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North Carolina Asbestos Law Blog

What's toughest to prove in cases of asbestos product exposure?

You may have heard of asbestos in the late-night law ads played on cable television. But what is asbestos and why is it so dangerous? Many of the problems attributed to asbestos are due to products produced or handled years ago that contained asbestos before we knew that it was unsafe and harmful. Some afflicted with asbestos product exposure know that it is their right to seek compensation for the wrongs they have suffered due to asbestos-related illness.

Depending on how one came into contact with asbestos, there are a few ways to seek damages. Seeking reparations on the grounds of negligence or strict liability are both based on four elements that, if proven, can bring financial recovery to the injured party. Of the four elements, there is one element to prove that can be tougher than the others. That portion of proving product liability is called causation.

Sen. Boxer introduces bill to ban asbestos exposure

Most people in North Carolina and elsewhere assume that the United States has prohibited the use of asbestos because of the extreme health risks that are associated with its use. Surprisingly, no such ban has ever been enacted at the federal level. The Environmental Protection Agency has recently been directed to identify the 10 most harmful substances used by American industry, and asbestos may be on this list when it is published. In the meantime, a more definitive step to ban asbestos was recently taken by California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who introduced legislation that is intended to completely eliminate human exposure to asbestos.

The bill, the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2016, would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act by providing explicit directions to the EPA to take a number of specified steps to "permanently eliminate the possibility of exposure to asbestos" within 18 months of the bill's passage. The bill requires the EPA to promulgate regulations that would impose a variety of prohibitions and restrictions on the manufacture and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. The EPA would also be required to compile and publish an assessment of the current and reasonably foreseeable importation, distribution, use and exposure to asbestos products in the United States.

North Carolina nurse beats peritoneal mesothelioma

Persons who receive a diagnosis of mesothelioma ordinarily view the news as a death sentence. In most cases, the disease results in death in one or two years. In a happy exception to these data, a North Carolina nurse recently reported that she has survived a case of peritoneal mesothelioma for 16 years.

Mesothelioma, which is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos fibers, comes in two forms: pleural mesothelioma, an inflammation of the lining of the lungs, and peritoneal mesothelioma, an inflammation of the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity. The woman was first diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in 2000, when doctors found mesothelioma cells in her abdomen during a hysterectomy. At the time, the majority of patients did not survive more than two years.

EPA may examine asbestos use by chlorine-alkali industry

In our post two weeks ago, we noted that changes in the Toxic Substances Control Act may lead the United States Environmental Protection Agency to closely examine the importation of brake lining material because of their asbestos content. A recent report now suggests that the EPA's microscope may focus on a second industry that uses asbestos-containing products in its manufacturing processes.

The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Pub. L. No. 114-182), amended TSCA on June 22, to give the EPA expanded authority to investigate and oversee the safety of industrial chemicals. The U. S. Geological Survey has listed the manufacturers of chlorine and caustic soda as the primary importer of asbestos into the United States. Of the 358 tons of asbestos imported into the United States in 2015, the UGS said that the chlor-alkali industry accounted for 90 percent. Asbestos is used in one of the three processes that are used to produce both chemicals.

What is asbestosis?

Many North Carolinians are aware that asbestos can cause several diseases that afflict the lungs, but they are often unaware of the symptoms or effects of these diseases. We have written at length in other posts about pleural mesothelioma, an especially virulent form of lung cancer that is caused almost exclusively by asbestos product exposure. In this post, we will explore another asbestos-caused disease - asbestosis.

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease that is caused by prolonged exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they frequently lodge in the tiny sacs in the lungs called alveoli. Alveoli exchange airborne oxygen for carbon dioxide in the blood stream. Asbestos fibers can irritate and scar the lung tissue. The resulting scar tissue causes the lungs to stiffen, making breathing difficult. In the normal progression of asbestosis, the scarring of lung tissue increases to an extent where the lungs cannot expand and contract normally.

