Frequently Asked Questions about Asbestos
This page contains answers to common questions asked about asbestos. For more detailed information, links to other sites are provided. Further, detailed information about some aspects of asbestos litigation may be found on other pages of this website.Finally, for answers to additional questions about asbestos, you might want to visit the website maintained by the Oklahoma Department of Labor Asbestos Department.
- What is asbestos?
- What diseases are caused by asbestos exposure?
- How long does it take asbestos diseases to occur after exposure?
- Is lung cancer in Asbestos victims caused by asbestos or smoking?
- What types of jobs are considered the most dangerous for asbestos disease?
- Have there been asbestos class actions which I can join and receive money?
- I heard many companies have gone bankrupt. Is there still money available to compensate victims?
What is asbestos?
The generic name "asbestos" belongs to a group of minerals called "asbestiform" minerals. Asbestos is a fibrous material which is mined from serpentine rock. Basically, rock was mined and crushed. When the rock was crushed, fibrous stands of asbestos were extracted from the rock. The strands were put in bags and shipped to manufacturing facilities were the asbestos was used as an ingredient in insulation and other materials. The three most commonly used forms of asbestos that were used in product manufacturing were:
- Chrysotile - (White Asbestos) This was the form of asbestos used predominantly in products manufactured in the United States. Although small amounts of chrysotile were mined in the United States, the overwhelming majority of the asbestos was mined in Canada and then shipped into the United States.
- Amosite - (Gray Asbestos) Amosite asbestos was used to a lesser extent than Chrysotile. Most of the amosite asbestos used int he United States was mined in South Africa.
- Crocidolite - (Blue Asbestos) This form of asbestos was the least used in commercial products. Approximately 10% of the asbestos used in the United States was crocidolite.
A picture of asbestos in its raw fiber state is below.
Chrysotile asbestos is known as serpentine because it is found in serpentine rock. Amosite asbestos is an amphibole. Although asbestos products have not been used in construction since approximately 1975, the products in place present a clear danger to men involved in repair work in the demolition of structures containing asbestos products.Back to Top
What diseases are caused by asbestos exposure?
Asbestos diseases may be placed in two categories. Cancerous and noncancerous. Asbestos is a potent carcinogen. The primary forms of cancer of the lung which have been linked to asbestos exposure are:
- (1) Mesothelioma
- (2) Lung cancer
- (3) Asbestosis
- (4) Pleural disease
Mesothelioma is a cancer that occurs in two parts of the body, the pleura of the lung, or the perioteneum, which is the area below the lung. The pleura is the lining between the lungs and the chest cavity. Generally, pleural mesothelioma does not penetrate deeply into the lung itself. Typically, the disease spreads itself on the outside of the lung, compressing the lung, and eventually stops the lungs ability to expand and contract, thus suffocating the victim. Often, secondary diseases, such as pneumonia will be an immediate cause of death inasmuch as the mesothelioma lowers the resistance of the body to such diseases. For further information on malignant mesothelioma, visit the information pages maintained by the National Cancer Institute. Also, learn about mesothelioma from Columbia University: What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma usually starts in the pleura of the lung, which is an outside lining of the lungs. To see where the pleura is, click here. There is also a form of mesothelioma called peritoneal mesothelioma, which is not a cancer of the lung, but the peritoneum, which is the area below the lung.
Asbestos has also been linked to lung cancer. Asbestos may cause lung cancer in nonsmokers; however, the incidence of lung cancer is much greater in smokers than in nonsmokers. Medical evidence tends to suggest that smoking in the absence of asbestos exposure may not be nearly as dangerous as smoking combined with asbestos exposure. The total effect of the asbestos is to greatly increase the risk of cancer in a smoker over that normally expected in smokers.
Asbestos also causes some lung diseases which are not cancerous, but which can be just as serious as cancer. The nonmalignant diseases associated with asbestos exposure are:
Asbestosis is a scarring of the lung. Asbestosis is a disease named after its cause, asbestos, and cannot occur in one not exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is caused by airborne asbestos being inhaled. The asbestos fibers that cause damage are too small to be seen. They enter the lung and start a scarring process which grows over time. Generally, asbestosis causes shortness of breath, hypoxemia (lack of oxygen), weakness, and sets up the body for secondary infections, such as pneumonia.
Asbestosis is a scarring of the inside of the lung, the area called the parencyma. Pleural disease, sometimes called pleural asbestosis is a scarring of the outside lining and occurs in the same area that pleural mesothelioma may be found. People with pleural asbestosis sometimes do not experience severe symptoms. However in some instances, pleural plaques of pleural calcification can become severe enough to cause symptoms or even death.
How long does it take asbestos diseases to develope after exposure?
There is a latency period between the time of exposure to asbestos and the manifestation of asbestos diseases that generally varies between several years and several decades. Many asbestos cancers will not arise in a victim until twenty years or more after first exposure to asbestos. Typically, asbestosis or pleural plaques will not occur until at least ten to twenty years after first exposure. However, the time for a disease to develop may be longer or shorter, depending in the degree of exposure a person sustained, and individual susceptibility.Back to Top
Is lung cancer in asbestos victims caused by asbestos or by smoking?
