Workers Are Still Being Exposed to Asbestos
Asbestos has been established as a known carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance, for decades. Yet today, despite proof that asbestos causes deadly diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, workers in the United States are still being exposed to this toxic mineral. While over 60 other countries banned asbestos starting in the 1990s, the U.S. never has.
An article published in October 2022 by ProPublica – a newsroom that investigates abuses of power – highlighted the severity of the risk of asbestos exposure at work. More than a dozen former workers of an OxyChem plant in Niagara Falls, New York came forward to describe the extremely unsafe conditions at work, emphasizing the importance of the federal government passing laws prohibiting asbestos.
Dangerous Conditions for Workers Handling Asbestos-Containing Materials
OxyChem and Olin Corp are currently two of the largest chemical companies operating in the United States. Each year, the federal government allows these companies (among others) to import hundreds of tons of asbestos into the U.S. for use in the manufacture of their products and chemicals. One of OxyChem’s main products is chlorine, which relies on asbestos for production.
Despite OxyChem’s strict safety protocols for the handling of asbestos to limit worker exposure, the plant in Niagara Falls proved highly dangerous for workers. Former workers told ProPublica that asbestos dust hung in the air and was built up on surfaces around the plant, sometimes an inch thick, with no protective suits or masks given to workers.
A deeper look into the company uncovered that OxyChem and Olin Corp were privy to a special program orchestrated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to limit the frequency of inspections at many of their plants. In addition, OxyChem admitted that there were safer alternatives to asbestos in the production of chlorine, but they went unused due to a higher cost.
Although the OxyChem plant in question closed in 2021 for unrelated reasons, the dozens of people who worked there – several of them, for many decades – fear that it is too late for them to avoid asbestos-related illnesses and diseases later in life. This includes mesothelioma, which is an aggressive and deadly form of terminal cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
Are There Asbestos Regulations for Workers in the U.S.?
The safety concerns at OxyChem are just one example of a much larger problem – the failure of the U.S. to ban asbestos. In 1970, the U.S. government passed the Clean Air Act – one of the country’s first safety regulations regarding asbestos exposure for workers. Under this act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could limit workers’ asbestos exposure and create safety standards to minimize the release of dangerous asbestos fibers into the air while handling this mineral.
Almost two decades later, the EPA issued a final notice banning most asbestos-containing products. Unfortunately, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned the EPA’s final notice in 1991. Asbestos was not banned in the United States, and the country has continued to import millions of pounds of asbestos in the decades since.
According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, nearly 114 metric tons of asbestos were imported in the first three months of 2022 alone. Product manufacturers can continue to use small amounts – around 1 percent – of asbestos in certain products, meaning workers must still work with asbestos in manufacturing plants and factories.
While there are federal asbestos regulations in place to protect workers, there is no nationwide ban on this dangerous carcinogen. Furthermore, the safety protocols at workplaces that involve asbestos often fall short of what is legally required. Some states have passed their own laws to further protect workers, such as New Jersey’s bill to ban asbestos in 2019. Sadly, a lack of action by the federal government means that thousands of workers today are still being exposed.
What Injuries and Illnesses Can Be Caused by Exposure to Asbestos at Work?
There is no such thing as a safe level of asbestos exposure. The National Cancer Institute states that being exposed to asbestos even one time could potentially cause life-threatening diseases. However, research shows that frequent or prolonged exposure to asbestos increases an individual’s odds of developing asbestos-related illnesses. This includes daily exposure in the workplace. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for asbestos-related illnesses. They can last for a victim’s lifetime or prove terminal.
Injuries and illnesses that have been connected to asbestos include:
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Pleural effusions
- Pleural plaques
- Pleural thickening
Many asbestos-related illnesses affect the lungs and the lining that surrounds the lungs, known as the pleura, due to a victim breathing in microscopic asbestos fibers. This can result in symptoms such as respiratory problems, shortness of breath, a persistent dry cough, coughing up blood, pain or tightness in the chest, trouble swallowing, loss of appetite, fatigue, and weight loss. Other illnesses can arise from ingesting asbestos and particles getting lodged in other parts of the body, such as the abdomen, pericardial sac, ovaries and testes.
The Future of Asbestos Regulations in the U.S.
As of 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency is attempting yet again to ban asbestos nationwide in the U.S. In April 2022, the EPA published a Proposed Ban of Ongoing Uses of Asbestos. The proposal immediately received backlash from the attorneys general of 12 states – prompted by chemical companies – that expressed that the ban would put a “heavy and unreasonable burden” on the chemical industry. If the rule passes, it would prohibit the ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos, which is currently the only form of asbestos allowed in the U.S. It would effectively rectify the decision to overturn the EPA’s original asbestos ban in 1991.
What to Do if You Are a Victim of Asbestos Exposure at Work
While the battle for a federal ban on the use of asbestos in the United States continues to be waged, workers are suffering the consequences. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness or disease after being exposed to this mineral in the workplace, don’t hesitate to contact an asbestos attorney in Los Angeles. You may be entitled to financial compensation from your employer, a product manufacturer or another entity.
At Rose, Klein & Marias, LLP, we understand the seriousness of illnesses connected to asbestos and are passionate about standing up for the rights of injured workers. We continue to work toward a future where all workers are safe from asbestos. Contact us today at (866) 674-5150 to request a free initial consultation with an attorney about your case.