Nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania lies Allegheny County, with Pittsburgh as its economic hub and county seat. After the decline of the coal mining and steel manufacturing industries that were at their peak during the mid 20th century, the region adapted and forged other economic income streams.
A lingering legacy
But one unfortunate remnant of the region’s past as a manufacturing cash cow for the nation is the abnormally high death rate for residents due to asbestos-related diseases. A recent report by the Environmental Working Group Action Fund determined that in one 15-year period, approximately 14,216 Pennsylvanians succumbed to complications of asbestos-related diseases. Along with five additional states — Delaware, Maine, Montana, Virginia and West Virginia — the death rates attributed to asbestos exposures is between 50 and 100 percent higher there than the average in the United States.
Annually in Allegheny County, an average of 107 residents die from asbestos-attributed diseases. During the 15 years the data was gathered, that was the highest rate of any Pennsylvania county. A senior analyst for a nonprofit organization dedicated to public health advocacy, the Environmental Working Group, said “The death rates are high in areas of the country where people were exposed in industries that used asbestos.”
Prior to the study, mortality estimates were as much as 50 percent lower. But the updated research was gleaned from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s death records in conjunction with a formula to project mortality that was designed by International Agency for Research on Cancer scientists.
Just last May, an additional report was released that established that between 12,000-15,000 U.S. residents lose their lives every year to lung cancer and other diseases that are tied to asbestos exposures. Some are children and spouses who were not even exposed at work but contracted the deadly conditions from asbestos fibers brought into the home on a breadwinner’s shoes, clothing and hair.
Other industries plagued by asbestos exposures
Of course, the mining and manufacturing industries are not the only ones that recklessly exposed workers to asbestos. The shipbuilding industry is notorious for the high numbers of work-related asbestos exposures for employees. Here in south Texas, with Houston being the sixth biggest port in the world, there are many jobs associated with the repair and construction of large vessels. Many components are made from, or insulated by, asbestos.
One might think that with all the information now available about the toxicity of asbestos, it would no longer be permitted to be used here in the United States. Indeed, more than 50 nations around the world have bans against its use. An attempt was made in 1989 to enact a ban; it did not succeed.
Other occupations of workers who are frequently diagnosed with asbestos-linked illnesses include:
- Construction workers
- Pipe fitters
- Demolition workers
- Brake pad repairmen
Additionally, those who served aboard ships in the military, or who worked in the ship-building and repair industries for military vessels, also have much higher than average rates of developing conditions like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The hidden killer
An Allegheny County Health Department epidemiologist involved with the containment and safer removal of the deadly material observed that the rocketing rates of asbestos-related health problems stem not from exposures in recent years, but from decades-old workplace contamination. She said, “the deaths are caused by asbestos exposure 20, even 40 years ago and don’t reflect current, much more limited exposure.”
While it is true that conditions have improved to some degree regarding asbestos exposures, and the Environmental Protection Agency now classifies asbestos as being “a hazardous air pollutant,” more needs to be done to protect workers who are already sick.
Legislative roadblocks pending
Earlier this month during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the future of the Furthering Asbestos Claims Transparency Act was vigorously debated by opponents and supporters.
Those in opposition allege that the onus will be placed on claimants to produce lengthier, more detailed paperwork documenting exposures that occurred decades ago. Their memories may be cloudy and affected by the debilitating diseases with which they struggle to cope. The window of opportunity for resolution of their cases while they are still alive can be quite brief.
Also, the Act would require asbestos exposure victims to disclose their personal medical histories in order to be eligible for any funds from the trusts the industry created to dodge legal action against companies responsible for the workers’ deadly conditions. Sensitive information unrelated to their present ill health could become part of public records.
The struggle for justice continues
It doesn’t matter in which part of the country your asbestos exposure occurred. If you have just been diagnosed with an asbestos-related medical condition, or if you are already debilitated by diseases linked to exposures that happened while on the job, you have a right to pursue compensation for your pain, suffering, diminished quality of life and other potential claims.
It is a frightening proposition to take on industry titans with battalions of lawyers and medical experts on retainer that are poised to deny or low-ball legitimate claims for remuneration. Given the nature of the asbestos-caused diseases, many lack the strength to pursue justice before it’s too late.
Never lose hope. You don’t have to struggle alone. Shrader & Associates is an asbestos law firm with resources to offer our clients as they navigate this difficult path. Our top-notch legal team is willing to go toe-to-toe in court with defendants who are unwilling to extend lucrative settlement offers to our clients. We never shy away from aggressively litigating our clients’ cases in order to get results. Call today for a confidential consultation, or visit our website to learn more.