Legal History of Asbestos
Legal History of Asbestos
For decades, the asbestos industry knew of the health risks of asbestos, but failed to warn workers and consumers.
How did they get away with it?
Asbestos has a long latency.
That means it can take a long time after asbestos exposure – even forty or fifty years – for health problems to appear.
That is also why asbestos took so long to regulate.
Many people did not know they had asbestos-related illnesses until decades after they were exposed.
When the truth finally came out, various courts ordered asbestos manufacturers to set aside insurance money to compensate people who had been injured by asbestos exposure.
But asbestos has not been fully banned in the United States.
People are still developing health problems caused by their asbestos exposure four or five decades ago.
The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that people can still be exposed to asbestos at buildings like worksites and even homes, because the amount of asbestos remaining is still unknown.3
Scientific research suggests even brief or second-hand exposure to asbestos fibers in the air is a potential hazard.4
If you have an asbestos-related illness and were exposed to asbestos in your past, the law may entitle you to compensation for your healthcare bills, lost wages and pain.
In many cases, you do not even need to file a lawsuit.
An asbestos claims attorney from the Law Offices of Justin C. Lane, Esq. can help you understand your options. Call, text or email for a free consultation with a seasoned asbestos claims lawyer. There is no obligation.
History of Asbestos Claims Litigation
Asbestos Litigation and the Failure To Warn
When someone is hurt by a person or company’s carelessness, the injured victim can often recover compensation from the person or company that hurt them. The legal term for carelessness is negligence.
One type of negligence is failing to warn people about a known danger.
If a person does not know something is risky, then that person will not know to avoid it.
That is why the law requires a company or person who creates a danger to warn others who might be injured.
Consumers have far less knowledge about a product than the company that manufactured it. So the law often requires companies to warn consumers if a product is dangerous.
Many products carry warning labels.
The asbestos industry knew about the dangers of its product since the 1930s. But asbestos manufacturers did not use a warning label, or caution customers.
Insurance companies and doctors warned the companies that workers exposed to asbestos were developing serious respiratory problems.
Health researchers found that asbestos could even cause lung cancer and mesothelioma (cancer of the membranes surrounding the lungs).
But for decades, asbestos companies didn’t add labels or warn the public that its product could cause serious health problems.5 6 7
By the mid – 1960s, health researchers had shown that the damaging reach of asbestos went far beyond those directly mining or milling the miracle mineral.
Workers installing asbestos insulation were at greater risk of lung cancer.8
The asbestos industry only got serious about warning the public about its product when the injured victims started filing lawsuits.
The first asbestos claims lawsuits were unsuccessful.
At first, the asbestos industry quietly paid off injured employees and made them keep the settlements confidential. This prevented the general public from knowing that asbestos manufacturers recognized that workers exposed to asbestos were developing health problems.
Nellie Kershaw filed the first known legal claim for asbestosis.
Nellie Kershaw was a factory worker who spun asbestos fibers in England.
When the 33-year old Kershaw was diagnosed with respiratory problems, she asked the factory to pay for her treatments. The asbestos fiber factory refused.
Kershaw filed the first well known lawsuit for asbestos injuries. But before the case was completed, Kershaw passed away from fibrosis of the lungs caused by all the particles she had inhaled.
The first asbestos claims in the U.S.
In the early twentieth century, the Johns-Manville Corporation was the largest manufacturer of asbestos products in the world. Johns-Manville Corp. made everything from asbestos insulation to concrete to roofing shingles.
In 1927, medical researchers identified asbestosis as a respiratory disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.
Two years later, several lawsuits were filed against Johns-Manville for asbestos-related illness.
The first of these lawsuits was brought by Anna Pirskowski in 1929. Her lawsuit would be dismissed several years later.
Some of the injured plaintiffs apparently received money from Johns-Manville for their asbestos injuries.
But Johns-Manville did not respond to the lawsuits by adding a warning label to asbestos.
- Johns-Manville did not create new work policies to prevent the risks of asbestos.
- Johns-Manville did not warn their employees that asbestos exposure carried health risks.
Instead, the asbestos manufacturer kept the injuries secret from the public.
The asbestos manufacturer quietly signed settlements with some of the injured workers, requiring that all the details would be confidential.
Massachusetts Industrial Accidents Board
The Massachusetts Industrial Accidents Board managed workers’ compensation claims in the state. In the 1930s, the Board did settle some claims relating to asbestos injuries.
But most people did not know anything about the health risks posed by asbestos.
- The medical research showing the health dangers of asbestos was not well publicized.
- The asbestos industry knew about medical research connecting asbestos to respiratory problems. But they did not warn employees and consumers of their product’s risks.
- In fact, the Johns-Manville company even had research showing that asbestos seemed to cause cancer. But they suppressed the report, and rewrote it without any reference to cancer.
