The widespread use of asbestos during the 19th and 20th Centuries encompassed a wide swath of industries. Starting in Industrial Revolution-era England, many businesses incorporated large amounts of heat-resistant asbestos to protect its facilities and products from excessive heat or destructive fires.
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As Western Europe and the U.S. became more industrialized and more factories and power plants were built, asbestos use increased in massive proportions. By the turn of the 20th Century, asbestos was used in power generation plants, steel mills, shipyards, automobile factories, and the construction industry. Eventually, asbestos was used even to make certain clothing.
The ever-present nature of asbestos affected almost every occupation associated with manufacturing or power generation. As early as the 19th Century, workers in the minerals extraction business were exposed to asbestos fibers even if they were mining for gold, silver, iron, or other materials.
In Minnesota, for instance, iron miners would inadvertently disturb naturally-occurring asbestos deposits when they dug into the earth of the Iron Hills region in their quest for rich iron ore. When the rich iron deposits were depleted and Minnesota miners turned their attention to extracting an iron-bearing mineral called taconite, they also ran into adjacent deposits of asbestos.
Deliberate mining of asbestos contributed to mesothelioma in workers involved with mineral extraction. Until asbestos mining was curtailed in the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s, large numbers of miners were employed by W. R. Grace in the vicinity of Libby, Montana, to extract asbestos. They, in turn were exposed to the carcinogenic minerals. Grace sold asbestos and shipped to every state in the country, exposing millions of unwitting people to the toxic fibers which cause mesothelioma.
Mining is not the only occupation associated with mesothelioma. During the peak era of asbestos use in the United States, from the 1920s to the early 1970s, a wide variety of workers were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis at their job sites.
During this half-century in U.S. history, which saw a sharp rise in electrical power use and the dominance of heavy industry, worksites were built with large amounts of asbestos to prevent or minimize damage from fires or made many products loaded with asbestos-containing materials.
Shipbuilding was one of the biggest industrial customers of the asbestos industry throughout much of the 20th Century. Fire at sea is one of the most feared dangers by ships’ captains and crews, so until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) linked asbestos exposure to mesothelioma in the early 1970s, most vessels built in U.S. shipyards contained large amounts of the carcinogenic fibers.
Asbestos and ACMs were used in nearly every component of a ship, from the crows’ nest on the superstructure to the ship’s keel. Pipes, engineering spaces, boilers, and the insulated wiring of a vessel’s electrical system contained some form of asbestos.
Shipfitters, stevedores, boiler room personnel, repair yard workers, engineering officers, and other personnel afloat or ashore were constantly exposed to asbestos fibers stirred up by even the most routine activities on a ship or a dockyard.
Military personnel, especially those who served during World War II, Korea, and much of the Vietnam War, were also exposed to asbestos during their active duty stints. Veterans over the age of 65 are in one of the largest demographic groups diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Since the U.S. Navy had the same concerns as civilian maritime enterprises regarding fires at sea, this branch of the armed forces was a major purchaser of asbestos and all of its ships contained large amounts of the fire- and heat-resistant materials.
Consequently, many naval personnel and members of the armed services who traveled on U.S. Navy ships or passed through naval facilities have been diagnosed with mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure.
Personnel with occupational specialties comparable to those in the civilian shipbuilding industry, such as navy repair yard workers, suffered the most exposure. As a result, they tend to develop mesothelioma in larger numbers than other naval veterans.
Many people who worked in paper mills were exposed to asbestos daily at work. Paper mills require pulping materials, preparing them, bleaching them, refining them, coating and drying them, and then ultimately packaging them.
While doing these tasks, employees and contractors across the nation were working in buildings that were insulated heavily with asbestos. Machinery and products used to make paper were also ridden with asbestos.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the majority of asbestos illness victims contracted the disease while working around equipment in paper mills that contained asbestos, specifically boilers. Since operating a boiler requires the use of high heating, asbestos was used to for its heat and fire-resistant properties.
Additionally, simple daily, routine maintenance of the machinery and equipment in paper mills placed workers at risk. For instance, every time a machine was cleaned or maintained, particles and dust would become airborne, containing asbestos fibers.
Lawsuits from former paper mill employees have ensued for several years, including one plaintiff, Henry Barabin, who won a $10 million lawsuit. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma after working at Crown Zellerbach Paper Mill for over 30 years.
Although airlines and automobiles are the most popular method of traveling these days, railroads are still used extensively for transporting good. The use of railroads and trains dates back for several hundred years, and almost every railroad was built using asbestos.
The use of asbestos during railroad work so prevalent that most employees and contractors faced risks. Repair workers were exposed to asbestos fibers and dust each time maintenance was needed, as they risked inhaling asbestos fibers used in crates, brake linings, clutches and more.
Inspectors also faced the same dangers each time a train and its parts were inspected. Anyone around railroads for extended periods of time is urged to seek medical attention immediately.
