By now, most people are well aware of the dangers associated with asbestos exposure. What many do not know, however, is that countless homes throughout the country still contain this dangerous substance. In fact, you may have asbestos in your home right now and not even know it.
When a developer proposed replacing seven city-blocks’ worth of rundown homes in the southern part of Kansas City with an $80-million retail project to be called Citadel Plaza, officials in our neighboring state were enthusiastic. The thrilling prospect of bustling redevelopment, however, has long since been replaced by the dismaying reality of 35 acres of new brownfields right in the city. Brownfields are parcels of land that can’t be developed because they’re contaminated, and Citadel Plaza is newly polluted with asbestos.
As we discussed on this blog earlier this month, a 69-year-old carpenter from Kansas filed a lawsuit in 2012 against dozens of companies who manufactured, distributed or sold asbestos-containing products used for drywall work. He is dying from a combination of diabetes, heart disease and mesothelioma. The only defendant still contesting its responsibility is Georgia Pacific, which the plaintiff says manufactured the drywall-joint sealing compounds he typically used.
If your home was built before about 1996, it could very well have components that contain asbestos. Shocked? It’s true. The Environmental Protection Agency started a phased ban of asbestos-containing products used in residential construction in 1989, but the final phase wasn’t even intended to be completed until 1996.
A Missouri man just filed a potential class-action lawsuit against Empire District Electric Co., seeking medical monitoring after the company allegedly knowingly exposed workers at its Riverton plant to asbestos and other hazardous materials. The case is particularly interesting because the plaintiff is not sick. In fact, no allegations have yet been brought forward claiming any asbestos-related disease or other illness, but the man contends that he and other workers deserve to have their health monitored for those issues.
For several years now, there has been an ongoing discussion about the air quality at May Whitney Elementary School in Lake Zurich, prompting the school to look into efforts to improve health safety for the children in the school. Although the school district’s longtime asbestos inspector had been leading the charge in removing potentially harmful materials from the school, recent disapproval of the inspector’s methods prompted a school board meeting recently.
The State of Maryland’s highest court ruled recently that Georgia-Pacific Corp. does not have to pay a woman who lost a lung to mesothelioma the $5 million a lower court had ordered. Why? Although the asbestos that sickened her was clearly from Georgia-Pacific products, her exposure was second-hand and took place in the 1960s, before the full danger of second-hand exposure was confirmed, the court said. Therefore, she had no legitimate product liability claim against the corporate giant.
Asbestos-related diseases are not merely relics from the old days when the fiber was used in everything from coffee makers and hair dryers to pipe gaskets, floor leveling compounds and bonding agents. In many industries asbestos-containing materials are still in active use today.
Even though U.S. environmental regulations prohibited the use of asbestos in many areas in the 1970s, the toxic material is still present in older buildings and products. Those environmental regulations may have limited new exposure, but they by no means put an end to asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. Unfortunately, people who were exposed to asbestos fibers before the material was banned are still at risk for developing these diseases, and symptoms can take decades to appear.
As we have written about many times on this blog, exposure to asbestos is a frequent cause of a particular type of cancer known as mesothelioma. It can be contracted by people who have spent extended periods of time around asbestos, such as in a shipyard, or even by people who have a spouse or family member who could have brought home asbestos fibers on their clothes.