When the dangers of asbestos became apparent, it was largely banned for use in the U.S., but its use was never entirely halted. In 2014, there were approximately 400 metric tons of the carcinogenic material used in the United States.
According to environmental consultant Barry Castleman, “The consumption’s gone down by over a thousandfold” since the 1970s. “The problem is the asbestos is still there.”
Asbestos that was used in construction, industrial settings, and institutional settings is presenting a serious health risk that experts who met in New York in 1990 referred to as a “third wave” of asbestos disease.
The meeting was attended by physicians, union officials and scientists, who agreed that the future held untold deaths from asbestos exposure. They referred to three waves of asbestos disease, with the first having killed the miners, millers and manufacturing workers who were directly exposed to the product.
The second waves of asbestos diseases killed insulators, shipbuilders and all others whose work had put them in harm’s way prior to the dangers being exposed. The third wave, they agreed, would come from the asbestos that was already in place, hidden in cement pipes, ceiling and flooring tiles, automobile brakes and other infrastructure basics that had been built with asbestos before the bans were put in place.
Today, Barry Castleman testifies frequently on behalf of those who have been unwittingly exposed to asbestos and sickened with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.
There are approximately 2,700 people diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. The illness is a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs or the abdominal organs, and there is no cure. Most die within two years of diagnosis.
Many of the mesothelioma cases that are being seen today are a result of employers tasked with asbestos removal and choosing to take shortcuts in order to save money. Craig Benedict is a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York who pursued many of these cases on behalf of the government, prosecuting over 100 asbestos-abatement contractors.
Benedict said what he saw was no different than if the contractors had taken “their workers outside, lined them up against the wall and shot them with high-powered weapons.”
“They knew – just as certainly as someone who actually did that – that their actions over time had a very high likelihood of resulting in death or serious bodily injury,” Benedict added.
When companies put their employees or clients at risk of asbestos exposure, they are often liable for the damage that has been caused, including medical expenses, lost wages, and the cost of the pain and suffering to them and their families.