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Verdict: Dow Chemical weighed asbestos over lives, chose asbestos

A jury just awarded $5.95 million to a Louisiana man who developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos while working as an electrician at Dow Chemical’s Plaquemine plant, the largest chemical facility in the state. The Dow Chemical Company continues to use asbestos in all of its chemical manufacturing plants in the U.S. and worldwide, despite other companies having abandoned the dangerous practice decades ago.

The jury’s findings were shocking. According to reports, Dow has been well-aware that asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma and other deadly cancers for decades -- the connection has been clear since the 1930s, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued its first regulations meant to protect workers from asbestos exposure in 1972.

Nevertheless, documents presented in the lawsuit indicate that Dow performed a “cost per cancer” analysis to determine if they would lose more money compensating people who developed cancer or by changing its processing methods so they didn’t require asbestos. Apparently, it would have cost the company $1.2 billion to refit their plants to use a non-asbestos process, and that process would be 10 times more costly than the one requiring asbestos.

Therefore, in a shockingly callous cost-benefit analysis, Dow decided to continue to expose its workers to asbestos even though it knew they would contract a painful, incurable, unsurvivable disease.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been attempting to ban the use of asbestos in the U.S. for decades. Beginning in 1973, the EPA began banning asbestos in certain products such as materials that are spray-applied and several insulation products. In 1989, it issued an Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule, but that rule was overturned by the courts.

Meanwhile, Dow Chemical was lobbying hard to defeat asbestos bans in the U.S. and in other countries, documents presented in the lawsuit show. Dow uses use tons of raw asbestos in its chemical processing plants, and lawsuit documents indicate that all employees in those plants could be at potential risk for mesothelioma, even those that do not work directly with the deadly fiber.

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