Construction workers represent a major portion of mesothelioma victims. Construction work consists of a wide array of different job functions, such as bricklayers, crane operators, roofers, masons, demolition crews, and more.
Each job function came with the inherent risk of asbestos exposure. For instance, while one worker faces asbestos exposure via shingles or drywall, another faced exposure from electrical panels. In fact, asbestos was used extensively in almost every construction project in the United States prior to the EPA regulations.
See also – Asbestos: Home Repair and Remodeling
Before new technology provided better working environments, factory workers were not only exposed to asbestos, but the risk was greater than many other jobs as most workers dealt with poor ventilation and overcrowded assembly lines.
While working alongside each other assembly lines, a plethora of factory workers handled arrays of asbestos-containing products on a daily basis. In addition to handling products the asbestos, the lathes that spun the products and conveying belts that moved products down the assembly lines were also made with asbestos, in order to prevent friction.
Even if workers were not a part of the assembly line, they still risked asbestos exposure by simply being in a factory. Office workers, crew leaders, machinists, and foremen were all at risk of the hazards since asbestos so was prominent in factories across the nation.
Firefighters have one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. They are the heros that rescue people and risk their own lives while trying to put out burning buildings and homes.
Aside from the possibility of getting severely injured or even killed while on the job, firefighters also run the risk of ingesting asbestos, which can lead to toxic illnesses, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, and asbestos-related lung cancer.
Many homes and commercial buildings were once insulated with asbestos-containing insulation. In fact, prior to EPA’s strict regulations, asbestos was used in most homes and buildings built in the United States.
Insulation workers who installed and/or repaired insulation typically didn’t wear the proper protective gear when working, which in turn places this group of workers at risk of developing an asbestos illness.
Plumbers often repair pipes that were built with asbestos. Asbestos was used frequently in pipe coverings in order to prevent extremely high temperatures. Additionally, plumbers may work awith and around compound, pipe block, cement, gaskets, and welding rods that were built with asbestos.
Electricians are responsible for an arrays of duties that can constantly expose them to asbestos, including installing, repairing, and maintaining wiring that contains asbestos-filled insulation. They also have the responsibility of cutting through walls and other areas filled with asbestos.
Of all the industries where asbestos was frequently, plant factories ranks among one of the highest. Plant workers were exposed to the toxic mineral through sanding, cutting, and smelting materials, as well and working around asbestos-containing equipment and machinery.
Textile workers are also among the many workers that were once exposed to high amounts of asbestos prior to the EPA’s strict regulation on its use. To make matters worse, most textile workers physically handled asbestos on a daily basis, releasing toxic asbestos fibers into the air.
Auto mechanics not only faced asbestos exposure in the past while working, but they’re still at risk when working on brakes, clutches, and other vehicle parts today. Some manufacturers still use asbestos in their products, and many older cars still have asbestos-containing component.
There are currently numerous asbestos lawsuits against automobile parts manufacturers, many of which are popular, nationwide companies still in business today.
A number of post office buildings were built with asbestos-containing products and materials. Not only were postal workers in the past in danger of asbestos exposure, but current workers are also at risk when the buildings are not properly maintained. In recent years, a variety of post offices across the nation have faced hefty OSHA fines for failing to follow required asbestos regulations.
Carpentry work still remains a high-risk occupation for asbestos exposure. Although most carpentry products manufacturers don’t use asbestos anymore, carpenters are still at risk of exposure when renovating cabinetry, rooms, and working on other projects that were originally constructed with asbestos. Part of their job requirements may be to sand, cut through, and remove asbestos products that contain asbestos, such as insulation and tiles.
In the past, a good number of carpenters would go home covered in asbestos dust, putting family members at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases via second-hand exposure. Carpentry work remains an occupation associated with a high risk of developing an asbestos-related illness.
Boilermakers, also known as boiler workers, typically work in extremely high-heat environments and around equipment that was protected from heat and fire by asbestos products. In many instances, a boiler worker was required to deliver asbestos-containing materials to processing areas, dispose of asbestos-containing ingredients, and work in cramped spaces in which asbestos dust permeated throughout the arit.
The long-term effects, of course, have left numerous former and retired boilermakers battling life-threatening illnesses, specifically malignant mesothelioma, the disease boilermakers have “been most” diagnosed with.
Getting Legal Help
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Page Reviewed and Edited by Mesothelioma Attorney Paul Danziger
Paul Danziger grew up in Houston, Texas and earned a law degree from Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago. For over 25 years years he has focused on representing mesothelioma cancer victims and others hurt by asbestos exposure. Paul and his law firm have represented thousands of people diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, recovering hundreds of millions of dollars for injured clients. Every client is extremely important to Paul and he will take every call from clients who want to speak with him. Paul and his law firm handle mesothelioma cases throughout the United States.