ranking in U.S. for mesothelioma & asbestosis deaths
With only one environmental source of asbestos, Delaware's asbestos hazards are mainly related to construction and manufacturing industries. Asbestos-reliant worksites were scattered across Delaware, exposing many employees to the toxic fibers that can cause mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions. Additionally, many of the state's historic buildings were constructed with asbestos products such as roof tiles, floor tiles and adhesives.
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Delaware’s only naturally occurring asbestos deposit is located in New Castle County. The Mount Cuba Serpentine body, covering an area of up to one and a half miles, is laced with asbestos in the host minerals such as talc and magnesite. While soda spar mining was reported at the Mount Cuba tract, none of the asbestos deposits in the area were ever commercially mined.
Industrial sources of asbestos exposure in Delaware include the state’s chemical plants, energy stations and factories. A small vermiculite processing plant in Delmar handled asbestos-contaminated products for a short period of time. Additionally, construction companies frequently companies used asbestos materials frequently until the 1980s. Many of these materials may still remain in historic buildings such as the Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
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Although Delaware’s industrial economy was limited, several chemical plants in the state exposed workers to asbestos throughout their daily activities. Chemical plant operators and machinery repair specialists often handled asbestos-containing materials in the factory’s boiler rooms, workspaces and production lines.
Construction workers especially those who renovated any of Delaware’s older historic buildings may also have been exposed to asbestos. Many houses, churches and mansions in Delaware were built before the 1980s, and anyone who removed or replaced the original asbestos-containing construction materials may have loosened the fibers and inhaled them. State laws now prescribe safety measures to prevent current workers from inhaling asbestos, but former workers have an elevated risk of asbestos exposure.
Delaware was home to multiple chemical manufacturers, producing varied goods including chlorine, polyethylene resins, engine oil additives and thermoplastics. The plants that developed these products often relied on asbestos insulation for their machinery, and safety suits to protect workers against chemical exposure may also have been woven out of fire-resistant asbestos fibers.
Evraz Claymont Steel Holdings, which now owns the former Phoenix Steel Corporation, is another manufacturing site where asbestos use may have placed workers at risk for mesothelioma. Like chemical plants, steelworks often used asbestos products to insulate their equipment.
A Delmar vermiculite processing facility received more than 314 tons of asbestos-contaminated ore from the W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Montana. This facility operated between 1943 and 1993 and processed 16 shipments from Libby.
DuPont Chemical, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, heavily contributed to asbestos exposure in Delaware. The company built their DuPont Building in downtown Wilmington in 1905 and a nylon plant in Seaford in 1939. The nylon plant employed as many as 1,300 workers and subcontractors, and workers at the company’s other facilities may also have been exposed to asbestos.
Many legal cases have been filed against DuPont for their negligent asbestos use. Executives had been informed of the dangers of asbestos in the 1930s, yet they continued to purchase the materials without providing adequate safety equipment to their workers.
Victims of asbestos exposure and their surviving family members began filing asbestos lawsuits in Delaware in the mid-1970s. While most cases were settled out of court or dismissed before going to a jury, Delaware courts have awarded several noteworthy verdicts over the years.
In 1990, a jury awarded a verdict of more than $2.5 million to a group of journeyman insulators who developed asbestos-related injuries from exposures at a Texaco oil refinery in Delaware City. The plaintiffs alleged that Texaco acted negligently and was responsible for the exposures to asbestos. For many years, the insulators’ employer, Catalytic Inc., performed contract work at the oil refinery. Work duties at the site included removing, installing and repairing asbestos insulation materials. Following the jury verdict, the court reduced the total judgement to $627,250 to account for settlements the plaintiffs received from other asbestos companies that may have contributed to their asbestos-related conditions.
A more recent case involved a mother and son who both died of pleural mesothelioma after repeated exposures to asbestos in their family’s automotive shop. In 2011, the Delaware Supreme Court awarded damages for pain and suffering, including $1.16 million for the son and $80,000 for his mother. In addition, the court returned a wrongful death verdict in favor of four surviving family members, with each receiving an award of $125,000. The plaintiffs developed mesothelioma after handling or installing asbestos-contaminated products, including high-performance clutches from Zoom Performance Products and Victor brand automotive gaskets.
In 2014, the Delaware Supreme Court threw out a $2.8 million verdict awarded for the wrongful death of a ceramic worker diagnosed with mesothelioma. From 1966 to 1968 and 1970 to 2005, the worker filled ceramic molds with industrial talc contaminated by asbestiform fibers. Although the jury found the talc’s manufacturer, R.T. Vanderbilt Company Inc., 100 percent liable for the worker’s death, Vanderbilt appealed the verdict. The court sided with Vanderbilt and reversed the decision because the trial court failed to include important instructions for the jury. In addition, the court found that testimony from one of the plaintiff’s witnesses added unfair bias, requiring a new trial.
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