- In many cases, the asbestos industry actually told employees that asbestos was safe to work with and around.
- Asbestos manufacturer Johns-Manville did not warn employees when the company doctor diagnosed them with asbestosis. The head of the company said ‘we save a lot of money that way.’
The dangers of asbestos would only become widely known decades after these first asbestos claims.
The public learns the truth about asbestos.
In the 1950s and 1960s, medical researchers published more and more studies showing the health dangers of asbestos.
Asbestos was linked not only to asbestosis, but to lung cancer, and a new type of cancer known as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is caused almost exclusively by breathing in asbestos.
As the truth about asbestos and asbestos-related illnesses came out, thousands of people began filing lawsuits.
The asbestos industry continued to downplay the dangers of asbestos.
By the mid – 1960s, doctors and health experts like Dr. Irving Selikoff tried to alert the public to the health risks posed by asbestos exposure. They called for stricter rules around asbestos to protect workers and the public.
Again, the asbestos industry did not welcome regulations, or try to change its behavior.9
Instead, executives at asbestos companies called Dr. Selikoff a “dangerous man” and talked about how to stop his efforts to warn the public that asbestos was dangerous.10
Asbestos executives hired people to publicly attack Dr. Selikoff’s research11 and even his character.12
But by the 1970s, the asbestos industry could no longer hide its secret.
As more and more news stories came out about the dangers of asbestos, the public became aware of the hazards they had been facing.
In addition, asbestos-related illnesses take a long time to appear.
But by the 1960s and 1970s, asbestos exposure caught up with workers and consumers who had been exposed to asbestos for decades. They finally realized that their asbestos exposure had caused significant and often fatal diseases.
The case of Borel v. Fibreboard Corp. (1973).
In January 1969, a man named Clarence Borel was diagnosed with asbestosis, a respiratory illness. In the next year, Borel had to have his lung removed. He was also diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of cancer of the tissue surrounding the lungs.
For thirty years before, Mr. Borel had worked installing asbestos insulation in refineries and shipyards.
Mr. Borel was not warned about the risks of asbestos in his job installing asbestos insulation.
When he and other asbestos workers asked if it was safe, they were told the asbestos fibers "dissolves as it hits your lungs."
The asbestos industry vigorously fought Mr. Borel's lawsuit.
Fortunately for him and thousands of other workers, the Federal Appellate Court decided that the dangers of asbestos should have been told to asbestos workers like Mr. Borel.
The court noted that the asbestos industry knew about the risks, and should have put warning labels on its product.
Clarence Borel won his lawsuit, and opened the door for thousands of other workers who developed health problems from asbestos exposure. These workers had also been told that asbestos was safe to work with and around.
The case also helped push officials to enact regulations to protect workers and consumers from the many health dangers posed by asbestos.
History of Asbestos Regulation
For many decades, asbestos industry leaders were aware of the risks of asbestos, but continued to downplay their product’s hazards.
Healthcare leaders were also aware, and they called for stricter rules for asbestos manufacturing.
But asbestos manufacturers resisted their efforts to protect workers and consumers.
Eventually, news articles about the research and lawsuits against the asbestos industry helped raise public awareness of the problem.
Workers’ unions and others affected started demanding that asbestos be regulated.
Finally, the government had to respond to the ongoing dangers of asbestos.
In fact, asbestos was the first product regulated by the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to protect workers.
Today there are many Federal, state and local laws regulating asbestos in the U.S. But in the United States, asbestos still has not been completely banned or eliminated.
“Even if a worldwide ban on asbestos were to be introduced, past exposures will ensure that death and disease related to asbestos continue for the foreseeable future.”
—British Medical Journal, 2004.
Occupational Regulation of Asbestos
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a Federal regulatory agency that seeks to protect workers by maintaining safe and healthy workplaces, practices and policies.
OSHA was formed in 1971, and the first substance it saw as a danger to workers was asbestos. By then, many health and news articles and lawsuits had begun to alert the public to the many dangers of asbestos.
Since its first ruling on asbestos in 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has revised its regulation of asbestos many times.
Over the years, OSHA’s asbestos rules have become more and more strict as health experts discover that asbestos is far more dangerous than they thought.
“Asbestos is well recognized as a health hazard and its use is now highly regulated by both OSHA and EPA. Asbestos fibers associated with these health risks are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Breathing asbestos fibers can cause a buildup of scar-like tissue in the lungs called asbestosis and result in loss of lung function that often progresses to disability and death.” –Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)13
Asbestos was used through buildings of all kinds, including:
OSHA Asbestos Regulations
Today, many uses of asbestos have been banned. OSHA has imposed strict guidelines on working near asbestos.
