"Asbestos" refers to a group of minerals that occur naturally as masses of strong, flexible fibers that can be separated into thin threads and woven. These fibers are not affected by heat or chemicals and do not conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been widely used in many industries.
History of Asbestos
Since the late 1800s, asbestos has been mined and used commercially in North America. The use greatly increased in the early 1940s, and millions of American workers were exposed to asbestos dust, including many of the 4.5 million men and women who worked in shipyards during the peak shipbuilding years of World War II (WW II). Following WW II, asbestos was used in many industries. The building and construction industry used it for strengthening cement and plastics as well as for insulation, fireproofing and sound absorption. The shipbuilding industry used asbestos to insulate boilers, steampipes, hot water pipes and nuclear reactors in ships. The automotive industry used asbestos in vehicle brakeshoes and clutch pads.
In the late 1970s, concerns about the hazards of asbestos began to grow. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces because these products released excessive amounts of asbestos fibers into the environment. The banning of certain products by the CPSC and the growing concerns by the public resulted in a significant annual decline in the use of asbestos in the United States.
While asbestos use was declining, it was too late for some people who already had been exposed to the lethal mineral. Health hazards from asbestos exposure began to increase year after year. Workers in a variety of trades, including shipbuilding, asbestos mining and milling, asbestos textiles manufacturing, insulation work in the construction and building, demolition, drywall removers, firefighters and more, were developing serious diseases due to their asbestos exposure. The illnesses ranged from Asbestosis, a chronic lung ailment that can produce shortness of breath and permanent lung damage, to Mesothelioma, a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen. Some family members of workers who were heavily exposed to asbestos also were contracting asbestos-related diseases. They became exposed to asbestos through dust brought into the home on the shoes, clothing, skin and hair of workers.
During the late 1970s, when the health hazards of asbestos were being exposed, personal injury asbestos litigation began to flourish. Lawsuits were filed against the major manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos thermal insulation products, including those products used in ship building and also automotive friction products such as brakes and clutches. The lawsuits filed by former shipyard workers forced their group of defendants into bankruptcy. As more asbestos investigations were conducted, studies began to show that construction workers were at risk, so lawsuits were filed on their behalf. The defendants of the lawsuits were now contractors and sub-contractors involved in everything from commercial high rise construction to refinery repairs. Automotive workers also began to file suit.
Currently, there still are a number of lawsuits being filed throughout the U.S. on behalf of people with asbestos-related diseases. If you've been exposed to asbestos or have contracted an asbestos-related disease and are looking for someone to pay for the hazards you've been wrongly exposed to consulting with an attorney experienced in asbestos litigation can help you determine the strength of your claims.