For decades, companies knew that asbestos caused cancers like mesothelioma, yet they continued to endanger their workers.
Mesothelioma is one of the most notorious acts of corporate crime. The fatal form of lung cancer is only caused by asbestos exposure. Despite being a known carcinogen since the 1930s, asbestos was widely used by companies for decades in building materials, insulation, and more, endangering both the health of workers who manufactured the products as well as innocent consumers.
An estimated 2,000-3,000 cases of mesothelioma are still diagnosed each year, which companies pay a steep price for. Asbestos litigation makes up the largest mass tort in history.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Asbestos is a term applied to six types of minerals which are known for their flexible, fibrous structures; heat- and chemical-resistant properties; and being known carcinogens.
When asbestos is handled, the fine fibers are released into the air. When inhaled, these shard-like fibers stick to the mucus-lining of the lungs, where they can stay for years. Eventually, they create cancerous cells in the body, which typically don’t present symptoms for at least 15 to 20 years after exposure.
There are two types of mesothelioma: pleural mesothelioma (affecting the lungs), the most common of the two, and peritoneal mesothelioma (affecting the abdomen). Experts believe that peritoneal mesothelioma is caused when asbestos fibers are coughed up and swallowed, eventually affecting the abdomen.
Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer; half of patients will succumb to the disease within 18 months of diagnosis. According to the International Labor Organization, 10 million people will die from asbestos-related cancer by 2030.
The “Magic Mineral” Endangered Millions
The durable qualities of asbestos have been well known for thousands of years; the mineral has been found in artifacts dating back to the Stone Age and Ancient Egypt. However, asbestos wasn’t widely used until the beginning of the 20th century when it was first mined and exported worldwide.
Asbestos was advertised as a “magic mineral” for its heat- and chemical-resistant properties. It was largely used in building materials and insulation, but was also found in automotive parts and textiles. The U.S. Navy was especially fond of the mineral, and between the 1930s and 1970s, virtually every U.S. Naval ship contained several tons of asbestos.
Asbestos exposure was connected to cancer as early as the 1930s, and research proved it was a carcinogen in the 1970s. Despite this early knowledge, according to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 27 million American workers were exposed to asbestos between the 1940s and 1970s.
Disaster Survivors Suffer Asbestos Exposure
Though asbestos use has sharply declined, Americans are still exposed to it when older buildings are improperly destroyed or renovated. Safety regulations are often ignored during disaster clean-up when government officials prioritize speed over safety.
When the twin towers collapsed, they released an estimated 2,000 tons of asbestos.
When the twin towers collapsed on 9/11, they released an estimated 2,000 tons of asbestos, coating Lower Manhattan in a toxic dust. To make matters worse, many cleanup and search and rescue workers were not provided with adequate protection gear. It’s estimated that 41,000 people were exposed to asbestos after the disaster. Search and rescue workers were particularly vulnerable to the dust, and are twice as likely to develop mesothelioma.
Asbestos was also a public health concern after Hurricane Katrina. The EPA warned that up to 100 pollutants, including asbestos, were possibly in the flood waters. Making the crisis worse, the demolition and removal of building materials containing asbestos did not follow EPA regulations. Asbestos and other toxic waste were deposited in regular landfills not equipped to contain pollutants, potentially exposing many to the harmful mineral.
The EPA Continues to Battle the Asbestos Industry
Asbestos is currently listed and regulated as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act of 1970. However, though it’s regulated, the U.S. has yet to follow the 55 countries who have banned it.
In 1989, the EPA attempted to ban asbestos under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which allows the agency to regulate materials that pose unreasonable health or environmental risks. Despite 10,000 pages of evidence showing the hazardous effects of the chemical, the asbestos industry shot down the proposed ban in a federal appeals court.
A ban was proposed again in 2007, under the Ban Asbestos in America Act, but the bill died in Congress.
This June, Congress amended the Toxic Substances Control Act to provide the EPA with more control over regulation of dangerous chemicals. President Obama singled out asbestos when approving the amendment. The EPA is scheduled to announce the first 10 chemicals for review in December 2016.
Who is at Risk of Developing Mesothelioma?
Anyone who is exposed to asbestos is at risk of developing mesothelioma. Groups particularly susceptible to developing mesothelioma include:
- Construction workers
- Railroad workers
- Shipyard workers
- Veterans (especially from the U.S. Navy)
- Refinery workers
- First responders
The symptoms for pleural mesothelioma (of the chest), can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent cough
- Fluid in the lungs
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Excessive sweating
The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma (of the abdomen), can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Swelling or fluid in the abdomen
- Weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
The Longest Mass Tort in History
Because the dangers of asbestos have been known for decades, those suffering from mesothelioma started filing workers comp claims as early as the 1960’s.
It’s estimated that asbestos litigation will reach $200 to $265 billion in compensation.
A mass district litigation (MDL) in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has overseen the majority of recent mesothelioma lawsuits. Initially formed in 1991, judges sent mesothelioma lawsuits to the MDL until 2012, making it the longest running mass tort in history.
To date, it’s estimated that more than 8,500 defendants and more than 700,000 claimants have been involved in asbestos-related lawsuits. It’s also among the most costly litigation for defendants—it’s estimated that asbestos litigation will reach $200 to $265 billion in compensation.
ClassAction.com Can Help
If you or a loved one were diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be entitled to compensation.
Contact ClassAction.com today for a free, no-obligation legal review. Our attorneys have recovered millions of dollars for hundreds of mesothelioma victims across the United States.