one or more pre-trial meetings with the judge usually follow. Attorneys for both sides go over all of the exhibits, witnesses and legal issues they will present at trial.
Based on all of this preparation, the judge will issue a pre-trial order that outlines how the trial will progress. If there are any emergencies or scheduling conflicts, the attorneys may request a continuance to delay the trial date. Courts have tight schedules, so continuances usually happen only in extreme circumstances like medical emergencies.
After a trial date is set, if settlement negotiations have not already started they will likely begin. Your attorney will discuss any potential settlement offers with you. You can typically participate in any of the negotiations, but you are not required to attend. Do not feel pressured to settle your case early in the process if you do not feel you have received a fair offer. In some cases, a settlement agreement can be presented on the day the trial is set to start or even during the trial.
If a jury trial will take place, jurors will be chosen to decide the case. The court randomly calls citizens from a list of registered voters to serve as potential jurors. During a process called voir dire, the judge asks questions to determine whether potential jurors can serve objectively. Questions usually include whether the potential jurors know any of the parties or attorneys or have any personal knowledge about the case.
Attorneys for both sides also have an opportunity to screen out potential jurors who may be biased against their client’s case. When the jury is selected, the jurors are sworn in and the parties begin presenting their cases.
Presentation of Evidence and Testimony
While some asbestos trials may take up to a few weeks to conclude, some of them reach a resolution within a few days. For example, after a four-day trial in September 2021, a South Carolina jury awarded $32 million to Robert Weist, the surviving spouse of Kathy Weist, who died of mesothelioma following secondary exposure to asbestos.
If you are in poor health, you can petition the court for an expedited case process. If you die during the personal injury legal process, your family members have the option to continue the claim as a wrongful death suit.
With an experienced asbestos attorney, you can decide how much you wish to participate in the asbestos trial. A qualified asbestos law firm can handle the process and advise you on your options.
Selecting the Right Asbestos Lawyer
In the past, asbestos was one of the most widely utilized insulators. Although most manufacturers were aware of the dangers posed by asbestos, they chose to keep it a secret in order to protect their companies. Decades of litigation have been brought before the courts about mesothelioma, a rare illness that arises from asbestos exposure, and injuries associated to asbestos.
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The questions you should ask yourself while deciding which asbestos attorney to hire to help you obtain the outcome you need are covered below. Additionally, it will address a few of the commonly asked questions (FAQ) by people seeking mesothelioma compensation.
Does the attorney have experience with asbestos cases?
If you or a loved one have become sick after coming into contact with asbestos, you will need legal help. Becoming embroiled in asbestos litigation can be a long, drawn-out, and painful legal process. You don’t want to entrust your case to just anyone.
Finding an asbestos attorney with decades of experience handling these lawsuits would be best. Going up against the asbestos companies and other corporations is not for the faint of heart. You want someone who won’t be intimidated by the large legal teams of insurance companies or the defendants.
Before you hire an attorney, make sure you explore your legal options.
Do they prioritize your medical care?
If you recently received a mesothelioma diagnosis, you are probably terrified. The prognoses for these illnesses are not favorable. You want to ensure you choose a mesothelioma law firm that prioritizes your medical care.
Mesothelioma patients are often required to visit their doctors more often than other personal injury plaintiffs. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer, your treatment plan will be intense. Your attorney should help you manage your care and your medical bills.
Have they litigated a mesothelioma claim or class action?
Plaintiffs filing asbestos claims don’t want a first-time attorney handling their claim. Mesothelioma victims do not have time on their side. Your attorney must work quickly and diligently to resolve your case.
If you have a terminal diagnosis, you’ll want the best mesothelioma lawyer to represent you. They understand how important it is that you settle your claim quickly. At the same time, there is always a chance that your case will go to trial. If so, you want to hire an asbestos law firm that has litigated asbestos lawsuits before.
Do you connect with them?
Many plaintiffs discount the importance of having a good relationship with their attorney. You and your family members will have to spend a great deal of time working with your lawyer. You want to make sure you connect with them on a personal level.
You may be dealing with a wrongful death lawsuit if your loved one has passed away. Your family may be entitled to significant financial compensation. You want an attorney in your corner who will fight to get you the compensation you deserve.
If your attorney negotiates a mesothelioma settlement, you want to make sure they consult you at every turn. If the case goes to trial, mesothelioma clients may not have the final say. You want to communicate your goals and expectations early in your case.
