The labor force, primarily in the construction and renovation industry, are more at risk of asbestos exposure than most people realize. Though the EPA has banned the use of asbestos in construction materials, it can still be found in thousands of work areas today. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year, a cancer which only known cause is asbestos exposure.
Asbestos mining and incorporation to building materials began in the 1920s, and the medical link between asbestos and mesothelioma wasn’t made until the 1970s, and wasn’t banned until 1989. This means any building that was made 30 years ago has a strong likelihood of containing asbestos.
The Effects of Asbestos
Asbestos is a naturally occurring soft metal and is often white and cotton-like. There several subtypes of asbestos, though all can cause severe illness. What makes asbestos so deadly is microscopic fibers that break free and fill the air. If these fibers are inhaled, they can travel into the alveoli (sack-like cells in the lungs that are responsible for the transference of oxygen and carbon dioxide).
Asbestos fibers kill cells in a process called “programed cell necrosis.” Dead cells then produce a toxin that causes mesothelioma (tumors in the mesothelin). Furthermore, the tissue damage that occurs in the lungs can lead to other forms of illness such as asbestosis, a disease in which part of the lungs and the thin membrane surrounding the lungs becomes damaged and hardens.
Both mesothelioma and asbestos pose another risk in workers because they can be very hard to detect until irreparable damage has been done. Symptoms of asbestosis and mesothelioma include:
- Wet cough
- Muscle weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest and abdominal pain
Have You Been Exposed?
If you have reasonable suspicion that you’ve been exposed to asbestos at work, inform your supervisor immediately. OSHA regulations require employers to cover medical exams for employees that may have been exposed to asbestos. Remember that your health is your largest concern, and that only a licensed physician has the authority to confirm if you’re healthy or not.
Your next step should be to talk to an experienced asbestos injury lawyer. Fortunately, most injury lawyers give free consultations and should be able to answer some important legal questions that you have. Although, some of the larger legal questions like who is responsible for your damages, and how much your damages are worth, will have to be answered later in the legal process. For example, if your employer knew there was a reasonable chance of you being exposed to asbestos and did nothing to prevent your injury, you would have to seek compensation through workers comp. On the other hand, if your employer had no reasonable way of knowing asbestos was present at the workplace, you may have to pursue compensation from a third party like the landowner or the company who installed the asbestos-containing materials in the first place. Another question that can’t be solved until a lawyer fully reviews your case is how much your damages are worth, like physical and financial damages including time off work and medical bills.
Your lawyer should have years of experience in the field of asbestos victim representation, and shouldn’t be afraid to pursue damages in court if necessary.