Imported brake parts may contain asbestos

Over the last 50 years, one of the most frequent causes of asbestos-related illnesses in North Carolina and elsewhere was asbestos fibers in brake pads and other brake components. The problem was exacerbated by the need to replace brake pads on older automobiles and trucks as they aged. American automobile parts manufacturers have phased out asbestos in their brakes as of 2015, but the threat of asbestos product exposure has re-emerged due to imported brake linings and brake components that contain asbestos.

The Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association sent a letter to the United States Environmental Agency on Sep. 6 urging the agency to include asbestos in the list of 10 hazardous and toxic substances pursuant to the recently enacted Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in June of this year. The act requires the EPA to identify 10 high-priority chemicals and to undertake extensive risk evaluations of each. The manufacturers group wants the EPA to add asbestos to the list in order to restrict the importation of brakes made with asbestos fibers.

Asbestos hampers clean-up of old mill site

This blog has frequently written about the health hazard posed by asbestos in very old industrial buildings in North Carolina and surrounding states. Most often, the hazard has been revealed by the proposed renovation or demolition of an older facility. Occasionally, however, events such as fires and collapses can expose the expose the presence of asbestos-containing products in these old buildings in sudden and unexpected ways.

An abandoned 100-year-old carpet mill in Lafayette, Georgia was severely damaged by fire in November 2015. Several days were needed to fully extinguish the blaze, and nearby residents were encouraged to remain in their homes during the night after the fire. An official of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, after touring the fire-blackened building, noted that many "classic" uses of asbestos products could be seen after the fire - in ceiling tiles, insulation wrapped around the plumbing, and similar uses. He said that few, if any, of the original asbestos-containing products in the building had been removed before the fire occurred. Most of the water used to battle the blaze - 110,000 gallons - was moved to a containment facility in a nearby town, but almost 50,000 gallons of asbestos-contaminated water remain on the site.

Garlock, Coltec announce settlement plan for asbestos claims

The law firm representing several asbestos litigation defendants has announced a settlement plan that will affect existing and future claims by persons who suffered various asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. The plan involves product liability claims against Garlock Sealing Technologies, Anchor Packing Company, and Coltec Industries, who are collectively referred to as the "Debtors," for damages caused by exposure to asbestos-containing products manufactured or used in the products of these companies.

The plan applies to individuals who worked with high pressure steam and hot liquid pipes where asbestos was used in the manufacture of valve and joint gaskets and packing. Specifically, the plan affects claims by persons who "[w]orked with or around Garlock asbestos-containing gaskets or packing, Coltec equipment with asbestos components, or any other asbestos-containing product for which Debtors are responsible." The plan also affects persons who "[h]ave a claim now or in the future against the Debtors for asbestos-related disease caused by any person's exposure to asbestos-containing products."

US Steel fined $170,000 for exposing workers to asbestos

An enforcement action by the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) against US Steel Corporation has once again demonstrated that asbestos is still a major environmental health threat. Moreover, the outcome of the investigation shows that employers are still refusing to provide meaningful protection for workers against the hazards of exposure to asbestos-containing products.

OSHA began its investigation after it received a complaint about the company's failure to follow federal regulations. OSHA said that seven workers were ordered to undertake tasks that directly exposed them to asbestos fibers. In one incident, five workers were told to remove and replace valve packing material that contained asbestos. In the other incident, two employees were ordered to remove a decayed section of a pipe. The pipe was later determined to contain asbestos.

Many U. S. Navy veterans suffer from exposure to asbestos

Many men and women in North Carolina who served in the U. S. Navy, Coast Guard or Merchant Marine, or who helped to build the country's warships, have been denied a comfortable retirement because they were exposed to large amounts of asbestos-containing products during their military service or while they worked in shipyards. This asbestos product exposure has afflicted naval veterans and shipyard workers with many crippling or fatal diseases, such as mesothelioma, other forms of lung cancer and asbestosis.

Asbestos is a very durable material that possesses many desirable characteristics for ships powered by steam. Asbestos is a very effective insulating material, and it can be machined, cut and mixed with cement and similar substances. Given these properties, asbestos was a common material in the building of naval vessels. Asbestos pipe insulation was used to insulate ship boilers, turbines and steam lines. Asbestos was used in valve gaskets and pumps. Asbestos tape was often used to wrap and fireproof electrical wiring.

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