Mesothelioma and Asbestos
Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer directly related to asbestos exposure. Asbestos, a fibrous material once commonly used as a flame retardant in buildings and other products, can cause chronic (and sometimes terminal) illness when its dust is inhaled and settles in the lungs. While the production of asbestos in the U.S. was banned in 1978, the use of existing asbestos was permitted. This means homes and other buildings constructed as late as the mid-1980s may have used asbestos.
Types of Asbestos-Related Illnesses
Illness associated with asbestos exposure was recognized in the early part of the 20th century and asbestos-related lawsuits have been (and continue to be) filed since the 1960s. In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can cause "asbestosis" (the fibrous scarring of lung tissue) and other forms of lung cancer. Asbestosis often causes shortness of breath and may lead to cardiac failure.
Mesothelioma is still relatively rare, but roughly 200 new cases of the disease are reported each year and virtually all of them can be traced back to asbestos exposure. This form of cancer is more likely to occur in people who were exposed to asbestos as children.
Asbestos Exposure: Risk Factors
Most people have been (or will be) exposed to asbestos at some point in their lives, but usually not to the extent or frequency that it causes illness. Most homes and office buildings constructed before the 1980s contain at least some asbestos, for instance, to which inhabitants may be minimally exposed.
But those who are exposed to it on a regular basis for an extended period of time are at the greatest risk, particularly those who either work directly with asbestos. For instance, asbestos miners, carpenters, shipbuilders, and anyone involved in the manufacture of asbestos products have the highest rates of asbestos-related illness. Others who may be exposed to high levels of asbestos include drywall removers, firefighters, and demolition workers.
Asbestos and the Law
Most regulations protecting individuals from asbestos exposure pertain to the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has standards protecting workers in two distinct industries, construction and shipbuilding, while a third standard covers exposure in general (including brake repair, custodial work, and asbestos-product manufacturing). Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) extends OSHA's protections to state and local workers exposed to asbestos.
Liability for asbestos-related illnesses often falls under product liability law, based on either breach of warranty; negligence; or strict liability. Since asbestos-related illnesses may take as long as 40 years from the time of expsoure to manifest, defense attorneys often argue that it is impossible to pinpoint the cause of the illness. In any event, consider speaking with a personal injury lawyer if you believe you have an asbestos-related injury.