With so much asbestos still in buildings and products like classic car brakes, OSHA has also enacted strict rules for workers engaged in asbestos removal.
These include techniques to reduce asbestos dust, and protective equipment to prevent someone from inhaling it.
But some employers and construction companies try to cut corners by demolishing and removing asbestos without proper equipment and techniques.
OSHA’s Asbestos General Standard
OSHA’s Asbestos General Standard regulations (29 CFR 1910.1001) list exposure limits, breathing protection, engineering controls, worker training, asbestos labeling and rules around disposing of asbestos.
OSHA’s Asbestos Construction Standard
OSHA’s Asbestos Construction Standard (29 CFR 1926.1101) establishes rules for construction work involving asbestos. This includes demolition and renovation practices, worker training, exposure limits and guidelines for disposing of asbestos.
There are scans and other medical tests that can help detect asbestos-related illnesses, even before symptoms appear. Workers who may have been exposed to asbestos may want to see a healthcare provider before an illness progresses.
Government workers are also protected from asbestos exposure.
The Federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has also been amended to extend OSHA general worker asbestos protections from asbestos to government employees.
Environmental Regulation of Asbestos
The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an agency of government that helps protect human health and the environment. The EPA regulates many chemicals, substances and industry practices to reduce pollution and help clean the environment.
The 1970 Clean Air Act
The Clean Air Act (42 USC § 7401 et seq.) empowers the EPA to regulate emission standards for hazardous air pollutants. Asbestos fibers are easily airborne, and asbestos pollution is regulated by the Clean Air Act.
The Toxic Substances Control Act
The Toxic Substances Control Act (15 U.S.C. § 2641-2656) required the EPA to inspect for and remove asbestos in school buildings.
The Asbestos Information Act
The Asbestos Information Act (Public Law 100-577) required the EPA to identify companies making asbestos products. The Asbestos Information Act also requires asbestos manufacturers to report their production to the EPA.
The Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act (ASHARA)
The Asbestos School Hazard Abatement Reauthorization Act funds and regulates abatement programs for schools to identify and remove asbestos. ASHARA also expands asbestos abatement requirements beyond schools to all public and commercial buildings. The Act has been updated.
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) sets rules for water quality and regulates the agencies and companies responsible for providing clean water. This includes limitations on acceptable amounts of asbestos.
SUPERFUND: Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA)
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) is also called Superfund. This law empowers the EPA to address hazardous waste sites. This includes industrial and asbestos mining locations which can easily release large asbestos into the environment. The Superfund also includes reporting requirements for locations with large amounts of asbestos.
Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP)
The Asbestos National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) impose requirements for demolishing and renovating all buildings and installations (including residential structures with more than four dwelling units).
These rules are designed to protect the asbestos from being exposed to the environment and also cover asbestos disposal.
Consumer Safety Regulation of Asbestos
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also regulates asbestos in its mission to protect consumers and families from dangerous products. This includes asbestos logs (embers and ash), patching compounds and garments.
Regulation of Asbestos Mines and Miners
Bans on Asbestos
Asbestos has not been completely banned in the United States.
- In fact, an EPA rule to ban most asbestos-containing products was overturned by a Federal circuit court.
- The asbestos industry has also lobbied to resist ongoing efforts to fully ban asbestos.
But fortunately, many uses of asbestos have been banned or phased out.
- People and companies are required to report to the EPA their plans to import, process or manufacture products with asbestos.
Asbestos products that have been banned include:
- Friable asbestos insulation for plumbing and blocks
- Spray-applied surfacing containing more than 1% asbestos
- Cement and other building products
- Wall joint compound
- Roofing felt and Flooring felt
- Asbestos Paper (Corrugated, Rollboard, Commercial, Speciality and High grade electrical paper)
- Adhesives, sealants, roof and non-roof coatings
- Extruded sealant tape and other tape
- Reinforced plastics
- Vinyl-asbestos floor tile
- Beater-add gaskets
- Friction materials
- Woven asbestos products (insulation, protective clothing)
- Fuel cells and battery separators
- Fireplace decorations
Many workers and families injured by asbestos-related illnesses have received compensation from the asbestos manufacturers, insurers and other asbestos industry companies.
Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts
Asbestos Companies Set Up Trusts To Compensate Victims.
As the truth started coming out in the 1970s, people realized that many of the people exposed to asbestos would be developing health problems for many years.
Courts wanted to make sure that the companies would have enough money to pay for all people who might develop asbestos-related health problems.
So the asbestos companies were ordered to place their insurance money into special bank accounts called trusts.
Asbestos Trusts contain over $30 Billion unused funds.
Under a court order, this money is designated only to compensate people harmed by asbestos exposure.
Applying for compensation from Asbestos Trusts.
