The Goldberg Law Firm Co., LPA

The Goldberg Law Firm Co., LPA

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Risk Factors

Although mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer, reported incidence rates have increased in the past 20 years. Almost all people who develop mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles. In fact, a history of asbestos exposure at work is reported in about 70-80% of all cases. Usually, the risk of mesothelioma will increase with heavier and longer exposure to asbestos. Even low exposures to asbestos can lead to the development of malignant mesothelioma.

It is not uncommon for someone to develop this cancer after only a few weeks of exposure at a summer job decades earlier or from washing clothing worn by a worker exposed to asbestos on the job. There are even cases come reported in medical literature of mesothelioma developing in people who simply lived near a site were asbestos products were used or manufactured.

Mesothelioma occurs more often in men than in women, and risk increases with age. Yet, mesothelioma may appear in either men or women at any age.

  Who is at Risk from Asbestos Exposure?

Asbestos has been mined and used commercially since the late 1800s. Its use greatly increased during World War II. Since the early 1940s, millions of American workers have been exposed to asbestos dust. Initially, the risks associated with asbestos exposure were not publicly known. However, an increased risk of developing mesothelioma was later found among shipyard workers, people who work in asbestos mines and mills, producers of asbestos products, workers in the heating and construction industries, and other tradespeople.

Today, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets limits for acceptable levels of asbestos exposure in the workplace, and created guidelines for engineering controls and respirators, protective clothing, exposure monitoring, hygiene facilities and practices, warning signs, labeling, recordkeeping, and medical exams. By contrast, the British Government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states formally that any threshold for mesothelioma must be at a very low level and it is widely agreed that if any such threshold does exist at all, then it cannot currently be quantified. For practical purposes, therefore, HSE does not assume that any such threshold exists. People who work with asbestos wear personal protective equipment to lower their risk of exposure.

Exposure to asbestos fibers has been recognized as an occupational health hazard since the early 1900s. Several epidemiological studies have associated exposure to asbestos with the development of:

  • Lesions such as asbestos bodies in the sputum;
  • Pleural plaques;
  • Diffuse pleural thickening;
  • Asbestosis;
  • Carcinoma of the lung and larynx;
  • Gastrointestinal tumors; and
  • Diffuse mesothelioma of the pleura and peritoneum.

The documented presence of asbestos fibers in water supplies and food products has fostered concerns about the possible impact of long-term and, as yet, unknown exposure of the general population to these fibers. Although many authorities consider brief or transient exposure to asbestos fibers as inconsequential and an unlikely risk factor, some epidemiologists claim that there is no risk threshold. Cases of mesothelioma have been found in people whose only exposure was breathing the air through ventilation systems. Other cases had very minimal (3 months or less) direct exposure.

Family members and others living with asbestos workers have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma, and possibly other asbestos related diseases. This risk may be the result of exposure to asbestos dust brought home on the clothing and hair of asbestos workers. To reduce the chance of exposing family members to asbestos fibers, asbestos workers are usually required to shower and change their clothing before leaving the workplace.

Occupations Exposed To Asbestos:

  • Shipbuilding trades;
  • Navy serviceman (including World War II veterans up through serviceman leaving the Navy in the 1970s);
  • Asbestos mining and milling;
  • Manufacturing of asbestos textiles and other asbestos products;
  • Insulation work in construction and building trades;
  • Brake repair;
  • Demolition workers;
  • Drywall movers; and
  • Firefighters.

More occupations exposed to asbestos include:

  • Bricklayers;
  • Carpenters;
  • Cement finishers;
  • Construction workers;
  • Electricians;
  • Engineers;
  • Insulators;
  • Machinists;
  • Mechanics;
  • Sheet metal workers;
  • Pipe fitters;
  • Plumbers;
  • Roofers;
  • Steamfitters;
  • Welders;
  • Power plant personnel;
  • Pipe fitters and steamfitters;
  • Building maintenance workers; and
  • Superintendents.

