Asbestos is an internationally-recognized carcinogen, known to cause fatal forms of cancer in any amount of exposure. In 2006, the World Health Organization called for elimination of all asbestos uses. The International Commission on Occupational Health has also called for a global ban on the mining, sale, and use of all asbestos.
Our team of mesothelioma lawyers investigates why the United States has not yet banned asbestos, and the new surge in cancer diagnoses among young men and women exposed to the substance.
What is the Third Wave?
This is what scientists, doctors and unions are calling the “third wave” of asbestos disease. The dangers of asbestos have been known and medically documented since the beginning of the 20th century. Due to massive corporate cover-ups and powerful political plays by the asbestos industry, the United States did not implement any type of asbestos ban until 1973.
Until that time, workers involved in the mining, manufacture and milling of asbestos were hit hardest by cancer, asbestosis, and other related diseases. A few years later, asbestos diseases were killing shipbuilders, insulators, auto mechanics, and others who worked with asbestos occupationally. These were the first and second waves of asbestos deaths.
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In 1989, the EPA banned most asbestos-containing products under the Toxic Substances Control Act. This ban was overruled, however, two years later, making the manufacture, importation, processing and distribution of asbestos legal. Today, the United States is one of very few industrialized countries without a full asbestos ban. The entire European Union, along with the United Kingdom and Australia, has banned asbestos entirely.
Some examples of asbestos-containing products currently in commerce include cement pipes, vinyl floor tile, clutch facings, automatic transmission components, roof and non-roof coatings, and a myriad of other products. An estimated 400 metric tons of asbestos were consumed in 2014.
Workers at Highest Risk
Far too many people do not know the products they use at work and home contain asbestos, despite very clear state and federal rules on notifying and protecting employees from exposure. One of these people is Kris Penny, a 39-year-old father battling peritoneal mesothelioma.
He discovered his illness in 2014, when he was admitted to the hospital for severe pain. Surgeons found his abdomen ravaged by mesothelioma, a cancer caused only by exposure to asbestos.
In 2003 and 2004, Penny worked for a construction company contracted by BellSouth (now part of AT&T) to do wiring work underground. He would pull new fiber-optic cables into cement conduit runs, and remove old copper-wire cable. BellSouth never informed him or his coworkers that the cement conduits contained asbestos, and he was never given any type of respiratory protection.
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In his mesothelioma lawsuit, Penny describes bursts of thick dust from the cement conduits, which sometimes were so overwhelming he and his coworkers had to jump out of the manhole. There was no signage in the work sites warning that the cement piping contained asbestos, or that inhaling it could cause fatal illness.
BellSouth, now AT&T argues that it relied on the construction company to enforce safety rules and protections. The telecommunications giant said it requires contractors to comply with all federal regulations, and that workers like Penny knowingly and voluntarily exposed themselves to the risks of asbestos. Any illnesses were therefore the result of the workers own negligence, according to a written statement by AT&T.
Penny’s story highlights the looming tragedy of asbestos deaths among vulnerable workers. Individuals employed in telecommunications (along with shipbuilding, auto mechanic, construction, and many other occupations) must always ask about the presence of asbestos in conduits and manholes. The answer may surprise you and just might save your life.
In 2014, a well-informed Verizon worker in Virginia asked his union representative to test a conduit he and his team were working on. The conduit was 35% asbestos.
How Do I Know If I Was Exposed?
Most of our asbestos exposure clients are much older than Penny. The typical latency period – the time it takes from initial asbestos exposure and a diagnosis – is between 10-40 years. Though it may take decades to develop, about 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year. Most of these people will not survive more than 12 months.
Penny underwent surgery and heated chemotherapy (also called hyperthermia therapy, which we wrote about here). He’s since underwent several more surgeries, lost 70 pounds, and is so lacking in energy he must think about every step he takes.
Asbestos does not discriminate by age, gender, occupation, or even duration of exposure. The most minor exposures to asbestos can cause disease, even in those who have no recollection of ever having been around the substance. There is absolutely no safe level of exposure.
That is where we come in. We have been helping victims of asbestos exposure for 30 years, winning millions for our clients. We have a wide network of national databases, trial attorneys, and medical experts that will investigate your history to pinpoint precisely when, where and how you were exposed to asbestos, so you can gain justice from negligent companies. If you or someone you love was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer, contact our team of asbestos exposure lawyers immediately. We will travel to you, and always offer free consultations.