A 2002 study undertaken in France for the International Agency for Research on Cancer examined nearly 63,000 men from 13 different countries who had worked for a period of at least one year in the pulp and paper industry between 1945 and 1996. 36% of these workers had been exposed to asbestos fibers. Out of this group – numbering approximately 22,650 men – 14 had died from pleural mesothelioma, a rare form of asbestos cancer. Among the remaining 47,000 who had not been exposed to asbestos on the job, there were ten deaths from the same cause.
Those numbers may seem insignificant, and the fact is that mesothelioma continues to be a rare (though increasingly common) form of cancer. It is worth noting that the rate of cancers among those exposed to asbestos was well over twice that of the unexposed population.
In 2005, an Italian team studied a group of workers who had been exposed in a factory in the Tuscany town of Pistoia. The workers had manufactured drying machines for textile and paper machines. Among the 234 workers studied, six had some form of lung disease; one of this group had “pleural plaques.” The source of the asbestos came from the cement used for the insulating panels, which contained crocidolite, amosite and chrysotile asbestos.
Types of Asbestos
While all asbestos is deadly, some are more deadly than others. Crocidolite and amosite – also known as “blue” and “brown” asbestos, respectively – contain fibers known as amphiboles. Under a microscope, these fibers resemble rigid needles – and once inside a person’s lungs, behave like them. They burrow into the soft tissues of the lung’s alveolar sacs, eventually working their way to the outside pleural lining. Medical science indicates that these fibers interact with healthy cells in some way that causes the DNA to mutate, triggering the cancer known as malignant mesothelioma.
Amphibole asbestos fibers are known for their strength and resistance to corrosive chemicals such as acids, making them very useful in pulp and paper mills. These have largely been banned, however.
The other type of asbestos is called serpentine. Also known as chrysolite, or “white” asbestos, these fibers are softer and have curled shape. For many years, the chemical industry attempted to pass this form of asbestos off as being of the “safe” variety. A study performed at the Mt. Sinai Hospital School of Medicine indicated otherwise however, clearly demonstrating little difference in the health effects between serpentine and amphiboles. In addition, a great deal of chrysotile is contaminated with tremolite, a type of amphibole asbestos.
Where Else Was The Asbestos?
In a 2005 verdict delivered by a Seattle jury, a 75-year-old former paper mill worker who had been employed at a Crown-Zellerbach plant in Port Townsend, Washington was awarded nearly a quarter-million dollars (Ernest and LeRose Coulter vs. AC & S Inc. et. al.) In the complaint, the plaintiff alleged that he was exposed to asbestos fibers from the dryer felts that he changed on paper machines several times daily during the time he worked at the plant between 1946 and 1992. The manufacturer of the felts, Asten Johnson, was ultimately held liable.
It should be noted that in cases in which pulp and paper mill workers sue for damages for asbestos-related illnesses, the pulp and paper mill is not necessarily the defendant. Another case filed in Maine in 2006 by two former paper mill workers named two dozen companies as defendants, which included plumbing suppliers and an insurance company. The mill at which the plaintiffs worked was not named, however.