Asbestosis

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a chronic and progressively debilitating condition of the lungs that is caused by tiny fibers of asbestos. It is usually diagnosed by X-Rays and CAT scans that show characteristic abnormal fibrotic scar tissue and calcified plaques in the lungs.

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can lodge themselves in the air sacks (alveoli) of the lungs. The fibers irritate the lining of the alveoli and cause an immune reaction moderated by cells called macrophages. The macrophages in turn secrete a chemical to dissolve the asbestos. Unfortunately, the fibers don’t dissolve and the inflammation leads to scaring and calcified plaque formation.

Eventually, the elastic tissue of the lungs which allow them to expand and take in air may be replaced by the relatively stiff scar tissue. This is called fibrosis of the lungs. The result is emphysema type symptoms including shortness of breath (dyspnea), coughing and pain in the chest. This condition can develop into COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in which affected people have a hard time breathing and functioning. It often leads to potentially fatal conditions such as pneumonia, heart disease, lung cancer and mesothelioma. It usually takes ten to forty years for the symptoms to appear.

The disease is incurable and typically gets worse with time. The symptoms can be somewhat alleviated by inhalers and oxygen. It is estimated that 10,000 people per year die of asbestosis caused diseases in the United States.

Asbestos is a great insulating material. It is durable, resistant to chemicals, flexible and fire resistant. It is mined from the earth. The probability of getting asbestosis is directly proportional to the amount of, and duration of, exposure to asbestos fibers.

Typically, it is associated with occupations where small asbestos fibers were liberated or sprayed in the air. These occupations include insulation workers who sprayed asbestos based material on ships, boilers, ducts, buildings and pipes, and miners and millers of asbestos.

However, asbestos based materials have been used in many different products. This includes insulation, shingles, siding, acoustic tiles, decorative tiles, spray on sound proofing materials, decorative fireplace ashes and logs, patching and joint compounds, certain kinds of textured paints and cement paper, millboard and sheet.

If these materials crumble or deteriorate they can release asbestos fibers into the air. People who install, apply, repair or replace these materials are at risk.

Asbestos is also used in automotive brake pads and linings and clutch facings. They can release asbestos fibers as they wear. Therefore, people who drive a lot such as truck drivers and railroad engineers are at risk.  Even people who live near asbestos mining and processing facilities are at risk.

It is estimated that in the U.S. approximately 35 million homes are contaminated with asbestos. It is thought that more than 100,000 tons of asbestos was released into the air when the World Trade Center was destroyed.

Many persons affected with asbestosis have sought compensation in the courts. The courts have held that entities all along the asbestos supply chain should have known or did know of the danger to health of asbestos and therefore were responsible for the sickness it caused.  The afflicted persons with asbestosis and their survivors have been granted financial relief by the courts. In the great majority of cases, the defendants (responsible parties) settle out of court. Asbestos related lawsuits have probably involved more than 600,000 plaintiffs and 6,000 defendants. There are several thousand new claims filed each year. There are many lawyers and law firms that specialize in asbestos litigation. A whole body of law has evolved to help guide the courts, attorneys and litigants.