Common Sources of Asbestos Exposure

The History Behind Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral. Its use dates back to the Stone Age, when it was used to strengthen ceramic pots. Its ability to withstand flame and heat while being flexible enough to be incorporated into cloth made it a popular component in Ancient Egypt and Greece. It was also a ubiquitous element of the Industrial Revolution, when it was used in numerous construction applications as well as in industrial settings, transportation, and manufacturing. In the United States, asbestos reached the peak of its popularity in the years following World War II, when its use was expanded into shipbuilding and military applications.

Though asbestos is inexpensive, plentiful, and useful, it is also a deadly carcinogen. As long ago as 1899 medical professionals began documenting lung disease in workers exposed to asbestos. Early deaths were noted in asbestos mining towns, and an autopsy conducted in the year 1900 on a textile mill worker identified asbestos fibers in the man’s lungs. By 1924 the term asbestosis began to be used to describe lung scarring caused by exposure to the material, and the term mesothelioma was first used in 1931, though it took until the 1940s for it to be specifically associated with exposure to asbestos.

In the years since, a great deal has been learned about how asbestos causes malignant mesothelioma. The physical characteristics that make asbestos flexible also lead to it breaking down easily into tiny fibers that are easily inhaled or ingested and that — once inside the body — are difficult to expel. The breakdown of asbestos comes with age, as well as with materials containing asbestos being manipulated, cut, or in any way disturbed—the type of activities that are constant in manufacturing, construction, demolition and other workplace environments.

Over the years a great deal has been learned about the use of asbestos and how exposure leads to malignant mesothelioma, but one of the most disturbing aspects has been the discovery that owners of companies that used the material were aware of its dangers and chose to keep the information a secret. In failing to warn the public of asbestos’ dangers, they exposed countless individuals to potential illness and robbed families of loved ones.

Occupations Most at risk for malignant mesothelioma

When an asbestos fiber becomes embedded in a cell of the mesothelium, it can cause cell death and genetic mutations within surrounding cells that eventually lead to mesothelioma tumors. Though this can happen in a single day of exposure to asbestos fibers, the greater the concentration an individual is exposed to and the longer the duration of exposure, the higher the risk of illness.

Individuals who mined or processed asbestos, those who worked in industries that used asbestos to fabricate products or who worked with asbestos contaminated products are at the highest risk for developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

In addition to workplace exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma can be a result of second-hand exposure to asbestos brought home on the clothing of those who worked with the material. This is how countless wives, mothers, siblings and children of people who worked with the carcinogenic material end up diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.

Occupations and Industries Associated with Asbestos

The Occupations Most Commonly Associated With Asbestos Use:

Insulators, Plumbers, Construction Workers, Bricklayers, Pipe-fitters, Boilermakers, Electricians, Carpenters, Auto Mechanics, Painters, Welders

Certain Industries in Occupational Settings Were Also Sources of Asbestos Exposure:

Shipyards, Oil Refineries, Steel Mills, Chemical Companies, Power Plants, Heavy Industries, Construction, Vehicle Repair

Asbestos Use in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Pennsylvania and New Jersey have some of the highest rates of asbestos-related fatalities in the United States. Pennsylvania was home to 37 natural deposits of asbestos and four asbestos mines, and both states have long histories of being industrial powerhouses. Many of the companies that powered Pennsylvania and New Jersey’s economies in the 20th century made extensive use of asbestos in their products as well as in their work environments and, as a result, tens of thousands of the states’ residents have died from asbestos-related diseases.

Pennsylvania’s most notorious asbestos site was the BoRit Asbestos Site in Ambler. For nearly seven decades it was used as an asbestos dumping site that not only sickened workers, but also affected nearby residents whose children played in mounds of the carcinogenic material. Today it is an Environmental Protection Agency-designated Superfund site.


Pennsylvania's Workplaces Known to Have Exposed Employees to Asbestos Include:

Allied Chemical, Philadelphia
Alcoa, Pittsburgh
Hammermill Paper, Erie
Sun Oil, Chester, Marcus, and Hook
LTV Steel, Pittsburgh, and Aliquippa
Reading Iron Works, Reading
Sharon Steel Company, Sharon
Standard Oil Company, Philadelphia
Carnegie Natural Gas Company, Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania Railroad Company, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Philadelphia
Quaker State Metals, Lancaster
Scott Paper Company, Philadelphia and Chester
Jones and Laughlin Steel Works, Pittsburgh

New Jersey

New Jersey's Workplaces Known to Have Exposed Employees to Asbestos Include:

A.O. Polymer
Bethlehem Steel Shipyard
Camden Shipyard
E.I. Du Pont De Nemours Powder Company
Esso Standard Oil Company
Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock
Hammerschlag Manufacturing Company
Heyden Chemical Corporation
Hercules Powder Company
International Nickel Company
Johns Manville Products Corporation
National Gypsum Company
Naval Weapons Station Earle
New York Shipbuilding
Owens Corning Fiberglass
Todd Shipyard
Toms River Cincinnati Chemical Company
Unimatic Manufacturing
W.R. Grace Zonolite

Mesothelioma and Veterans

Because mesothelioma is an entirely preventable disease, every diagnosis is its own tragedy, but the out-sized impact that asbestos has had on America’s veterans may evoke the greatest sense of outrage. In the years between the World Wars and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, America’s military brass was unaware of asbestos’ dangers and pointedly requested that ships, barracks, uniforms and countless other applications make extensive use of the material in order to provide strength and protection for service men and women.

Though the Armed Forces did not know that asbestos was dangerous, the manufacturers that they worked with were well aware, but chose to keep the information secret in order to reap huge profits. As a result, veterans from every branch of the service represent more than 15% of those diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

In response to the size of this population, the Department of Veterans Affairs has created a specific class of benefits available to those sickened by service-related asbestos exposure. Though veterans can access these benefits from the government, compensation for the damages that they suffered is only available from the companies that supplied the asbestos.

Talcum and Asbestos

In recent years, an alarming number of women and men with no occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Careful analysis of their lifestyles and personal histories has led to the discovery of a previously unknown source of asbestos exposure: talcum powder.

Talc is a powdery substance that is the primary ingredient in some of our most trusted consumer products, including baby powder, body powders, and the powder that barbers use when brushing stray hairs from their patrons’ necks. Talc is also used in children’s toys and in cosmetics.

Researchers have traced asbestos contamination of talc to the close proximity of the two minerals in nature. They have determined that it is nearly impossible for talc miners to keep asbestos from contaminating talc deposits. They have also found that many talc suppliers and talcum powder providers were aware of this contamination and of the dangers that asbestos posed, yet purposely kept the information from the public in order to continue selling their popular, profitable products.

As the link between baby powder and other talc products has become public knowledge, many women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have successfully sued talc companies that promoted their product for personal hygiene use, and consumers diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases have successfully sued those same brand-name companies and their suppliers for millions of dollars.

Sponsored By The Halpern Law Firm

Attorney, David Halpern, Pennsylvania


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