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The Effects of Secondhand Exposure

The Effects of Secondhand Exposure

The carcinogenic qualities of asbestos have affected hard working individuals who worked in industrial, chemical, electrical, and other trade settings for decades. Airborne asbestos fibers, once inhaled, can lead to many asbestos-related illnesses such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. What many may not know is the increase in secondhand exposure among spouses, children, and other family members due to the fact that workers would often carry home these invisible fibers – contaminating their entire house hold. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease because on average, more men worked in asbestos-contaminated industries. However, over the years, studies have shown an increase in the number of women diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness that can be attributed to secondhand exposure.

Secondhand Exposure In The Home
Family members who worked with asbestos often brought home friable asbestos fibers because the fibers would be attached to their clothing, shoes, work tools, and hair. A father hugging his wife and child after a day’s work unknowingly causes his family members to breathe in the carcinogen; the fibers are embedded in his clothes. Clothing that was dusted with asbestos was often laundered by other family members, contaminating other clothing in the wash or kicking up asbestos fibers into the air throughout the home. The effects of secondhand asbestos exposure is just as fatal as those directly exposed, devastating and tearing apart whole families.

Mesothelioma claimed the lives of three family members for Yvonne Power. Her father worked as a foreman, cutting asbestos boards into panels for over 25 years. He died of mesothelioma at the age of 67. Even more tragic was Yvonne lost her mother and her sister to mesothelioma some years later. Her sister and her mother used to wash her father’s overalls that were covered in miniscule asbestos fibers. Her father would come home daily; his hair dusted white, even though he didn’t have gray hair.

Another wife and mother, Jennifer Pascott, died of mesothelioma even though she had not seen her husband in more than 30 years. In the late 1960s, Jennifer Pascott’s husband was a hard working laborer who spent his days lining furnaces with asbestos and coming home each night with asbestos fibers on his clothes, which she laundered. The couple separated in the early 1970s, but the damage to Jennifer Pascott’s lungs was already done.

Second hand Exposure In the Environment
Asbestos can be found naturally and in pollution in the environment – unknowingly causing secondhand exposure. Asbestos fibers found in the soil are relatively harmless, but can easily become airborne, causing major health problems. The residents of Libby, Montana know all too well the dangers of secondhand asbestos exposure. Secondhand asbestos exposure is responsible for hundreds of deaths in the small, close-knit town and it wasn’t just because many people worked in the mine and brought it home to their families, but because of the amount of waste that was produced by the mine. An estimated 5,000 pounds of asbestos was released daily; waste that was dumped down the mountainside and released into the air from ventilation stacks. A baseball field was located next to an export plant that was covered with spilled and discarded batches of Zonolite, the brand name of vermiculite insulation sold by WR. Grace. Children often played in those piles and kicked up dust when playing neighborhood baseball games.

Lawsuits for family members of workers who were exposed to asbestos can be a daunting and difficult task. Those affected by secondhand asbestos exposure from the industry must prove their exposure. Companies owe a duty to their employees, but some courts have ruled that no duty is owed to the family members of employees. However, a recent ruling in California will help to change that.

The California Supreme Court ruled that companies may be held liable if asbestos from a job site causes a member of the worker’s family to become ill. It was argued that employees should be prevented by their employers from carrying home asbestos on their clothing, potentially risking the lives of their family members.

The Court ruled that employers must exercise great care in not only protecting their employees, but also must take reasonable steps to ensure that secondary exposure is prevented. A contributing factor to this decision was based upon aspects from Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108, a case that established a “duty of care “responsibility in situations where potential injury is relevant.

At Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C., we understand the devastating effects bystander exposure has on loved ones and are dedicated to helping workers injured by asbestos protect their rights and those of their families. Our firm pioneered asbestos litigation in the 1970s and has actively represented working families ever since.  Contact us for a free, no obligation consultation to speak to one of our experienced attorneys.

Sources

National Cancer Institute, “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk,” (May  1, 2009). [Link]

Maura Dolan, “Companies Can Be Held Liable When Workers Bring  Home Asbestos Dust That Sickens Others, Court Rules,” Los Angeles Times (December 2, 2016). [Link]

Sally Williams, “The Long Goodbye,” The Guardian (October 17, 2004). [Link]

Maryanne Vollers, “Libby’s Deadly Grace,” Mother Jones (May/June 2000). [Link]

David Biderman, Bo Kim, Brien McMahon, “California Supreme Court Establishes Duty in Take-Home Asbestos Exposure Cases,” JD Supra Business Advisor (December 8, 2016). [Link]