ASBESTOS EXPOSURE: AN OCCUPATIONAL THREAT TO HEALTH
By Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller & Johnsen
The Sacramento law firm of Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller & Johnsen represents dozens of workers in workers’ compensation claims for injuries caused by exposure to asbestos. This article is a summary of important information regarding asbestos claims under California workers’ compensation laws.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been commonly been used in commercial productions for its resistance to heat, electrical and chemical damage, sound absorption and tensile strength. Some of the more common products asbestos can be found in are insulation, wallboards, drywall joint compound, gaskets, brake pads, clutch pads, floor tiles, ceiling tiles, “popcorn” type acoustic ceilings, cement, and bricks. The most common trades where asbestos exposure can be found is in the construction trades, asbestos factory workers, shipbuilders, refinery workers, automobile mechanics, and elevator mechanics.
Asbestos is composed of microscopic fibers. If the asbestos material is intact, it may pose little to no risk to an individual; however, when fibers are released, they are said to be “friable” and may pose a danger to any individual in the general vicinity. Friable asbestos fibers, once they are released in an enclosed space, will eventually settle but may be re-suspended by air currents or movement. As the fibers are released into the air, a person can easily inhale them into the lungs, where one asbestos fiber may splinter off into hundreds. Asbestos fibers may even be carried home with a person on their clothes, unsuspectingly contaminating one’s home and exposing their family to risk of exposure.
Once asbestos fibers are lodged in an individual’s lungs, they may cause pleural scarring, pleural fibrosis or asbestosis, cancer, or mesothelioma. As there is a dose relationship between exposure and illness, only individuals who are exposed occupationally are generally at risk for developing any serious disease processes. Even though the United States began the long road of banning asbestos in 1972, world asbestos consumption from 1973 to 1990 was roughly 4 to 5 million metric tons per year.
A worker who believes he or she has been exposed to asbestos should undergo a diagnostic test, such as a chest x-ray. If a chest x-ray reveals any pleural scarring, a CT scan will be required to establish objective markers of asbestos exposure. As most exposures are not very severe or lengthy in duration, they do not result in any pleural scarring or pose any significant risk of any disease process. Furthermore, due to the complex interaction of the fibers in a person’s lungs, serious health problems such as cancer or mesothelioma may take anywhere from 5 to 30 years from the last exposure to date of diagnosis.
There are several legal remedies for exposure to asbestos. The legal remedies vary due to the severity of the case, but range from medical monitoring to a finding of 100% permanent disability due to lung cancer or mesothelioma.
In northern California, the San Francisco Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board is the exclusive jurisdiction for asbestos-related workers’ compensation claims. For more information regarding the dangers of asbestos and cancer research please go to www.asbestos.com; www.asbestos.net; or www.mesorfa.org. For information regarding workers’ compensation claims for asbestos exposure, please contact the law firm.
Mastagni, Holstedt, Amick, Miller & Johnsen has been representing injured workers for over 35 years in workers’ compensation, disability retirement, labor and employment claims, and personal injury cases.