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North Carolina Asbestos Law Blog

Is asbestos still a health hazard?

Most people in North Carolina know that asbestos has caused countless cases of serious respiratory disease including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis, but many people also believe that the hazards of asbestos product exposure are a thing of the past. This belief is mistaken. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency of the United States Department of Labor, has adopted extensive regulations to protect humans from what is very much a current hazard.

Asbestos is a health hazard because it "is a known human carcinogen and can cause chronic lung disease as well as lung and other cancers." Asbestos becomes a health hazard when asbestos fibers are released into the air and inhaled by persons in the vicinity. Many different activities can create this hazard, including the manufacturing of asbestos-containing products, brake and clutch repair, renovating or demolishing buildings, ship building and clean-up after natural disasters. Many asbestos-containing products were manufactured before the 1960s, but they still remain in the environment. Some products made before 1981 are presumed to contain asbestos:

  • Thermal system insulation
  • Roofing and siding shingles
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Plaster, cement, putties and caulk
  • Ceiling tiles and spray-on coatings
  • Industrial pipe wrapping
  • Heat-resistant textiles
  • Automobile brake linings and clutch pad

What are asbestos-related diseases?

Many people in North Carolina have contracted an asbestos-related disease because of on-the-job exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. This post will summarize the symptoms of the three diseases that are most commonly caused by asbestos product exposure: mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.

Mesothelioma is cancer that develops in the mesothelium, the tissue that covers the organs in the abdomen. Mesothelioma usually appears in pleura, that portion of the mesothelium that covers the lungs. Mesothelioma is an aggressive deadly form of cancer. Treatment for mesothelioma is available, but the disease is more often than not fatal. The principal risk factor for mesothelioma is exposure to airborne asbestos fibers.

Jury awards $12.5 million in asbestos death of lifelong smoker

Many residents of North Carolina are smokers and many have been exposed to asbestos fibers. A large number of smokers suffer from one or more asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma. These people often wonder whether their history of smoking precludes recovering damages from the manufacturers of the asbestos products to which they were exposed. A recent jury verdict provided a heartening example for smokers who suffer from lung diseases that may have been caused by asbestos products exposure.

The plaintiffs' decedent repaired Caterpillar forklifts at a shop in Queens, N.Y. from 1969 to 1980. The forklifts contained asbestos in brake linings, engine gaskets and clutches and the decedent was constantly exposed to airborne asbestos fibers. The decedent was also a two-pack per day smoker. He died in 2014, but his family continued the lawsuit against Caterpillar as a wrongful death case.

What is "take-home" liability for asbestos exposure?

Most of the asbestos exposure cases from North Carolina and elsewhere that have been discussed in this blog involve direct exposure, that is, the plaintiff was exposed to asbestos fibers on the job or elsewhere. A number of recent cases have focused on a different kind of liability - the harm caused by asbestos fibers that were inhaled by a family member as he or she laundered the work clothing of someone who was exposed to asbestos fibers during the work day. In this post, we will review so called "take-home" liability for asbestos product exposure.

The basic question regarding take-home liability is whether the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff to refrain from using asbestos-containing products or owed a duty to warn of the known health hazards of exposure to asbestos products. If no duty is owed, the plaintiff has no claim. State courts that have ruled on this issue do not agree. Some have found that such a duty exists, and others have reached a contrary conclusion. Generally, courts have ruled that liability exists if the danger of exposure to asbestos fibers in the home is reasonably foreseeable.

Cancer victim who used talc obtains $18M jury verdict

This blog has previously written about the presence of asbestos fibers in talc, the fine white power that is used in cosmetics and baby power and is a common presence in many North Carolina households. The hazards of talc as an asbestos-containing product are just now emerging, as revealed by a recent $18.07 million verdict in favor of a man exposed to asbestos by using talc.

The plaintiff, a retired political consultant, contracted mesothelioma after being exposed to talc in his father's barber shop over the course of several decades. Mesothelioma is an especially virulent form of lung cancer that is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos fibers. Talc, chemically known as hydrous magnesium silicate, is a natural mineral that is used in cosmetics, food, chewing gum and tablets. Talc and asbestos, another naturally-occurring mineral, are often found in proximity to one another during mining operations.

Asbestos in welding sticks yields $4.6 million verdict

Welding is a common industrial occupation in North Carolina and across the country. The hazards of working around extreme heat and light are obvious to anyone, but a recent jury verdict in a product liability case has revealed another hazard: the presence of asbestos in the core of the welding sticks that are used to create the welding arc.

The plaintiff in the case worked for Portable Elevator Company when he was 19. He used welding sticks manufactured by Hobart Brothers. Welding sticks are essentially electrodes that produce a high intensity arc of electricity. The sticks contain a core called "flux" that generates a gas that protects the arc from chemicals in the atmosphere. The flux in the sticks manufactured by Hobart Brothers contained asbestos at the time that the plaintiff was using them, almost 50 years ago.

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.

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