Doctors diagnose approximately 3,000 people with mesothelioma in the U.S. each year, and about 39,000 Americans die from asbestos-related diseases annually. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer linked to asbestos exposure. This serious health hazard may also cause other types of cancer, including lung, laryngeal and ovarian cancers, as well as an inflammatory lung disease called asbestosis.
Despite the public health issues connected with the substance, the U.S. does not ban its use. The Environmental Protection Agency is even considering allowing industries to use it in new ways after undergoing an EPA review process. Though there is no law on the books banning asbestos, both federal and state laws regulate its use and litigation rights.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos isn’t one substance. Instead, the name applies to six different, naturally occurring minerals. These minerals have a common characteristic: They have bundled fibers that can be divided into fine filaments. The individual threads are strong, fire- and heat-resistant, chemical resistant and non-conductive for electricity. As such, many industries employ them for a variety of uses. The minerals all contain oxygen and silicon atoms that form silicate compounds.
Asbestos-Related Disease Risks
These minerals occur naturally in the environment, particularly in earthen formations, but they are also present in the air in minuscule amounts. Therefore, anyone can be exposed to asbestos. However, the risks for contracting asbestos-related diseases are highest for those who work in industries that expose them to the substance at higher levels and over a more extended period, such as:
- Construction workers
- Car mechanics
Additionally, anyone involved with the 9/11 World Trade Centers attack is at high risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases.
It can take decades before people exposed to asbestos develop symptoms. When someone inhales asbestos fibers, they travel to the lungs, where they get trapped. If they stay within the lung tissues, the individual may eventually develop lung cancer. When the filaments travel from the lung tissues to the pleura (the lining that surrounds the lungs), mesothelioma risk increases.
What Federal Laws and Regulations Govern Asbestos?
While no federal ban on asbestos use exists, numerous laws and regulations govern its use and consumer and worker safety. The Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Mine Safety and Health Administration and Consumer Product Safety Commission all establish legal parameters for asbestos use and exposure.
Environmental Protection Agency Laws and Regulations
The EPA is the primary federal body charged with asbestos oversight, implementing both laws and regulations. The Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act are broad laws encompassing many environmental hazards, including asbestos. Additionally, the agency passed laws and regulations directly dealing with asbestos, including:
- The Asbestos Information Act
- The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act
- The Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act
- Restrictions on Discontinued Uses of Asbestos Rule
- Asbestos-Containing Materials in Schools Rule
- EPA Asbestos Worker Protection Rule
- Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants
The fact that the federal government’s regulatory structure for asbestos is a piece-meal combination of several laws and regulations leaves industries with plenty of openings to circumvent the law. Additionally, the legal patchwork makes it harder for individuals exposed to asbestos to understand their rights or know their recourse when they get sick.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
OSHA is the government agency in charge of ensuring work conditions in the U.S. are safe and healthy for workers. The agency establishes work environment standards and implements occupational safety and health regulations. Two OSHA regulations relate specifically to asbestos in the workplace. The Asbestos General Standard sets guidelines for asbestos exposure limits, asbestos training for employees, respiratory protection requirements and asbestos waste handling. The Asbestos Construction Standard regulates the construction industry in how to manage asbestos exposure.
Mine Safety and Health Administration
Similar to OSHA, MSHA regulates worksite conditions for miners. The agency established regulations for exposure limits, miner training, waste management and engineering control in surface mines and underground mines.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission
The CPSC is in charge of ensuring consumer products are safe. The Commission banned or restricted asbestos in clothing made for the general public, patching compounds and materials that create artificial embers or ash (for example, fireplace logs).
What Role Do State Play in Regulating Asbestos?
There are two primary ways that state laws impact asbestos regulation. The first is through enforcing or strengthening federal laws, and the second is in regulating litigation for asbestos exposure. While every state has personal injury laws on the books, some states passed additional rules for asbestos litigation. In 2019, New Jersey became the only state to ban the distribution or sale of asbestos-containing products.
No two states are alike, and not all states have specific laws for asbestos litigation, but those that do generally establish parameters for the following:
- Statute of Limitations: Every state has laws establishing time limitations for filing persona injury claims, usually between one and three years. The clock starts ticking when an individual is diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, not from the time the person was exposed.
- Medical thresholds: Some states don’t allow people to file a claim for asbestos exposure unless the claimant experiences symptoms of asbestos-related illness and has medical records to support their claim.
- Premises Liability: Premises liability laws establish when a property owner is liable for injuries on their property. Attorneys may use this law to prove negligence in an asbestos personal injury case.
- Punitive Damages: Personal injury laws may allow juries to levy a substantial penalty against a defendant who is found guilty of negligent behavior that leads to serious injury, the sum of which the court awards to the claimant.
Additionally, some states establish different litigation requirements for individuals who have a malignant disease than those who have a non-malignant disease. States may also enact legislation limiting a company’s liability when it merges with or buys a company that deals with asbestos products. Given the length of time it can take for symptoms to show up, successor laws can significantly impact a victim’s case.
Can an Asbestos Injury Attorney Help With a Lawsuit?
In 2019, the U.S. court system received 4,062 lawsuit filings for asbestos-related personal injury cases. 2,121 of those were for mesothelioma, and 1,334 were for lung cancer. Many people exposed to asbestos find it understandably challenging to navigate the legal landscape. It is a stressful and often intimidating process for the victims, who are already dealing with the extensive trauma asbestos illnesses cause.
If you are at risk for an asbestos-related illness and experience symptoms, it is essential that you work with an attorney who understands the complex nature of federal and state laws and regulations surrounding this dangerous substance. Attorneys who have experience settling these cases and fighting them in the courtroom know what it takes to establish negligence in an asbestos lawsuit.
Where Can You Find an Asbestos Injury Attorney With Experience?
Let Norris Injury Lawyers take on your case while you concentrate on your health. Our attorneys understand the legal process for asbestos-related injury cases, and they do not hold back in fighting for your right to receive fair compensation for your injuries. While we can often reach an agreeable settlement outside of the courtrooms, we don’t hesitate to pursue your case through a civil trial. Get in touch with our office today to schedule a free consultation.