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The state of Alaska has several natural deposits of the harmful mineral asbestos. And yet, the state has the lowest death rate from asbestos-related illnesses, like mesothelioma. These deposits of naturally occurring asbestos have not contributed significantly to illness in residents because it is rarely disturbed to the extent that the fibers are released into air, soil, or water.
The instances of people getting sick from asbestos exposure are most often related to workplace exposure and use of man-made materials that contain asbestos. For those people who have gotten sick because of asbestos use in the state, an Alaska mesothelioma lawyer can help by representing them and working toward a mesothelioma settlement or other type of compensation.
Alaska’s Naturally Occurring Asbestos
There are several sites in this large state that contain natural deposits of asbestos. Much of the state is unpopulated and undeveloped, which has protected residents from much of the damage these deposits could cause. There are four major sites in the panhandle region, around the capital Juneau and the city of Ketchikan. These are important sites because they are near one of the more populated areas of the state. Other deposits of asbestos in Alaska are found along the Yukon River, around Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, in Kubuk Valley National Park, and near Bristol Bay.
Recent Bill May Make Mesothelioma Lawsuits More Difficult
In 2012 the governor of Alaska, Sean Parnell, signed a bill into law that may make pursuing mesothelioma lawsuits and getting compensation for victims more difficult. The bill includes asbestos standards that allow construction companies and other construction-related businesses to use extracted materials that contain some level of naturally occurring asbestos. This could include gravel, for instance, which often contains natural asbestos. The law will also mean that companies using these materials would be protected from legal liability if anyone gets sick from exposure to the asbestos.
The law was passed and signed to help remote communities. These areas may have naturally-occurring asbestos that would otherwise prevent them from being able to develop and expand, build roads, and construct or expand sewage lines. Unfortunately, while it may help with economic revitalization, the law gives victims who get sick from the asbestos dust stirred up no recourse for claiming compensation or justice for having to live with mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.
Distant Early Warning Radar Stations
One important source of asbestos contamination in Alaska comes from the Distant Early Warning (DEW) radar stations that were set up in the 1950s and 1960s to detect and notify officials and the public of any Cold War Soviet planes or missiles threatening the area.
These radar stations stretched through Alaska and into the Arctic region of Canada. Both civilians and military personnel lived near and operated the stations, which contained asbestos materials. Several of the radar stations were contaminated with several different toxic materials, including asbestos, and have had to be cleaned up. People who worked at and around the DEW stations may have been exposed to asbestos and were put at risk of developing mesothelioma.
United States Air Force Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson
Several military sites in Alaska used asbestos in buildings and facilities, which put military and civilian workers at risk for exposure. Elmendorf Air Force Base is one of these. A lot of asbestos was used in multiple areas including vehicles and aircraft, electronics, insulation and other building materials, and in especially high quantities in the power station on the base.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working with the military to clean up the site. The cleanup has involved the removal of many toxic substances and materials that contain asbestos. Although the cleanup is helping make the site safer, the damage was already done for people who worked there in the past. The base has been in operation since 1940 and thousands of people passed through it and were put at risk of developing mesothelioma and other illnesses.
Other Asbestos Sites in Alaska
Asbestos was used frequently in the past in many different applications because it is an abundant, inexpensive mineral with a lot of important qualities. Mostly its ability to resist fire and heat has made it an ideal construction material for siding, roofing, floors, insulation, and fireproofing materials. Asbestos has also been used extensively in ships, vehicles, and aircraft. Military personnel have been put at risk of being exposed to it more than other populations because of these applications.
Military personnel may have been at risk of asbestos exposure more than other people, but civilians in Alaska were exposed too, especially those working in certain industries. Any job working on or around ships and boats, construction jobs, and most industrial jobs put workers at risk for exposure and illness. Some of the known sites in Alaska to have used asbestos include:
- Alaska Lumber and Pulp Company, Sitka
- Aurora Power, Anchorage and Aurora Energy, Fairbanks
- Salt Chuck Mine, Prince of Wales Island
- Ambler Gravel Pit, Ambler
- Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks
- Kodiak Naval Station, Kodiak
- S. Rubber Company, Opelika
- S. Smelting and Refining and Mining Company, Fairbanks
- Union Carbide, Kenai
- Adak Naval Air Station, Adak
- Shell Oil, Kenai
- Ladd Air Force Base, Fairbanks
- Wainwright U.S. Army Base
- Richardson U.S. Army Base
Asbestos Laws in Alaska
People living and working in Alaska must follow federal and state laws that aim to manage asbestos and protect people living and working around it. As in most other states, anyone removing, disrupting, or abating asbestos must be professionally trained and licensed through the state of Alaska.
Safety gear is required, including respirators, to do this work. There are also special regulations for how asbestos must be transported and disposed of in landfills. It has to be moved in fully sealed containers with warning labels and disposed of only in authorized landfills.
Statute of Limitations
All states set statutes of limitations that apply to lawsuits filed over asbestos exposure and related illnesses. According to the law in Alaska, a suit must be filed within two years of a person having been diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition like mesothelioma.
Because asbestos diseases are often latent for long periods of time, the wording of the law allows for lawsuits to be filed up to two years after the discovery of the disease, not after the first symptoms appeared or after the disease should have been discovered. For wrongful death suits, there is also a two-year statute of limitations that extends from the time of death.
Working with an Alaska Mesothelioma Lawyer
Although Alaska has the lowest death rate from asbestos-related diseases of any other state, people here have still gotten sick and suffered because of asbestos exposure. If you or a loved one needs assistance in finding compensation or filing a lawsuit, an Alaska mesothelioma lawyer can help. A professional experienced with asbestos and mesothelioma laws can guide your decisions and make sure you file within the statutes of limitations and within the laws of the state. A good lawyer will give you the best possible chance to get a settlement or compensation from an employer, the military, or some other institution that caused you to get sick because of asbestos.
Page Written by Rod De Llano, Esquire
Rod De Llano was born and raised in Laredo, Texas. He graduated from Princeton University with a B.A. in Economics, and earned a law degree from the University of Texas. After working for an international law firm for several years, Rod formed a law firm dedicated to representing persons injured by exposure to asbestos products. For over 20 years, Rod has fought for persons diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. His clients have recovered over $1 billion over the years.