Asbestos is a substance which is found under the ground, and is a fibrous, crystalline mineral. Asbestos is mined, then compacted in mills into a powder which contains microscopic fibers.
Originally, asbestos was used in factories, as well as in shipyards, as a heat insulator and fireproofing material, as well as in many other applications. In an odd twist, asbestos was once a protector of lives.
Unfortunately, many local cases of mesothelioma in Louisiana have been connected to shipyards where employees worked in the past, often times bringing asbestos home with them in the form of secondary family exposure.
As one example, many years ago U.S. theaters prominently labeled fabric stage curtains containing asbestos with “ASBESTOS” to reassure theater-goers they were safe should a fire occur.
Considering the many adverse health effects we now know can be attributed to asbestos, this is somewhat ironic.
Hundreds of Thousands of Tons of Asbestos Used to Build Ships
Some of the very qualities which made asbestos so highly prized in industrial applications—primarily its resilience against physical and chemical degradation—are the same qualities which make it so dangerous in the lungs of human beings.
Hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos were used to insulate the pipes, boilers and hulls of military vessels during and after the Second World War; while some health experts recognized the dangers of asbestos and warned of those dangers in the 1940’s, the government failed to fully appreciate those hazards.
It was not until the 1970’s that shipyards—and society—started taking the risks of asbestos seriously. It was during those years that asbestos disease was seen in the chest x-rays of asbestos insulation workers, as well as in office workers and guards who had no direct contact with asbestos.
Removing asbestos from all the ships built over four decades or more was a massive task—one that has yet to be completed. Asbestos typically outlives the products it was used to manufacture, and once it finally deteriorates, asbestos fibers can be released into the environment.
While most Americans believe asbestos was banned in the U.S. in the 1970’s, in fact it was not. Although asbestos use is more tightly regulated, imported asbestos is still used today in some commercial products.
Asbestos Workers Develop Mesothelioma
Asbestos exposure ended up causing fatal illnesses in well over half of all workers who worked around the substance while building ships—in 1944 alone, as many as 50 new ships hit the water every single day, with nearly 2 million people working on those vessels.
Today, only a few shipyards remain in the United States, yet every year more victims of mesothelioma—an asbestos-related disease—are diagnosed.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer which attacks the thin membrane—the mesothelium—lining the thoracic, abdominal cavities and the heart sac.
The cause of mesothelioma is almost always asbestos exposure, and there is no cure for the disease. In fact, most patients will die within a few years of being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Caused by Asbestos in Louisiana Shipyards
Although there are few shipyards remaining, Louisiana is home to a dozen or so.
The Avondale Shipyard, located in Westwego, was once known as the largest private employer in Louisiana. Avondale was founded in 1938 by three men, although it has changed hands numerous times.
The Avondale shipyard built cargo ships, barges, research vessels for the U.S. Coast Guard and even an icebreaker ship. After being sued many times over the years by workers who developed mesothelioma, the Avondale Shipyard—which is currently for sale—is largely deserted today, other than a small maintenance crew.
Recourse for Those Harmed by Mesothelioma Exposure
Those who worked with asbestos in Louisiana shipyards (or in other industries) and were later diagnosed with mesothelioma, can file a lawsuit against their former employer.
Unfortunately, under the Feres Doctrine, military veterans exposed to asbestos cannot sue the federal government for damages associated with asbestos exposure (although they may qualify for VA benefits as far as medical care and/or disability compensation).
While veterans cannot sue the government, they can file for damages against the manufacturers of the asbestos they were exposed to, or the companies which supplied the military with asbestos-containing products.
Asbestos Use Today
Even though asbestos is a known carcinogen, some 1.3 million people go to work in the U.S. each day in a workplace where they are exposed to asbestos.
There is a latency period of 10-40 years from the time a worker is exposed to asbestos to the time the worker develops mesothelioma.
Not only are the workers who are directly exposed to asbestos in danger, their families are as well, when asbestos dust is carried home on skin and clothing, then inhaled by other household members.
The most likely places you could be exposed to asbestos aside from shipyards, include the following:
- Automotive repair industry
- Chemical plants
- Paper mills
- Rubber plants
- Steam plants
- Wiring or cable companies
- Mining companies
- Oil refineries
- Salt plants
- Power plants
- Heating and cooling equipment repair facilities
- Construction, demolition and renovation of residential and commercial buildings
- Sugar factories
- Roofing jobs in buildings containing asbestos
- Janitorial jobs in buildings containing deteriorating asbestos
- Fishery docks
Specific companies which could expose workers to asbestos include Conoco-Philips, Chevron, Asbestos Corporation Limited, Anco Insulations, Uniroyal, Union Carbide, Equitable Shipyards, Eagle, Inc., Exxon, Shell, Hopeman Brothers, Entergy, Foster Wheeler and PPG.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the companies who could potentially expose workers to asbestos. You could also unknowingly be exposed to asbestos in your own home.
If your ceiling has a popcorn texture which was popular in the 1970’s, or is made up of ceiling “tiles,” it could possibly contain asbestos. Flame-retardant materials may contain asbestos, as well as heating elements of older appliances, filters for cigarettes, and baby powders which contain talc.
If you have been exposed to asbestos, it is imperative that you contact an experienced asbestos attorney who truly cares about your future and who can help you determine the best way to proceed. Having an attorney who has experience and knowledge of asbestos-related diseases (such as mesothelioma) by your side from start to finish can ensure your rights are fully protected.