April 1st marked the beginning of the 12th Annual Global Asbestos Awareness Week. Despite knowing most of the risks since 1930, the asbestos industry grew and peaked in the early 1970s as a major health concern for Americans. To help raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos and its legal standing in the United States, here are five facts you should know about asbestos and protecting your legal rights.
Fact 1: Asbestos is still legal in the US
Despite decades of study into asbestos and proof of its harmful health effects, the US has yet to completely ban the mining of the fiber or the manufacture, import, or sale of products containing asbestos. Asbestos is banned in 55 countries including the United Kingdom, but not in the US. Why?
There have actually been three attempts to ban asbestos to extreme degrees in the US, but each one has been met with resounding opposition mainly from the asbestos industry.
Fact 2: Asbestos causes cancer
Asbestos is well known for causing respiratory diseases, but it’s also a carcinogenic. In fact, asbestos has been confirmed to cause four types of cancer and potentially cause several others.
Here are the four confirmed cancers asbestos exposure can cause:
- Mesothelioma—Not only is mesothelioma exclusively caused by asbestos, but it is also the most aggressive asbestos-related cancer. It has a latency period (the time between exposure to asbestos and when symptoms manifest) of 20 to 50 years and no known cure. It’s especially prevalent in veterans and military families of World War II—a time when asbestos exposure was nearly unavoidable because it was used in most military products, machinery, and vehicles.
- Lung Cancer—Asbestos-related lung cancer kills twice as many people as mesothelioma and has been named “the greatest health risk for American asbestos workers” by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Unlike for mesothelioma, the risk for asbestos-related lung cancer is increased in smokers.
- Laryngeal Cancer—When airborne asbestos is inhaled, it can become caught in the larynx and develop into laryngeal cancer. The development of asbestos-related laryngeal cancer is dose-dependent, meaning that the duration and intensity of asbestos exposure influence the cancer risk.
- Ovarian Cancer—Asbestos-related ovarian cancer is often caused by the use of talcum powder (like baby powder) on the female genital area. Talc, the natural mineral ingredient of talcum powder, is often found to occur naturally near asbestos deposits, which can lead to contamination during talc mining.
Fact 3: Asbestos is all around us
Asbestos was a popular insulation and fireproofing material that was used for homes, schools, offices, machinery, clothing, and more prior to the 1970s and is still used in many products today, though mostly for construction purposes. Mesothelioma.com has a list of products that do or may still contain asbestos today. Household items such as toasters and hair dryers that were made with asbestos are still in use as well.
Asbestos exposure is not exclusive to these products, construction areas, and the mines it’s extracted from. Asbestos is a natural fiber found in certain rocks. When the rocks are fractured or eroded from manmade or natural forces, the asbestos particles are released and can become airborne. As such, asbestos can naturally contaminate its environment including water, air, or soil. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry offers comprehensive information about natural asbestos exposure in the US.
Can you develop asbestos-related diseases or cancer from natural exposure? Yes, but the risk of developing a disease or cancer is tied to the level and duration of exposure. The University of California, Davis conducted research and found that everyday natural exposure can increase the risk of mesothelioma.
Fact 4: Asbestos will remain deadly for years to come
Asbestos is a patient and sociable killer easily thwarted. About 15,000 people in the US die every year from asbestos-related diseases with an estimated 60,000 more fatalities in the next decade—and most won’t realize their lives are in danger until it’s too late.
Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases don’t manifest until decades after initial exposure, and people who were in direct exposure to asbestos aren’t the only ones in danger. Like secondhand smoking, secondary asbestos exposure is deadly, too. The fine asbestos particles are easily transmittable through surface contact on clothes, items, skin, and hair. The families of miners developed the same or similar asbestos diseases the miners had from simply disturbing their asbestos-covered clothes, tools, and bodies each day.
Asbestos remains the number one cause of occupational cancer in the US according to the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. As deadly as it is, asbestos exposure is easily preventable in both the workplace and at home. Asbestos.com offers advice on how you can protect yourself and your family from asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.
Fact 5: US Law is slowly adapting to meet the problem
In 1978, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit created a “discovery” rule that amended the statute of limitations for asbestos cases. Prior to this rule, former employees who were diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases were met with difficulty if they tried to sue their former employers for not preventing asbestos exposure. The statute of limitations for personal injury cases sets a time limit for plaintiffs to file a lawsuit before defendants are no longer liable for the personal injury.
Since asbestos diseases have a decades-long latency period before the symptoms manifest, the statute of limitations expired long before plaintiffs knew they had the disease. The “discovery” rule recognizes the unfairness of these situations and institutes a special statute of limitations that begins at the time the symptoms manifest instead of at the origin of the personal injury (i.e. first exposure).
The US still has a long road ahead towards banning asbestos at its current pace. Congress reformed the Toxic Substances Control Act last year to give the Environmental Protection Agency the power over the regulation of toxic materials like asbestos. This isn’t a total ban, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.
What should I do if I have an asbestos-related disease?
Asbestos litigation is the longest-running mass tort litigation in the US, so you are not alone. You may be eligible for financial relief if your disease is related to a former job or product contamination. Contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible to learn about your legal options.