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Mesothelioma Attorneys and Asbestos Cancer Resources By State
"Ground Zero" in the War on Asbestos may have been Libby, Montana. However, the plight of Libby's workers and their families brought national attention to what is really a worldwide tragedy.
The effects of and problems associated with asbestos poisoning, including asbestosis and asbestos cancer in the form of mesothelioma and lung cancer, is expected to linger for decades, due to the fact that asbestos illnesses have a lengthy "latency period" - which is the time between initial exposure and the appearance of symptoms. In the case of asbestos diseases, this can be up to 40 years later.
Not all asbestos problems are due to asbestos "industries", however. There are many places in the United States where asbestos-bearing minerals are commonly found in naturally-occurring deposits in the rocks. This is particularly a problem in California. Not only is serpentine the official state rock (and the source of one common type of asbestos), but many of these deposits lie very close to the surface. This is creating a real hazard in new suburban communities where construction activities such as grading, digging and bulldozing have raised asbestos dust into the air.
The Geology of Asbestos
"Asbestos" is a generic term for several different minerals. These are divided into two broad categories: serpentine and amphibole. Serpentine is the source of chrysotile fibers - relatively soft, curly fibers that make up about 95% of the commercial asbestos products used in the U.S. - and is by far the most commonly form of naturally-occurring asbestos in North America.
The other type - amphibole - is relatively rare in the U.S. Most of the commercial amphibole asbestos used in the U.S. was imported from South Africa (primarily amosite,, or "brown" asbestos) or Australia (crocidolite, or "blue" asbestos).
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry produces a map of the 48 contiguous states and Alaska, but does not include Hawaii. The reason is that Hawaii has no naturally-occurring asbestos.
When the ASTDR map is examined, the first thing one will notice is the pattern of naturally-occurring asbestos deposits. The great majority of these are found in mountainous areas, sites that are geologically young and active, or were within the last 40 to 60 million years (a relatively short time in geologic terms). For example, serpentine deposits are very common along the length of the Appalachian Mountain range, starting in east-central Alabama and stretching northward into Quebec. While the Appalachian chain is far older and less geologically active that the youthful Cascades of the Pacific Northwest (at about 14 million years old, that range is another common source of asbestos), it too resulted from the titanic collision of two tectonic plates.
The incredible heat and pressure that causes mountain ranges to rise is also responsible for the creation of asbestos-type minerals. Heat and carbonated water interact with rock on a molecular level to produce a fibrous substance that consists of essentially the same material as rock or stone, shares most of the characteristics of stone, yet is flexible enough to be spun into cloth-like fabric like wool or cotton.
The use of asbestos in the U.S. dates back to the early years of the Industrial Age. Originally, it was sold as a fireproof material for homes and other buildings. However, its flame-retardant, heat-resistant properties were found to be useful in industrial manufacturing, in which fire was usually a danger. With the advent of electrification, asbestos was found to be an excellent insulator; amphibole asbestos was also useful in chemical laboratories because of its resistance to corrosive, acidic chemicals.
By around 1900, it had become apparent to medical researchers that asbestos was responsible for devastating respiratory diseases such as asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma, the most common form of which, pleural mesothelioma, affects the respiratory system. One of the great ironies of history is that the two men responsible for the creation of the U.S. asbestos industry - Henry Johns and Edward Alley - died of asbestosis.
Asbestos could be found in just about any industry in which heat and fire, caustic chemicals or electrical current posed a hazard. The three industries in which workers are at the greatest risk for asbestos disease are power plant workers, those who worked on oil rigs, and anything to do with ship building, repair, or even just close proximity to ships - including US Navy veterans. These are closely followed by construction workers, building maintenance workers and auto mechanics (brake linings and automotive gaskets frequently contained asbestos).
Other than in maintenance of farm machinery, asbestos is not significantly used in agricultures, so regions of the country where agriculture rather than industry dominates often result in fewer victims of asbestos related diseases. Workers at plants that process food products, however, are subject to the same risks as at many other types of factories.
Asbestos and the Law
In 1973, a newly-established federal agency called the Environmental Protection Agency passed its first regulations. However, it was not at the federal or even the state level at which the first laws regulating asbestos were established. In May of 1970, the New York City Department of Air Resources issued a ban on the use of asbestos sprays in construction of the World Trade Center. When the EPA issued the same ban three years later on the federal level, corporate lobbyists for W.R. Grace & Company - the corporation responsible for the illnesses and deaths in Libby, Montana - lobbied Congress to establish what is still known as the "Grace Rule," which allowed the marketing of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) as "asbestos-free" as long as the actual asbestos content did not exceed more than one percent.
In 1989, the EPA attempted to institute a complete ban on asbestos, but the federal courts, once again overturned the ban in 1991.
Nonetheless, there are many rules and regulations regarding the removal and disposal of asbestos, all of which are governed by the EPA, which has established minimum requirements. All state and community standards must follow the federal guidelines; however, many states, particularly those in the West and Northeast, have even more stringent laws in place. In both cases, violators face stiff fines and even prison sentences.
In addition, each state has its own sets of laws regulating worker compensation and personal injury and mesothelioma lawsuits. In some states, these laws provide an environment supportive of asbestos victims, while others tend to favor corporate defendants.