A worker who performed a variety of blue-collar jobs throughout his life has developed mesothelioma, the cancer of the lungs’ lining that is a result of having worked with the insulating material asbestos.
Gerald Whitbeck, from Wisconsin, worked a number of trades, including instrumentation maintenance and repair, dope mixing, electrical, and maintenance. He was also a general laborer for a number of years. Whitbeck, who worked from 1957 until 2001, in locations in Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin and Virginia, has recently been diagnosed with mesothelioma and has brought suit against his former employers in Madison County (WI) Circuit Court.
Mesothelioma is not exclusive to the blue-collar community, but it does tend to strike those who worked in factories, metalworking facilities, construction sites, shipyards, railyards and refineries. Since asbestos was nearly ubiquitous in these worksites—as an insulating material protecting against high temperatures and fire, and as a strengthening material which does not conduct electricity—anyone who labored there may have inhaled airborne asbestos fibers. Once inside the body, these microscopic fibers tend to collect in the mesothelium, which is a membrane lining the body’s cavities and also surrounding the internal organs. They can cause changes to the membrane’s DNA, and the cells then begin to replicate and divide uncontrollably, leading to the development of a diffuse tumor.
Mesothelioma patients are rarely good candidates for surgery, and many of them may also be too weak to be good candidates for other forms of traditional cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation. This is due in part to the fact that mesothelioma is rarely diagnosed in its early stages, but often has progressed to a fatal stage of development by the time it is diagnosed. In fact, mesothelioma may be developing within the body for up to 50 years without displaying any noticeable symptoms. It is also often initially misdiagnosed. This long latency period may make it difficult to pinpoint the initial exposure to asbestos which may have led to the cancer, which means that plaintiffs often bring suit against numerous companies. Asbestos-related disease litigation is one of the largest tort issues in the United States, and worldwide, today.
Some 3,000 new cases are discovered each year in the United States. Unfortunately, most of these patients will die of the disease with 12 months of being diagnosed. There is no cure for mesothelioma.