Asbestos and its Dangers
by: Michael Rose
Asbestos may not be found so readily on the job these days, but asbestos is still found throughout the many commercial and industrial buildings as well as within a wide range of products still found to make up the infrastructure of our nation’s transportation, industrial and power centers. While most asbestos products are no longer manufactured asbestos is still prevalent; it may be in a dormant location that temporarily prevents it from releasing its dangerous fibers. Paint or some other compound will inevitably degrade over time and ultimately release its dangerous asbestos fibers.
Why Asbestos is Relevant Today
Asbestos consumption was at a high in the early 1970’s. What made it such a popular product is also what made it so deadly – it is a perfect (and inexpensive) heat insulator but its microscopic fibers bypass the body’s natural defenses (nose hair, coughing, sneezing and phlegm) to ultimately collect in the lungs of the person inhaling it. Pleural mesothelioma (“PM”) – the most common type of asbestos-related cancer – takes 20-50 years to develop after exposure (the “latency period”). This means many people exposed to asbestos in the peak of its popularity are still at risk of developing PM. To make matters more tragic, symptoms of PM may not even be noticeable until the cancer is in its later stages.
While it is much more heavily regulated, the United States is one of the only developed countries where asbestos is still being used in construction. Older buildings are especially prone to heavy asbestos presence, and exposure to older asbestos-made products is just as hazardous today as when they were made.
Due to the nature of their work, laborers are especially at risk to asbestos exposure. Basic face masks will not provide sufficient protection to work safely around asbestos fibers. There are half-face respirator masks that can protect against asbestos exposure, but even with these masks there will always remain risks. How the mask is worn can affect its effectiveness (i.e. facial hair can create enough space for the asbestos fibers to permeate). Even when the mask is worn correctly, asbestos fibers can cling to your hair and clothes, so wearing full body protective gear is highly recommended. After use, you should throw these clothes in asbestos-designated waste bags while wearing the face mask. After doing so, remove the mask and take a thorough shower.
What Should I Do?
After a diagnosis of PM, average life expectancy is 18 months, although there are treatments available. If you think you or a loved one may have been exposed to asbestos, whether in the 1970s “asbestos boom,” or more recently due to working or residing in an older building, you should educate yourself on asbestos-related diseases. It is vital to keep in mind that PM can take decades to develop after asbestos exposure and many people who develop the cancer do not show symptoms until the later stages. Even if you do not have any symptoms but believe you may have been exposed to asbestos, you should consult your doctor. It is important for construction workers to get regularly screened for any asbestos-associated diseases.
Symptoms of PM:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty swallowing
- Persistent cough
- Night sweats or fever
- Pain in the lower back
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lumps under the skin on the chest
Other Asbestos-Related Diseases
While an asbestos-related disease may be classified as “benign,” it can increase the risk for future development of the other more serious diseases. Therefore, if diagnosed with one of the benign diseases, you should stay alert to the greater possibility one of the malignant diseases may later develop and remember to suit up when working in areas where asbestos may be disturbed (removal efforts, construction, renovation, etc.). Some of the other asbestos-related diseases include:
- Lung cancer (20-30 year latency period)
- Peritoneal mesothelioma (20-50 year latency period)
- Asbestosis / pulmonary fibrosis (15 year latency period)
- Pleural Plaques (20-40 year latency period)
- Diffuse pleural thickening (20-40 year latency period)
- Pleural effusion (15 year latency period)
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with PM or another asbestos-related disease, you deserve to be compensated for the injury and the devastating impact it had on your life. Even if the cancer is in remission, you should still demand justice for what you suffered. Hach & Rose, LLP represented (co-counsel) a union worker who suffered from lung cancer and the firm obtained a $1,200,000 settlement. He is in complete remission and continues to work at his job. An engineer who suffered from lung cancer was turned away by a major New York asbestos law firm. Hach & Rose, LLP chose to represent him and obtained a settlement (co-counsel) of $1,800,000. He is currently retired and in complete remission.
Regardless of the extent of your injuries and your current health, Hach & Rose, LLP is here to listen if you have questions regarding asbestos-related illnesses.