The health hazards of asbestos have been widely known since at least the 1970s. By the 1980s, an explosion of lawsuits linked asbestos exposure with mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive form of cancer with no known cure. Recognizing the potential dangers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) largely banned new asbestos products in 1989.
So why do we still hear about asbestos-related mesothelioma in the news and on late-night television? Why are companies still awarding multimillion-dollar settlements to mesothelioma patients and their families? Because over 3,000 people are still diagnosed with mesothelioma every year–and asbestos is almost always the cause.
Although asbestos has mostly disappeared from new materials, exposure continues. An estimated 3.5 million buildings in the U.S. still have asbestos. In addition, mesothelioma has an unusually long latency period. Symptoms may not appear for 20-50 years, which means people exposed to asbestos in the 1970s may just now be diagnosed with the disease.
Who Gets Mesothelioma?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that rarely causes health problems in small doses. Its unique properties, however, make it attractive for widespread industrial and commercial applications. Because of its resistance to heat, fire, and corrosion, asbestos was particularly popular in the construction industry. It appeared in building insulation, roof shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, and cement. But its use didn’t stop there–at one time in the U.S., asbestos could be found in everything from brake pads to fireproof clothing to hair dryers.
For that reason, millions of Americans have been exposed to asbestos. But mesothelioma most often occurs after years of direct occupational or environmental exposure. The professions most at risk for asbestos-related health problems include the following:
- Automotive, shipyard, and railroad workers
- Aircraft and auto mechanics
- Industrial, factory, and power plant workers
- Building remodelers, drywall removers, and demolition crews
- Construction workers and carpenters
- Insulation manufacturers and installers
- Firefighters and other first responders
Because workers can bring home asbestos fibers on their clothing, family members are also at risk for secondary exposure.
Asbestos-related injuries have been documented since at least the 1920s, but the material wasn’t well regulated for another half-century. As the scientific link between asbestos and mesothelioma became clear, thousands of victims filed claims. Mesothelioma lawsuits allege that employers, corporations, manufacturers, and governments hid the dangers of asbestos for decades.
Over the years, asbestos cancer victims have received millions of dollars in jury trials, corporate settlements, and class-action lawsuits. Mesothelioma is a devastating disease, with expensive medical bills and a 5-year survival rate of only 10%. Partly for that reason, compensation can be huge: juries have reached asbestos liability verdicts of $250 million, and mesothelioma settlements of over $1 million are not uncommon. Continue reading