Congresswoman’s Asbestos Lawsuit Prompts Debate

New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy was, sadly, recently diagnosed with lung cancer. Consequently, she filed a lawsuit against several companies who she believes exposed her and her family to asbestos while she was a child. Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight this case to remind the public of the very real and very dangerous effects of so-called “second-hand” asbestos exposure.

People are most often exposed to asbestos through the workplace – commonly in industries such as shipbuilding, construction and automotive repair. When the asbestos dust is unintentionally brought home on the clothing, hair, boots and work gear of these workers, infiltrating the home and affecting family members, this is known as second-hand asbestos exposure.

McCarthy’s father and brothers worked as boiler makers at U.S. Navy Yards and power plants while she was growing up. Asbestos was used for decades in the United States, particularly in boiler manufacturing and shipbuilding, because of its high resistance to heat, excellent insulating properties, high tensile strength, and low costs. Asbestos appears as a fiber, which is actually thousands of fibrous materials that can break off, become airborne, stick to clothing, and be inhaled most directly by the workers themselves, and later by their families.

Asbestos, Smoking and Cancer

Inhaling asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of internal organs, as well as asbestosis. It is also a major contributing factor to lung cancer. The McCarthy case is so hotly contested because she is a long-time smoker, known for taking cigarette breaks between votes on Capitol Hill.

Some argue that partly blaming her lung cancer on previous exposure to asbestos is baseless because of her 40-year smoking habit. Scientific evidence however, does provide some ground for her claims that it was a contributor. According to a quote in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the rate of lung cancer in smokers who were previously exposed to asbestos is 4,000 times higher than smokers not exposed. Though the source of that number remains unclear, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine recently published that smokers exposed to asbestos were at least five times more likely to develop lung cancer than unexposed smokers.

The significant increase in risk is largely related to how cigarette smoke paralyzes the cilia (slender protuberances in the lining of the windpipe that sweep debris out of the lungs). The cilium protects the lungs from toxic substances, asbestos and toxins in cigarettes alike, and when it is paralyzed, it is unable to keep the toxins out.

McCarthy filed the lawsuit against multiple asbestos manufacturers, including Pfizer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and the Con Edison utility, not for exclusively causing her lung cancer but for significantly contributing to it and increasing her risk. The synergistic relationship between asbestos and smoking is irrefutable, but it will be interesting to see whether a judge agrees that the companies should be held financially liable for her second-hand exposure.

This case merely reemphasizes how important it is to stop smoking, especially in those previously exposed to asbestos. A study by Queens College in New York found about a 50% decrease in lung cancer rates when insulation workers exposed to asbestos stopped smoking. That study involved over 2,000 insulation workers and focused on the synergistic relationship between smoking, lung cancer and asbestos exposure.

Those exposed to asbestos on the job or by second-hand exposure who develop lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma are able to obtain millions for their suffering, even if they have a history of smoking. The families of two former smokers who worked with asbestos-containing gaskets recently won a total of $22 million for their lung cancer development. The jury decided that Goodyear Tire and Rubber was liable for 45% of one man’s cancer and 12% of the other’s, for manufacturing and selling products the company knew to contain a cancer-causing material.

Our team of asbestos exposure attorneys have decades of experience in mesothelioma and lung cancer litigation, and have our own team of medical investigators to help you win your case. If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos and developed a related illness, contact our firm today for a free, no-obligation legal consultation.

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