Will they personally manage your mesothelioma claim?
If you are the victim of asbestos exposure, you’ll want justice. You want to ensure you hire the right mesothelioma lawyer who will personally manage your case. The last thing you want to see is your lawyer hand your file to an inexperienced lawyer who has never experienced mesothelioma litigation.
When you first meet with your lawyer, ask them about their track record of success. Also, ask them how many years of experience they have with mesothelioma cancer patients. Once they answer these questions, ask them if they will personally handle your case. It doesn’t matter how experienced your lawyer is if they won’t be the one handling your lawsuit.
Are they responsive to your messages?
One of the plaintiffs’ biggest complaints about their attorneys is that they never respond to their messages. You may need to find a new lawyer if your attorney doesn’t answer your calls, texts, and emails.
Legal claims based on asbestos exposure can be highly complex. You are bound to have questions along the way. You need someone in your corner who respects you enough and is invested enough in your case to return your calls.
Do they offer a free case review?
Most personal injury lawyers offer new clients a free case evaluation. This allows you to decide if you want to retain their services. It also allows the attorney to review your claim and determine if they will represent you.
When you sue the manufacturer or distributor of asbestos-containing products, your attorney must include your claim for damages in the initial complaint. If the attorney doesn’t feel your case is worth much, they won’t be willing to handle your case.
It has to make good business sense for the law firm to take you on as a client. This allows the law firm to review your claim before they agree to represent you.
Are the attorney’s fees based on winning your case?
One of the benefits of hiring a mesothelioma lawyer is that they do not charge anything upfront. Personal injury attorneys work on what’s called a contingency basis. They are not paid until you settle or resolve your claim.
Your attorney will receive their contingency fee once your case settles. Your settlement may be with the defendant, their insurance carrier, through a trust fund claim, or from an asbestos trust fund. You pay your attorney a percentage of your total settlement or judgment. When you first meet with your attorney, they’ll explain their contingency fee.
You must also sign a contingency fee agreement documenting how much your lawyer will be entitled to should they win or settle your case. If you don’t win your case, your attorney receives nothing.
Are they upfront about other legal costs?
There will be numerous court courts, filing fees, and other legal costs throughout your case. The law firm will typically pay and recoup these fees from your settlement or judgment.
When you first meet with a potential attorney, ask them what these other fees and costs may be. If they aren’t upfront about these costs, something is wrong. Any reputable mesothelioma or asbestos attorney will have no problem divulging this.
Some of the legal costs the law firm will cover include the following:
- Filing fees for your initial complaint, motions, etc.
- Postage and copying fees
- Expenses for personal service of summons and complaint
- Court reporter fees for depositions
- Expert witness fees
- Any travel, meals, hotel, etc., for witnesses and experts
Each case is unique, so listing all potential costs here is impossible. Whatever these costs are, the law firm will pay them and recover them from your settlement proceeds. You pay these costs and fees after your attorney takes their contingency fee. You pay your attorney their fee before you pay anything else.
Types of Asbestos Cases
Patients with mesothelioma and their families can file a legal claim, sometimes referred to as an asbestos claim, in order to get compensation for illnesses brought on by asbestos exposure. Personal injury, wrongful death, and trust fund claims are the three categories of mesothelioma claims.
Personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits are the two most prevalent categories of asbestos claims. You could also be able to make a claim against a trust fund. In order to give asbestos survivors the necessary financial recompense, bankrupt asbestos corporations established asbestos trust funds.
In order to get compensation for their injuries, mesothelioma victims and their families may file a mesothelioma claim. These asbestos-related mesothelioma cases were filed as a result of asbestos exposure.
Payouts from settlements, asbestos trust funds or trial verdicts vary depending on the type of claim filed, but some claims are worth more than $1 million. Experienced mesothelioma lawyers have extensive knowledge of how to build strong legal claims against the appropriate manufacturers and companies that exposed you to asbestos. Their expertise is invaluable for successfully filing and resolving mesothelioma-related legal claims.
Personal Injury Lawsuits
When a patient files a mesothelioma lawsuit, it takes the form of a personal injury claim. Juries can award monetary damages for losses including medical expenses, lost income, loss of consortium and pain and suffering.
In some cases, juries can also award punitive damages, which are monetary damages awarded to discourage future wrongdoing. Most mesothelioma lawsuits are settled out of court before a trial takes place.
Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death lawsuits are lawsuits the estate, including family members, can file after a person has died of mesothelioma. In these cases, juries may award compensation for various losses, including funeral costs in addition to cancer-related expenses.
The estate representative, such as the spouse or child of the deceased, brings the lawsuit on behalf of the estate. This representative acts in the interest of the estate in seeking compensation through a wrongful death claim.
Trust Fund Claims
Many asbestos companies have set up a mesothelioma and asbestos trust funds list. Companies do this to set aside funds to compensate people with asbestos-related diseases from exposure while avoiding further lawsuits. Pursuing an asbestos trust fund claim can help survivors recover significant compensation.
A top mesothelioma law firm can help you determine whether the company responsible for your injuries has a trust fund and. If so, your lawyer will walk you through the claim filing process.
Product Liability Claims
Product liability claims focus on protecting individuals exposed to asbestos-containing products. These claims target companies that manufacture or distribute the materials that lead to exposure.
People who file a product liability claim must provide evidence that the product was defective and high-risk because of the asbestos content. They must also establish a link between that product and their asbestos-related illness.
Asbestos Lawsuits and Landmark Cases
June Hancock – Environmental Exposure
In 1995, June Hancock was represented in the first-ever environmental asbestos case. June had never worked with asbestos but she grew up near the JW Roberts factory in Armley. The factory emitted large amounts of asbestos dust into the local neighborhood. June’s mother died in 1982 of mesothelioma and June was diagnosed with it as well in 1993.
June’s case was the first of its kind. It extended a company’s duty of care to those affected by secondary exposure to asbestos, not just its employees. Adrian Budgen successfully represented June and secured £4.37m compensation for her – the highest-ever award for an industrial disease or fatal injury case at the time.
McDonald vs National Grid Electricity Transmission
A widow whose husband died of mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos while working as a delivery driver was successfully represented. The case raised questions about what responsibility companies have for non-employees coming on-site.
After the first case was unsuccessful, Mrs McDonald in her appeal at the Supreme Court in 2014 was represented. The appeal focused on the interpretation of the Factories Act and Asbestos Industry Regulations. Mrs McDonald won by a 3:2 majority.
Tomlin Order for New Treatments Still In Development
The Tomlin Order went even further than a PPO. It covered immunotherapy and future treatments our client might need – even ones that were still in development or not yet available.
This was a crucial breakthrough in a field where new medical treatments are developed all the time and costs are going up.
Supporting Victims: Asbestos Lawyers and Their Clients
Asbestos has been in use since the late 1800s but its use increased greatly during World War II. Since then it has been used in many industries. For example, the building industry uses asbestos for strengthening cement and plastics, as well as for insulation, fireproofing and sound absorption. The shipbuilding industry has used asbestos to insulate boilers, steam pipes, hot water pipes and nuclear reactors in ships. The car manufacturing industry has used asbestos in vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads. More than 5,000 products contain or have contained asbestos.
Plumbers, laggers, electricians, building workers, heating engineers, joiners and garage workers are just some of the occupations that may have been exposed to asbestos.
This disease normally occurs as a result of heavy asbestos exposure over a prolonged period. The disease is a form of fibrosis of the lung. This affects the efficiency of the lungs and the person affected often has symptoms of breathlessness and coughing. This disability generally increases as the person gets older.
- Diffuse Pleural Thickening
This condition affects the pleura, which is the lining of the lungs. It can affect one lung or both lungs. It can result in significant disability if it is extensive and affects both lungs. It will generally take 10 years after first exposure to asbestos for it to develop.
- Asbestos Induced Lung Cancer
It has been known for more than forty years that asbestos can cause lung cancer. Smokers who have been exposed to asbestos are far more at risk of developing asbestos-induced lung cancer than non-smokers. It usually takes 20 years or more from first exposure to develop.
Up until January 2006 it was possible to obtain compensation for pleural plaques either on a provisional or full and final basis. This had been the position for more than 20 years.
However, the right to compensation for pleural plaques was the subject of a challenge by the Employers’ Liability Insurers, and on 17 October 2007 the House of Lords ruled that compensation should no longer be payable for symptomless pleural plaques.
Awards of compensation for mesothelioma can be significant. Courts frequently award between £55,000 and £90,000 for the disease itself. In addition, it will generally be possible to claim for past and future loss of earnings, the cost of specialist care or equipment and any private medical expenses. As a result, some awards can be in excess of £250,000.