If an individual smokes cigarettes, that person increases his or her risk of lung cancer by an approximate figure of tens times greater than the general population. However, if a person smokes and is exposed to asbestos, that risk may increase to as many as fifty to one hundred times greater than the general population. Although asbestos was sold to smokers and nonsmokers alike, the industry never advised workers handling asbestos of the dramatic effect asbestos exposure would have on increasing the risk of lung cancer. The asbestos industry never warned workers that asbestos by itself, or in combination with tobacco smoke could cause lung cancer. The combined effect of asbestos acting with tobacco smoke is called synergism.Back to Top
What types of jobs are considered the most dangerous as to asbestos disease?
Asbestos diseases are said to follow the trail of exposure. That means that wherever people have received asbestos exposure, regardless of their trade, age, sex or race, they are at risk of cancer and other diseases. Certain occupations, however, are known to be those where risk of exposure to asbestos is great, and the numbers of people in such occupations contracting asbestos disease are high. Some examples follow:
- Insulator aka Asbestos Worker
- Steel Worker
- Maintenance Worker
- Pipe Fitter
- Brake Mechanic
Prior to 1975, asbestos was used in a considerable number or construction materials. Individuals who insulated furnaces, steam pipes, ovens, or any other high temperature vessel, cut, sawed and applied asbestos block insulation, pipe covering and cements directly. The insulation trade brought workers directly into heavy contact with asbestos and heavy exposure. Even after asbestos was banned as a practical matter in construction materials in 1975, insulators still were involved in repair and maintenance work of asbestos in-place.
Prior the the 1970's the use of asbestos in the insulating trades was so prevalent that insulators in past days were simply called "asbestos workers."
Boilermakers built and repaired boilers and heat containment vessels containing asbestos. Their occupation involved many of the same responsibilities as the insulators discussed above.
In decades past, ship piping, boilers and furnaces were insulated with asbestos. Since fitting out a ship involved cutting and installing asbestos in often small, poorly ventilated spaces, exposures were high.
Asbestos has been used heavily in the steel industry. The "turn-arounds" of steel ovens, the use of asbestos in steam pipes and on boilers in the steel industry has created a documented path of victims.
Asbestos is place has created a hazard which remains even today. In the maintenance and repair of facilities with asbestos in place, the material may be disturbed and release asbestos in the air.
Steam pipes in decades past were insulated with asbestos block and cement. Gaskets contained asbestos. A steam fitter would be repairing and replacing pipes covered with asbestos. This process was dangerous. Further, steam fitters often had to remove asbestos gaskets that would adhere to pipe flanges or valves. Often a wire brush driven by an electric motor was used to clean off gaskets. The particular process created high dust levels.
Asbestos was used in automobile brakes for several decades. The grinding of brake shoes during installation would create high levels of asbestos dust. Further, dust would accumulate in the brake drum area and become air borne during the replacement of old brake shoes with new shoes. Often brake drums were cleaned with air hoses, releasing millions of asbestos fibers in the air. Some brake shoes, even today, contain asbestos.
Have there been asbestos class actions which I can join and receive money?
Probably not. Two national class actions involving asbestos were settled in the trial courts in the past two years. However, certain objectors appealed the settlements, said the cases were not proper under class action law, and obtained Supreme Court reversal of the settlements. Presently, there are no national asbestos class action settlements paying money to asbestos victims. The only "national settlements" which might be available are those which have been approved in Bankruptcy Courts as part of a liquidation or reorganization plan for companies formerly selling asbestos. For more information on asbestos class actions click here.Back to Top
I heard many companies have gone bankrupt. Is there still money available to compensate victims?
It is true that a number of asbestos companies have gone bankrupt. Is is also true that some of those bankruptcies were planned contrivances attempting to defraud asbestos victims of payments for their injuries. Some of the companies that filed bankruptcy engaged in improper transfers of their assets prior to the bankruptcy filing in an attempt to avoid payments for the deaths and disease they caused. A number of the bankruptcy cases have taken years to resolve while lawsuits were filed in bankruptcy court to force a return of assets taken from the companies.
Despite what you may have heard, compensation is still available for deserving victims in most instances. First of all, a number of the bankruptcies have resulted in asbestos compensation trusts being created to pay claims. Funds from a number of these trusts may be available if proper claims for compensation are filed. Further, a number of companies that sold asbestos products are not in bankruptcy and are paying claims as they are resolved in the court system.
The following asbestos companies are know to have filed petitions in bankruptcy court. Some of these companies are paying claims through trusts set up as a result of the bankruptcy proceedings:
- Forty-Eight Insulations National Gypsum Company
- Standard Insulations
- Raybestos Manhattan
- Raymark Industries
- Raytech Industries
- Keene Corporation
- Celotex Corporation
- Philip-Carey Corporation
- H. K. Porter Industries
- Gatke Corporation