No product in the history of the world has shaped products liability litigation like asbestos. Asbestos-related litigation is the longest running tort in American history with tens of billions of dollars in damages awarded and provided in settlements to plaintiffs injured by exposure to the material. Asbestos exposure can result in a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma and other illnesses, and its widespread use has ensured a plethora of victims.
A Brief History of Asbestos
Asbestos is any one of a set of six fibrous minerals. Five types are firm, elongated fibers typically used in insulation while one, chrysotile, is a wavy form that may be spun into thread or cloth. Chrysotile comprises over 95 percent of all asbestos encountered in the United States; it can be found in everything from brake pads to drywall joint compounds. Asbestos is an effective insulator against heat and sound.
Asbestos use can be traced back over 4,500 years. Its early use provided cloth that was highly resistant to fire. Its use remained limited until the Industrial Revolution. During the late 1800s, demand for asbestos surged as it was used as an insulator in many building materials such as bricks, gaskets, cement, flooring and roofing materials. During that time, asbestos was a widely used and effective insulator that enhanced energy efficiency.
As the health hazards associated with asbestos became known, its use began to taper off. This occurred over the better part of a century, resulting in many current homes and buildings being equipped with asbestos containing materials. Today, asbestos removal is a major industry in the United States with countless older buildings being removed The European Union has banned asbestos use and production outright, as have other developed countries. It is still used in the United States in limited capacities; some cement, caulk, and floor tiles contain a high-density form of asbestos that is theoretically more resistant to releasing fibers into the air.
Mesothelioma and Asbestos
The health hazards from asbestos arise from its construction. Undisturbed asbestos is not dangerous. If the asbestos is disturbed, asbestos fibers invisible to the human eye will become airborne. These microscopic, sharp fibers are easily inhaled and are extremely difficult to exhale. As these fibers accumulate in the victim’s lungs, the asbestos fibers can cause a variety of debilitating or even fatal illnesses. Victims of work-related asbestos exposure should seek out legal counsel with a history of success in mesothelioma cases, such as our attorney West Palm Beach firm.
Mesothelioma is one of the biggest threats of asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelium, a protective layer in the thoracic and abdominal cavities as well as pericardium. This aggressive form of cancer can and usually does spread to various organs, resulting in the patient’s death. Mesothelioma is notable for its poor prognosis, the fact that 90 percent of mesothelioma cases are linked to asbestos exposure, and the very long latency period between exposure to asbestos and the onset of mesothelioma. The period of time between exposure and onset can be as short as 15 years or as long as 40 years.
Other illnesses can also be caused by asbestos exposure, including lung cancer and asbestosis, an interstitial fibrosis that inhibits the lungs’ ability to transfer oxygen to the blood. Asbestosis may or may not be fatal, but usually results in a serious deterioration of the patient’s quality of life. Serious diseases caused by asbestos are normally caused by repeated exposure, although this may be over a relatively short period. Individuals who worked industries involving the manufacture of asbestos containing materials or workers in the shipbuilding, construction, automotive and heating and ventilation industries are most susceptible to mesothelioma.
Asbestos exposure is a serious matter; the insidious nature of exposure means that the victim will remain asymptomatic for decades before suffering from a serious and often fatal illness. Exposure to asbestos continues today in countless older structures with asbestos insulation and even in newer structures with asbestos containing materials. Personal injury attorneys have recovered billions of dollars for plaintiffs in asbestos-related litigation. Anyone who has suffered an injury as a result of asbestos exposure may be entitled to compensation.
Anthony Joseph is an avid researcher and freelance author who enjoys writing about various health issues, and contributes this article to help raise awareness of the still present dangers of asbestos. Steinger, Iscoe & Greene is a personal injury attorney West Palm Beach firm with more than a decade representing clients who have been injured at the hands of someone or something else. They pride themselves on getting the maximum amount of compensation in the shortest amount of time.