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Hawaii has experienced fewer than the average number of deaths in the U.S. related to asbestos and mesothelioma over the years, but there have still been hundreds of people who die because of exposure. And the risk of exposure is not gone. Nearly all older buildings in the state, including public buildings, schools, and military installations used asbestos, and if it gets damaged or deteriorates it can become airborne and pose a risk to anyone in the vicinity.
The state government is doing its part to protect people from this kind of asbestos exposure, but some are still at risk and nothing can be done now to protect people who were already exposed. But, those residents and workers in Hawaii can sue employers and companies by working with a Hawaii mesothelioma lawyer to get justice and make an argument for receiving compensation.
Asbestos Use in Hawaii
Asbestos is a natural mineral that has been used for many applications in several industries. Shipbuilding and construction are two of the industries that used it the most. Buildings built before 1980 in Hawaii are highly likely to contain asbestos in many materials. It may be in the insulation, flooring, ceiling tiles, in fireproofing materials, and even in the walls and adhesives. Included are private and residential homes, school buildings, military buildings, and government buildings.
The shipbuilding industry also used asbestos extensively. Because asbestos protects against fire and adds strength to materials without much added weight, ships in the past were constructed using it in nearly every area. Hawaii has a long history of shipping and shipbuilding, ports, shipyards, and naval installations and these workplaces are where workers could have been exposed to asbestos.
Vermiculite of Hawaii Plant
Buildings and ships are not the only places where asbestos has been a danger in Hawaii. Although it is a small state, it has seen its share of industrial operations and plants, and many of these used asbestos and likely exposed workers. One example is the Vermiculite of Hawaii Plant. Vermiculite is a natural mineral that when it is mined it is often contaminated with asbestos mixed in with it. When workers processed vermiculite, they were unknowingly exposed to harmful asbestos.
The factory was located in Honolulu and since it ceased operations it has been targeted for official clean up by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The plant received vermiculite from the W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Montana for nearly three decades between 1954 and 1983. The Libby mine shipped contaminated vermiculite to processing plants around the country, spreading asbestos to every location. Thousands of people, both in Libby and at distant processing plants, were affected by the vermiculite and many became ill with mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer.
The Pearl Harbor naval base on Oahu will always be infamous for the attack that occurred in 1941, but it is also an example of how military men and women were exposed to asbestos. Because of all the toxic chemicals, including asbestos, the Environmental Protection Agency designated the entire harbor complex a Superfund site.
Many buildings there have been targeted for abatement and clean up, including an Army barracks and buildings in the shipyard. Veterans of the U.S. military have faced many dangers and risks from active service, and those include being exposed to asbestos.
Asbestos Exposure in Schools
Among the many buildings in Hawaii that contain asbestos are older school buildings. Specific schools in the state have made the news for containing asbestos, for violating asbestos laws, and for putting children and school employees at risk.
In 2005, nine school buildings in the state were targeted for abatement of asbestos known to be in the ceilings, but 45 more were thought to also have issues with ceiling tiles. The problem was not just that asbestos was found in the ceiling, but that the ceiling tiles were left to deteriorate. Asbestos fibers can be released into the air in materials that are not maintained and disintegrate.
Other Hawaiian Sites with Asbestos
In addition to Pearl Harbor, numerous schools, and old plants like the Vermiculite of Hawaii Plant, there are other known workplaces in the state that have asbestos and have likely exposed workers:
- Paauhau Sugar Plantation Company, Hilo
- Standard American Dredging Company, Honolulu
- Honolulu Shipyard, Honolulu
- Kaiser Cement and Gypsum, Nanakuli
- Hawaii Electric Light Company, Hilo
- Hickam Air Force Base
- Pioneer Mill Company, Lahaina
- Standard Oil, Barbers Point
Hawaii Asbestos Laws
Hawaii has strict rules about asbestos use today. However, it has not been made illegal and asbestos can still be used in many modern applications, in spite of the dangers. The state restricts the use of asbestos for roadbuilding. Tailings used to build a road must either be asbestos-free or must be fully encapsulated within the road material. Any plant working with asbestos must do routine maintenance and take strict precautions to ensure asbestos fibers do not get into the air.
The Hawaii Department of Health administers rules related to doing work on older buildings that are designed to protect workers and the environment. Inspection of schools for asbestos is rigorous. Regular inspections must be done to ensure the asbestos in the buildings is contained and not deteriorating. Regular reports are required to be sent to the state government along with plans for managing or abating asbestos in schools.
Statute of Limitations on Asbestos Lawsuits
In the state of Hawaii, people who were exposed to asbestos and became ill as a result have two years from the time of diagnosis to file a lawsuit. This is the statute of limitations, and it starts the clock at the time of diagnosis because so many people were exposed to asbestos unknowingly and only found out about it years or decades later. The statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits related to asbestos is also two years: a loved one has just two years from the time of death to file a lawsuit against the defendant.
Hawaii Mesothelioma Lawyers
If you live in Hawaii and you or someone you care about has been exposed to asbestos, you may want to think about working with a Hawaii mesothelioma lawyer. Exposure does not always lead to illness, but it could result in mesothelioma, asbestosis, or even lung cancer or other types of cancer. An experienced lawyer who is knowledgeable about Hawaii asbestos laws can guide your next steps and help you make a case for justice and compensation.
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.