There are more than 25 different asbestos trusts that pay various amounts of compensation. More information about the asbestos bankruptcy trusts is available here.
You also can speak to an asbestos claims attorney to understand the law and discuss your options.
Asbestos Claims Litigation
People with health problems related to asbestos exposure are still able to file lawsuits against the manufacturers, insurers or other asbestos industry companies that harmed them.
These lawsuits can be brought under several legal theories:
- Negligence (Failure To Warn)
- Products Liability
- Wrongful Death
More information about filing an asbestos claims lawsuit is available here.
You can also discuss your options with an asbestos claims attorney from the Law Offices of Justinian C. Lane, Esq. – PLLC We have been successfully representing victims of asbestos exposure for nearly two decades.
The Law Offices of Justinian C. Lane, Esq. – PLLC
Millions of workers and their families were exposed to asbestos because the asbestos industry hid the dangers of its product.
Courts ordered that billions of insurance dollars be placed in trusts to compensate people with asbestos-related illnesses.
But many people with asbestos-related illnesses who were exposed to asbestos do not know they qualify for compensation.
Most can receive money without filing a lawsuit.
Justinian Means Justice.
We have helped thousands of people receive compensation for health issues that they developed from asbestos exposure.
If you have symptoms of asbestos-related illness, speak to a healthcare professional.
The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that people can still be exposed to asbestos at buildings like worksites and even homes, because the amount of asbestos remaining is still unknown.14
Our firm constantly monitors the most up-to-date health research on asbestos. We use it to update our database to develop and strengthen our asbestos claims for our clients.
If you think you may have worked with asbestos, you can check your worksite or the products you worked with on our database.
Asbestos never leaves the body.
Asbestos can cause these health problems even if your asbestos exposure took place forty or fifty years ago. Symptoms can take decades to appear.
Applying for asbestos trust fund compensation is not getting into a fight.
This money was set aside in a trust account for those who were injured.
Applying for a payment from these trusts is not affecting any company or coming out of anyone’s pocket. This is insurance money specifically to help people hurt by asbestos.
The court ordered the funds because the asbestos industry could no longer hide its secret: asbestos is very dangerous to breathe.
Justinian C. Lane, Esq.
My grandfather, grandmother and father were all exposed to asbestos in their work, and all three died of respiratory-related cancers.
I found out too late about the health effects of asbestos to help them.
But my firm has helped many other people receive compensation for health problems they developed from exposure to asbestos.
Call, text or email us for a completely free consultation with no obligation. I will listen to the details of your story, and explain your options. We only work on contingency, so we only get paid if you do.
Every case is different, but the Law Offices of Justinian C. Lane, Esq. – PLLC has obtained large settlements for thousands of people harmed by asbestos. This compensation has helped ease our clients’ financial burdens, and offers a legacy to leave for their loved ones.
At AsbestosClaims.Law, we’ve helped thousands of people who were exposed to asbestos in their job, car or at home.
Can we help you?
1 Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos Is Killing America, Michael Bowker (2003).
2 Saving the Asbestos Industry, 1960 to 2006, Jock McCulloch, PhD, Public Health Reports (2006).
3 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Toxicological Profile for Asbestos. September 2001. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
4 An Evaluation of Reported No-Effect Chrysotile Asbestos Exposures for Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma, Jennifer S. Pierce, Meg A. McKinley, Dennis J. Paustenbach & Brent L. Finley, Critical Views In Toxicology (2008).
5 Science is Not Sufficient: Irving J. Selikoff and the Asbestos Tragedy, Jock McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale, New Solutions (2007).
6 Defending the Indefensible: The Global Asbestos Industry and its Fight for Survival, Jock McCulloch, Geoffrey Tweedale, Oxford University Press (2008).
7 Science is Not Sufficient: Irving J. Selikoff and the Asbestos Tragedy, Jock McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale, New Solutions (2007).
8 Asbestos Exposure, Smoking, and Neoplasia, Irving J. Selikoff, E. Cuyler Hammond, Jacob Churg, Journal of the American Medical Association (1968).
9 Science is Not Sufficient: Irving J. Selikoff and the Asbestos Tragedy, Jock McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale, New Solutions (2007).
10 Defending the Indefensible: The Global Asbestos Industry and its Fight for Survival, Jock McCulloch, Geoffrey Tweedale, Oxford University Press (2008).
11 Science is Not Sufficient: Irving J. Selikoff and the Asbestos Tragedy, Jock McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale, New Solutions (2007).
12 Defending the Indefensible: The Global Asbestos Industry and its Fight for Survival, Jock McCulloch, Geoffrey Tweedale, Oxford University Press (2008).
13 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website, Asbestos.
14 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Toxicological Profile for Asbestos. September 2001. Retrieved March 15, 2021.