Asbestos insulation was frequently used in many places throughout commercial as well as residential buildings and single-family homes – including around water pipes. Although extensive asbestos abatement projects have been undertaken nationwide, as of 2003, there are still hundreds of thousands of buildings in the U.S. containing significant amounts of asbestos.
In addition, some 35 million homes across the country contain a form of insulation that was marketed by the W.R. Grace Corporation under the brand name Zonolite. While made primarily from vermiculite (a relatively innocuous form of clay), this vermiculite was taken from sources where asbestos was mined, and was often contaminated with deadly amphibole fibers.
Some would have you believe that Zonolite insulation is harmless as long as it is undisturbed. There is an amount of truth to this; however, when it comes to renovations, remodeling or even simple building maintenance, it is virtually impossible to avoid disturbing insulation.
The danger lies in the fact that as such insulation ages, it becomes “friable;” that is, it is prone to crumbling and flaking. This in turn releases asbestos fibers into the air, where they may float as dust particles for days, or weeks.
What are “Amphiboles”?
Asbestos fibers are categorized as either serpentine (spring-shaped, curly) or amphibole (long, needle-like). The latter form is particularly deadly, and is implicated in the development of mesothelioma, or cancer of the pleural, pericardial and peritoneal linings – collectively known as the mesothelium. Serpentine asbestos is more commonly known as chrysotile; some corporations claimed it was somehow “safer” than amphibole asbestos – a claim that was proven false by a research team at the Mount Sinai Hospital School of Medicine in 1996. In addition, chrysotile asbestos was frequently contaminated with amphibole fibers.
How They Attack
Once amphibole fibers enter the lungs, they burrow into the tissues lining the alveolar, or air sacs. Antibodies known as microphages actually detect theses fibers as a pathogenic invader and attack them. Because they are literally a form of rock however, these attacks have no effect except to tear these microphages open. As a result, digestive enzymes that normally destroy viruses and bacteria instead attacks the alveolar lining, causing scar tissue. The build-up of this scar tissue causes diminished lung capacity over the years, ultimately starving the body of oxygen. This is what is known as asbestosis.
In order to develop into asbestos cancer, amphiboles can also enter the bloodstream and burrow through the lung wall to the outer pleural lining. During this process, medical researchers believe that the amphiboles interact with other elements. These may include genetic material, tar residue, nicotine, or even a virus identified as SV40. In metaphorical terms, these elements create a carcinogenic powder keg; amphibole asbestos fibers are what light the fuse that causes cells to become malignant mesothelioma.
Unlike most tumors, mesothelioma grows like a sheet – and in the instance of it’s most common form, pleural mesothelioma, over the pleural lining. Ultimately, this restricts the lungs’ ability to expand properly, ultimately causing the victim to suffocate.
What Victims Must Do
If you were exposed to asbestos in the course of working as a plumber, it is important to identify the location of the exposure, what products were present, and where these products came from (i.e., who the manufacturers were). Determining liability is one of the first steps in building a case, and can also be the most complicated. Many asbestos suits involve multiple defendants, as those in plumbing profession typically come into contact with hundreds of different asbestos products in the course of their working lives.
It is also important to realize that time is of the essence in these cases; all states have a statute of limitations in which an asbestos victim must file a complaint or surrender their right to do so. In most states, this period is no more than one year from the date of diagnosis.