Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers that enter the body can damage DNA and cause tumors. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, understanding how you were exposed to asbestos is an important part of obtaining compensation and other benefits. We can help.
Mesothelioma Help Center provides information about mesothelioma diagnosis, treatment, and financial and legal assistance. On this site you can learn about asbestos exposure and the different types of mesothelioma, connect with local mesothelioma medical experts, and find ways to pay for treatment.
From around the beginning of World War II to the late 1970s, asbestos was used in thousands of different products and materials. The mineral fiber’s strength, durability, heat resistance, and flame retardant properties made it useful for a wide range of applications. Asbestos was mixed into building materials, woven into textiles, used in automotive parts, and even added to consumer products such as cosmetics and cigarette filters. It was hailed as a “miracle mineral” and lauded for its “service to humanity.”
But America’s dependence on asbestos came at a heavy cost. There are an estimated 15,000 asbestos deaths per year in the U.S, including around 2,500 from mesothelioma. These deaths could have been prevented. The asbestos industry long knew its products were killing people but did nothing. Despite the fact that asbestos is a known human carcinogen, it still is not banned in the United States.
How Asbestos Can Cause Mesothelioma
Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral found in rock and soil. Asbestos fibers are separable into thin, durable threads that resist heat, fire, and chemicals. Each fiber bundle contains tens or hundreds of individual fibrils. When asbestos is disturbed, these microscopically thin particles become airborne and people can inhale and ingest them.
Tiny and needle-like asbestos fibers travel deeply into the lungs, abdomen, and other parts of the body and lodge in mesothelial cells. Because asbestos is extremely tough, the body can’t break the fibers down. The fibers cause inflammation, scarring, and over time may lead to cell mutation and cancer in the mesothelium.
Mesothelioma typically takes 20 to 50 years to manifest after asbestos fibers enter the body. This is known as the disease’s latency period. The latency period for most patients is around 35 to 40 years. More than 90 percent of people diagnosed with mesothelioma are 55 years or older.
A Brief History of Asbestos Use in the U.S.
Historical anecdotes suggest that asbestos use dates back to ancient times. In modern times, the rise of asbestos correlates with the invention of the steam engine, which required more resilient internal components. The first U.S. asbestos patent, issued for steam engine insulating material, was granted in 1828.
In the 1860s, asbestos was being used as a building material in products such as roofing felt, tar paper, and wall and roof panels. Asbestos was also used as a binder and strengthening agent in plastics. The 1939 New York World’s Fair was a showcase for the many uses of asbestos.
World War II created tremendous demand for asbestos. The U.S. military declared that it was vital to the war effort. Asbestos rations were issued so that supplies could be used to build ships, tanks, trucks, planes, and weapons. Asbestos use continued unabated during the post-war construction boom. The material seemed to have endless applications, from construction to food production to medicine. Asbestos even appeared on Hollywood sets.
U.S. asbestos use peaked in the early 1970s at close to one million tons annually. By this time, thousands of products contained asbestos. But the deadly health risks of asbestos had been proven since 1964, and the creation of the EPA (1970), OSHA (1971), and the CPSC (1972) gave the federal government new authority to regulate asbestos. Government guidelines and bans on asbestos use aimed at reducing exposure were implemented, but an EPA rule that would have banned asbestos was overturned in 1991.
An estimated 27 million American workers were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1979. Every year in the U.S., asbestos kills 12,000 – 15,000 people. Around 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in this country. The ongoing use of asbestos ensures that its deadly toll will continue for many more years.
Lawsuits for Asbestos Exposure
The fatal risks of asbestos exposure became public knowledge in the 1960s and 1970s, but internal documents show that the asbestos industry was aware of the dangers for decades and did nothing.
Doctors suspected a connection between asbestos and worker deaths since at least 1900. The work of Dr. Irving J. Selikoff, presented in 1964, definitively linked asbestos to respiratory disease and cancer. Still, it wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s that safety regulations were developed and asbestos exposure was controlled.
The asbestos industry appears to have known about the death and injury of workers from their products since at least 1934. Companies almost certainly were fully aware of the potentially fatal consequences of working with asbestos during the 1950s and 60s. Yet they issued no warnings or regulations to protect workers. In the 1970s and 1980s companies internally voiced concerns about the potential financial fallout of asbestos exposure liability.
Lawsuits were filed against asbestos companies for not warning workers about the risks of exposure or providing adequate protection. By 2002, More than 700,000 people had brought claims. Claims continue to be filed, and to date companies have paid billions of dollars in compensation to victims. More than $30 billion has been set aside for victims in asbestos trust funds. Compensation is also paid in the forms of lawsuit verdicts and settlements. In 2018, Johnson & Johnson was hit with a $25 million verdict for failure to warn about asbestos in talc.
If you plan on filing a claim for compensation related to mesothelioma, it is recommended that you have legal assistance.
Help For Mesothelioma Victims
People diagnosed with mesothelioma are victims of the asbestos industry. As a victim, you have certain rights, including the right to seek compensation from the companies responsible for your exposure to asbestos. Benefits and services are also available from the government, charities, and other organizations.