Asbestosis claims can be dealt with on a provisional damages basis or on a full and final basis. A provisional award allows the claimant to come back to Court for additional compensation, should the degree of disability increase significantly. However, it is more common to have these cases dealt with on a full and final basis. Awards for the personal injuryaspect of the disease itself vary between £28,000 and£80,000.
Diffuse Pleural Thickening
Awards vary, depending on the degree of disability. However, typically, awards for the injury itself range between £22,400 and £60,000.
Asbestos Related Lung Cancer
For the disease itself, awards vary between £55,000 and £77,000. In addition, the Claimant may also be able to claim for loss of past and future earnings, the cost of specialist care, care provided by the Claimant’s family and any special needs, such as the cost of a stairlift or special shower or bed.
Asbestos Exposure and Preventive Measures
Asbestos exposure occurs when people inhale or ingest asbestos fibers. This can happen when the microscopic fibers become airborne. Asbestos fibers were commonly used in various products, such as insulation and other building materials. When these materials deteriorate or are disturbed, they may release asbestos dust.
Asbestos exposure was common in industrial, manufacturing and military settings. Being exposed to asbestos while at work is called occupational asbestos exposure. Individuals who did not work around asbestos may be exposed through secondhand exposure. For example, someone may carry home asbestos fibers on their belongings, which family members or roommates may inhale.
Once asbestos enters the body, it can become embedded in organs and sensitive tissues, like the lining of the lungs. This can cause irritation. Over time, scar tissue and eventually tumors may develop, leading to cancers like mesothelioma.
People are exposed to asbestos when they inhale or ingest airborne asbestos fibers. Asbestos exposure may occur at work, school, home or in the military.
However, exposure is most common on the job. Asbestos workers’ loved ones may also be at risk of secondhand exposure. Other sources of exposure include asbestos-contaminated talc, household products or damaged asbestos construction products in older homes and buildings.
- Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Occupational exposure is one of the most common types of asbestos exposure. This type occurs when individuals are exposed to the mineral at work, often in industrial or manufacturing settings.
Workers often exposed to asbestos-containing materials include:
- Construction workers
- Factory workers
- Shipyard workers
Estimates show more than 27 million U.S. workers in various occupations may have been exposed to harmful asbestos between 1940 and 1979. This time period was the height of asbestos use in the United States. However, asbestos was used long before 1940 and after 1980. Asbestos exposure and associated cancer risks are still concerns today.
Records show many employers were aware of the dangers of exposure but continued to use asbestos because it was inexpensive. A worker’s risk of occupational exposure varies depending on the type of job they had.
People may come into contact with asbestos outside of work as well. This kind of exposure may be harder to pinpoint and guard against, as it is often difficult to prevent.
- Secondhand Exposure
Secondhand, or secondary, asbestos exposure occurs when fibers are transported on a person from one place to another. This can indirectly expose family members and other non-asbestos workers to the mineral.
For example, a textile worker who spends all day around asbestos may carry home fibers on their work clothing. From there, children, spouses and other cohabitants may disturb and inhale the dangerous asbestos fibers.
- Environmental Exposure
Environmental asbestos exposure occurs when asbestos is disturbed in the ground or water. This can occur when natural deposits are uncovered. It may also happen when abandoned or destroyed asbestos products begin to degrade and settle into the environment. This may happen after a natural disaster or from abandoned buildings.
Some areas of concern for environmental exposure are open mines or abandoned asbestos sites. For example, the Libby, Montana, vermiculite mine is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site. Years of mining in this area exposed the surrounding community to tremolite-actinolite asbestos. Now, cleanup efforts are underway to protect the safety of the residents.
One of the best ways to prevent asbestos exposure is to not handle asbestos products. People should not try to remove asbestos on their own. Only licensed asbestos abatement workers should handle and remove the carcinogenic mineral. These professionals should know the federal, state and local laws pertaining to asbestos removal in the area.
Homeowners and residents should assume any house built before 1980 has asbestos-containing materials. Anyone undertaking a DIY, demolition or renovation project should contact an asbestos inspector to determine how to proceed. Many states have strict asbestos removal and disposal regulations.
