Asbestos Exposure

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Most Americans are at least somewhat familiar with asbestos and the dangers it presents and the asbestos lawyers at Meirowitz & Wasserberg, LLP, believe people should be especially aware of the dangers of asbestos. For decades, asbestos was the go-to fire retardant used in most construction work. Asbestos was also a main component in many building materials including textiles, cement compounds, roofing shingles, floor tiles, ceiling materials and car parts. Over time, researchers exposed the glaring links between asbestos exposure and several types of lung diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and pleural disease.

Understanding Asbestos

“Asbestos” actually refers to any of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals, including actinolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, chrysotile, crocidolite and amosite. Of these six minerals, chrysotile and amosite were the most commonly used. Asbestos fibers are microscopic yet very durable against fire and many other chemical reactions. Asbestos use declined rapidly in the late 1970s after it became apparent that asbestos exposure led to multiple health conditions, putting hundreds of thousands of lives at risk.

One of the most dangerous aspects of asbestos is that there is no safe exposure threshold. There is no safe type of asbestos and no level of exposure is safe at all. Anyone who has had any occupational contact with asbestos fibers is at serious risk for the many health problems asbestos can cause. In the early 1980s, workers in shipbuilding, power plant employees, construction workers, manufacturers and veterans all began reporting health complications that doctors linked to asbestos exposure.

Health Impact Of 9/11 On New Yorkers

After the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, the asbestos fallout resulting from the collapse included nearly 5,000 tons of MonoKote, a building material produced by W.R. Grace & Company, used in the construction of the Towers in the 1960s. The 5,000 pounds of MonoKote spread across Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn following the attack, and residents in the area continue to report unusually high rates of respiratory disorders.

Deteriorating Infrastructure Problems

Many of the legislative measures taken to combat asbestos-related illness and death included careful inspection of remaining asbestos insulation. During the summer of 2007, old steam pipes insulated with asbestos burst and exposed those nearby to the asbestos fibers. One of the pipes exploded in Manhattan and the other in downtown Boston. Older cities typically have a much harder time keeping pace with the need for infrastructure repairs, so some problems often linger until they become pressing concerns.

High-Risk Occupations For Asbestos

New York City has been a transportation hub since the 1800s, and construction in the city is nearly constant due to a rapidly growing population and deterioration of existing infrastructure. Construction is statistically the most dangerous industry in which to work, and construction jobs typically carry a higher risk of asbestos exposure than other occupations. Since many transportation centers and structures used asbestos in their construction, those working in these occupations also face a higher degree of risk.

The construction boom in the early 20th century led to many public schools, public housing units, offices, churches, sewage treatment plants, restaurants, bars and any other public building having asbestos in some form. As these older structures fell into disrepair, the workers charged with renovating, demolishing or repairing them came into contact with asbestos. Although asbestos falls under heavy regulation today, construction workers and transportation employees still face a higher degree of risk of asbestos exposure than other professions.

Another dangerous aspect of asbestos exposure is that mesothelioma, one of the most dangerous asbestos-caused illnesses, has a long latency period before it becomes actively harmful, sometimes waiting as long as 15 to 60 years before becoming a pressing health concern. This can make it extremely difficult for people who contracted the illness years ago to secure compensation from the responsible parties. It’s also vital to recognize that even the relatives and loved ones of people exposed to asbestos are at risk. Asbestos fibers can cling to shoes, clothing, skin and hair, spreading to others at home. Some of the highest-risk occupations for asbestos exposure include:

  • 9/11 first responders
  • Aircraft mechanics
  • Auto mechanics
  • Bricklayers
  • Boilermakers
  • Carpenters
  • Cement finishers
  • Electricians
  • Engineers
  • Firefighters
  • Foundry workers
  • Machinists
  • Mechanics
  • Painters
  • Pipefitters
  • Plumbers
  • Sheet metal workers
  • Steamfitters
  • Welders

This is not an exhaustive list — any number of tradesmen may encounter asbestos on the job, and it’s vital for these individuals to know their rights after a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.

Filing A Lawsuit For Asbestos-Related Illnesses

Although a lawsuit for an asbestos-related illness will likely fall under the purview of personal injury law, asbestos lawsuits are different than other personal injury lawsuits. Since the issue has been well-known for quite some time, asbestos lawsuits often involve the same attorneys, law firms and expert witnesses. Additionally, many asbestos-related lawsuits involve the same locations known for asbestos hazards.

Asbestos-related lawsuits are also different in that the courts have specialized “asbestos dockets” aimed at speeding up the litigation process. Asbestos-related illnesses are serious and progress very rapidly, so the court expedites legal proceedings for asbestos lawsuits so plaintiffs have a better chance of securing compensation fast enough for it to count. Most asbestos cases can be filed with New York City Asbestos Litigation (NYCAL). NYCAL divides asbestos claims into two sections: in extremis, for those suffering from lung cancer and mesothelioma, and first-in-first-out (FIFO) cases for individuals with nonsevere conditions and individuals who are deceased at the time of filing. Those cases that do not qualify for NYCAL can be filed upstate. Regardless, anyone suffering from an asbestos-related illness should contact a reliable attorney as soon as possible to start the filing process.