Working with asbestos is the major risk factor for mesothelioma. A history of asbestos exposure exists in almost all cases. However, mesothelioma has been reported in some individuals without any known exposure to asbestos. In rare cases, mesothelioma has also been associated with irradiation, intrapleural thorium dioxide (Thorotrast), and inhalation of other fibrous silicates, such as erionite.

Asbestos becomes harmful when a product containing asbestos breaks, cracks, or is otherwise disturbed. When this happens, asbestos fibers are released into the air, making it possible for infection to develop once these fibers are breathed in. The problem with asbestos arises when the fibers become airborne and are inhaled. Because of the size of the fibers, the lungs cannot expel them.

Asbestos has been widely used in many industrial products, including cement, brake linings, roof shingles, flooring products, textiles, and insulation. If tiny asbestos particles float in the air, especially during the manufacturing process, they may be inhaled or swallowed, and can cause serious health problems. In addition to mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos increases the risk of lung cancer, asbestosis (a noncancerous, chronic lung ailment), and other cancers, such as those of the larynx and kidney.

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The combination of smoking and asbestos exposure significantly increases a person’s risk of developing cancer of the airways (lung cancer, bronchial carcinoma). The Kent brand of cigarettes used asbestos in its filters for the first few years of production in the 1950s, and some cases of mesothelioma have resulted. Smoking current cigarettes does not appear to increase the risk of mesothelioma.

While persons who work with products containing asbestos over a long period of time run the highest risk of Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illness, occasional contact with high concentrations of asbestos fibers without the proper safety precautions can significantly increase the risk of ingesting asbestos in concentrations sufficient to cause severe health problems many years later. For most people, these occasional risks of intensive asbestos exposure can occur during home remodeling and renovation projects.

Maybe you remodeled a house or engaged in construction or demolition during a summer job years ago. If so, you probably punched out walls, floors, or ceilings containing asbestos fibers. Drywall, sheetrock spackling, joint compounds, floor tiles, and acoustic plaster all contained asbestos as a matter of routine through the late 1970s. Any demolition activities that generated dust in the course of dismantling and disposing of these materials in a structure built before 1980 almost certainly released asbestos into the air you were working in. This in turn could lead to severe illness and a diagnosis of Mesothelioma at any time more than ten years after the work was performed.

Persons working today on building remodeling projects are expected to comply with EPA guidelines intended to minimize the risk of asbestos ingestion through the demolition, cutting, or sanding of ceilings, walls, and floors. Older linoleum tiles and sheets used in flooring are especially dangerous to work with, because asbestos likely is contained in both the linoleum and the adhesive that attaches it to the bare floor.

Because of the fire resistance, insulating properties, and durability of asbestos, the substance was commonly used in many applications where heat or friction was a consideration in a moving part or production system. Brake shoes and clutch pads contained asbestos to prevent wear, and any auto mechanic who needed to grind down old brakes or clutches released a considerable volume of asbestos fiber into the air before the risks were widely understood.

In electrical power plants, the voltage transformers, transmission wire casings, and steam pipes were all heavily insulated with asbestos compounds, and the maintenance, trimming, and replacement of these components were a major source of airborne asbestos. Industrial boilers and steam heat systems often had a heavy external layer of asbestos insulation that would dry and crumble into dust over years. Any job that involved the maintenance or replacement of these components would necessarily generate the dispersion of asbestos particles into the air, frequently in a confined space.

Any worker who handled brakes, pipes, or transformers containing asbestos at any time from the 1930s to the 1980s is at risk of Mesothelioma. Most of the people exposed to the risk of this rare form of cancer will not develop Mesothelioma, but those who do in most cases will die within one year of diagnosis.

Because of the extraordinary risk that fire can present at sea, as well as the high temperatures generated by propulsion and heating systems, asbestos has been used to insulate boilers, steampipes, and hot water pipes that run throughout the length of the vessel. Shipyard workers who cut, trimmed, fitted, and repaired or dismantled these insulated assemblies have proved in later years to have suffered serious consequences to their health as a result of this exposure. At Goldberg Law Offices, our lawyers represent Mesothelioma victims throughout the nation whose asbestos exposure might have occurred at shipyards, dry-docks, and navy bases anywhere in the United States.

