Legislation & Litigation

3 Things Everyone Should Know About Asbestos and the Law

Written By:
Jan 11, 2013
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Written By: Karen Marshall,
January 11, 2013

It’s a no-brainer to say that asbestos is dangerous. It is something everyone should know.

I first heard about asbestos as a girl. Some grown-ups were talking about how schools needed to get rid of it. I didn’t know why. I just knew that it was bad.

I realize now I didn’t fully understand the danger until asbestos affected me personally.

In fact, if asbestos dangers hasn’t hit you close to home, you may not know these three things about asbestos and the law. And these are three facts everyone should know.

 1.  Asbestos Is Widely Used and in Unexpected Places

You may know that many construction materials contain asbestos. But you might be surprised to learn it can lurk in electric blankets too. And in hairdryers, brakes and other auto parts or toys.

The U.S. government began limiting asbestos use in many products and regulating how it’s handled in buildings during the 1970s. But the mineral is still found in and around the places we live and work and sometimes in our household products.

Although you’d probably want asbestos removed if it was nearby, you may not realize that removal isn’t always an option. Airborne asbestos fibers are bad news. So anyone who handles asbestos is required to know what they’re doing and take appropriate precautions.

That’s why employers have a legal duty to inform their workers about asbestos risks in the workplace and any work materials. They’re also required to take precautions like provide safety equipment when necessary.

Building owners also have a legal duty to make sure any asbestos on their property is properly contained or removed. And they have to use qualified abatement companies to handle asbestos on their property.

And you know that home repair you resolved to tackle this year? Before you start, check your city or county website for information on asbestos safety. Negligently releasing asbestos fibers into the air can not only hurt you, but also your family and neighbors.

2.  Negligence Is Too Common

Most people know that asbestos exposure can cause asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. But you may be appalled to learn that thousands of people are newly diagnosed each year. Their asbestos exposure can usually be traced back to others who knew about the risks, but negligently exposed them to asbestos anyway.

Unfortunately, employers, property owners, abatement companies and others often ignore safety guidelines. They can face criminal fines and even prison time if they violate asbestos safety laws.

Along with product manufacturers, they can also be sued for failing to warn about asbestos risks. That kind of negligence has made asbestos litigation the biggest mass tort in U.S. history.

Yet some continue to risk the lives of others. For instance, last month the U.S. Department of Justice announced a $70,000 fine and three-year conviction for Copper River Campus, LLC. The company owned and managed property used by Copper River Seafoods in Anchorage, Alaska.

Although it knew that asbestos was present, the company had employees demolish an old building and carry out renovations. It didn’t warn about the asbestos danger or even provide safety equipment.

3. Asbestos Is Not Banned

Once people see how big of a public enemy asbestos really is (and how negligence is it’s accomplice), they wonder how asbestos could continue to be a problem. That’s when they’re disappointed to discover that the U.S. hasn’t completely banned asbestos.

Other countries have, but the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t been able to convince Congress to do so.

So where does this leave us? We have to be vigilant and aware.

Like the person who observed a Copper River employee knocking down an old building with a backhoe and no protective gear. That person called the EPA and may have saved a life.

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