If asbestos materials are accidentally disturbed, experts recommend these steps:
- Wet the materials to prevent asbestos fibers from becoming airborne
- Seal off the area with the asbestos materials as thoroughly as possible
- Contact an abatement professional to safely remove and dispose of the asbestos
If you know you have been exposed to asbestos, it is important to tell your general practitioner and maintain frequent checkups. A doctor familiar with your medical history may notice asbestos exposure symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath or chest pain.
Many of the early symptoms of asbestos diseases are mild and easily attributable to less serious diseases. Keeping your doctor informed of any changes in your health may contribute to an early diagnosis. Early diagnosis can lead to improved mesothelioma treatment outcomes.
Global Asbestos Bans and Regulations
Asbestos is listed as a category of controlled waste under Annex I of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal . Specifically, any waste streams having asbestos (dust and fibers) as constituents are controlled (Item Y36). In general terms, Parties to the convention are required to prohibit and not permit the export of hazardous wastes to the Parties which have prohibited the import of such wastes via the notification procedure in Article 13 of the convention.
The British Government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has promoted rigorous controls on asbestos handling, based on reports linking exposure to asbestos dust or fibers with thousands of annual deaths from mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer.
The manufacture and import of Blue and Brown Asbestos were banned in the United Kingdom in 1985 by The asbestos (Prohibitions) Regulations 1985. The use of White Asbestos was banned in England, Scotland and Wales in 1999 by The Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations 1999. Asbestos was banned in Northern Ireland in 2000 by the Asbestos (Prohibitions) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no general ban on the use of asbestos. However, asbestos was one of the first hazardous air pollutants regulated under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act of 1970, and many applications have been forbidden by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The United States has extensive laws regulating the use of asbestos at the federal, state, and local level.
The Future of Asbestos Legal Battles
There is no treatment that can reverse the damage done by asbestos, but certain steps can help slow down the progression of the disease and relieve symptoms. Avoiding further exposure to asbestos and other irritants such as cigarette smoke will help slow down the disease from progressing. Medication and breathing treatments may be prescribed by your physician to help ease breathlessness and maintain your general lung health. Here are some things your doctor may recommend to manage asbestosis:
- Quitting smoking as soon as possible. Smoking can increase the damage done by asbestos and speed up the progression of the disease. The American Lung Association offers a number of smoking cessation programs to give people trying to quit the support they need.
- Oxygen may be prescribed to help you get more air into your lungs. Oxygen is transferred from a tank through a tube that fits into the nostrils, or with the help of a mask. Learn more about oxygen therapy.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation is an exercise program designed to help all patients with chronic lung conditions maintain optimal activity levels.
- In very severe situations, your doctor may suggest surgery and refer you to a lung transplant specialist.
Your doctor can help manage your symptoms, but you can also take steps to keep yourself healthy by doing the following:
- Maintain nutrition with a well-balanced diet that limits salt intake and includes drinking lots of water.
- Get adequate sleep every night and take a short rest during the day if needed.
- Stay as active as you can by exercising regularly but be careful not to overexert yourself.
- Prevent infections by washing your hands often and getting flu and pneumonia shots according to your doctor’s recommendations.
- Stay inside when air pollution is severe and pollen counts are high.
- Avoid breathing pollutants that can trigger shortness of breath, including secondhand smoke, traffic fumes, smog, aerosol sprays, and vapors from products, such as paint, kerosene and cleaning agents.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a scarf to avoid breathing in cold air in cold weather.
What to Expect
You may get sick more often when you have asbestosis. As your disease progresses, you may need to make lifestyle changes such as using oxygen therapy, attending pulmonary rehabilitation and learning to go about your daily life in a way that keeps you from feeling too short of breath.
In advanced cases of asbestosis, patients may be hospitalized to help with breathing. As with all lung diseases, it is important to discuss with your doctor how to stay as healthy as possible. If your doctor thinks there may be a point when your asbestosis will cause you to be hospitalized, they might recommend a productive conversation about palliative care options, including filling out an advance directive and taking other steps so that all of your wishes are respected.
In conclusion, asbestos lawyers are the champions of justice for victims of asbestos exposure and the devastating diseases it causes. Their dedication to seeking compensation and holding responsible parties accountable has made a significant impact on the lives of countless individuals and families. As we move forward, it is crucial to continue raising awareness about asbestos-related risks, promoting preventive measures, and supporting the legal efforts that strive for a world free of asbestos-related suffering.