We also represent mesothelioma victims whose asbestos exposure took place over years of work in chemical plants, oil refineries, power plants, mines, and manufacturing facilities of all kinds. Our ability to respond and investigate promptly can give your claim for compensation a distinct advantage.

Widely used in many building materials from floor tiles to insulation through the 1970s, asbestos fibers represent a highly dangerous human carcinogen when swallowed or inhaled. Materials containing asbestos in buildings are not usually dangerous unless the fibers are released into the air through sanding, cutting, trimming, or the deterioration of tape and wraps over many years. Under normal conditions, the persons most at risk of exposure to asbestos were not those who lived or worked in a contaminated building, but the workers who installed sheetrock, floor tile, asbestos cement, or ceiling panels that contain asbestos, or who removed such materials during a period of renovation or demolition.

Mesothelioma, or cancer of the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen, does not develop until ten to forty years or more after a period of exposure to asbestos fibers in dust or water. As a result, anyone who worked in construction or demolition at any time since the 1960s, when asbestos was still commonly used in building materials of many kinds, is likely to have handled asbestos and to have ingested it in the dust generated by construction or demolition activities. The demolition and disposal of old sheetrock, insulation, and insulated pipes years ago has proved to be an especially dangerous activity for renovation workers, because of the high likelihood of asbestos contamination during the removal of debris.

In the 1980s, many older schools underwent asbestos remediation programs, and the workers involved in asbestos removal were often contaminated because of insufficient protection against exposure. Although EPA guidelines address safety requirements for asbestos removal operations in considerable detail, many unscrupulous contractors would save money by using untrained and unskilled workers without protective clothing and equipment.

Although most cases of Mesothelioma can be traced back to workplace asbestos contamination on the job, it is also possible to have ingested the asbestos fibers that can cause cancer at home or at school.

There are many ways to ingest asbestos in a residential environment–release of asbestos fibers into the air through removing old house siding, drywall, sheetrock, insulated pipes, textured ceilings, or floor tiles; asbestos contamination in the water supply; or increasingly, contact with a family member whose job involved working with asbestos materials on a regular basis. Many recent cases of Mesothelioma and other diseases characteristic of asbestos exposure can be traced to washing work clothes, which would often involve shaking the dust out of the clothing before putting them in the washing machine.

Children also ingested asbestos fibers simply by playing with their fathers shortly after arriving home from a workday at a mine, a shipyard, or a power plant. The asbestos particles in the worker’s hair or clothing could be and often were released into the indoor air for the entire family to breathe.

There are also documented cases of asbestos exposure of children at contaminated schools. Congress passed a law in 1986 that required every school to test for asbestos in its building and plan for the repair, removal, or containment of damaged materials containing asbestos that could be released for ingestion. Some of the teachers and children exposed to asbestos prior to the effective date of this legislation are only now being diagnosed with Mesothelioma. Others ingested asbestos afterward as the consequence of unsafe or ineffective steps taken to deal with school asbestos contamination.

Examples of common products that currently contain or formerly incorporated asbestos are:

  • Roofing;
  • Siding;
  • Flooring and tiles;
  • Drywall;
  • Sheetrock;
  • Drywall tape;
  • Joint compound;
  • Wall insulation;
  • Spackling;
  • Sealing;
  • Acoustic tile;
  • Ceiling tile;
  • Textured wall applications;
  • Brake shoes and linings;
  • Clutch pads;
  • Gaskets;
  • Electrical voltage transformers;
  • Electric wire casings;
  • Boilers;
  • Furnaces;
  • Water heaters;
  • Steampipes;
  • Hot water pipes;
  • Asbestos cement;
  • Acoustic plaster;
  • Adhesives;
  • Turbines;
  • Generators;
  • Seals for pumps and valves; as well as
  • Fireproof fabric, clothing, and theater curtains.

In most cases, it is not the asbestos product itself that presents the danger to a person working or living with it. It is the release of asbestos particles into the air when mixing, cutting, sanding, fitting, or removing a product that constitutes dangerous exposure. There are no safe levels of exposure to asbestos in any ingestible form.

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