Georgia has a long history with asbestos that dates back to the late 19th century. In 1894, Georgia was the first state to commercially mine the fibrous mineral. Mining operations began in the Sall Mountain region of White County. Northern Georgia, which rests at the foot of the Appalachian Mountain Range, is a mineral-rich area that contains 17 former asbestos mines and 26 historic prospects. Nearly all natural asbestos in Georgia forms along the Appalachians, with a vast majority of deposits located in Rabun and White counties.Find Top Doctors in Georgia
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Other industries in Georgia also have ties to the toxic mineral. Several leading sectors used it extensively before it was recognized as a human carcinogen known to cause medical conditions like lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. U.S. military operations in Georgia — which had a $25 billion impact on the state economy in 2003 — have a long history of exposing personnel to asbestos-contaminated buildings, weapons and vehicles. Other leading industries in the state associated with asbestos exposure include power generation and manufacturing. There are also five locations throughout Georgia that received at least 15 shipments of contaminated vermiculite ore mined in Libby, Montana.
Despite abundant natural asbestos occurrences in northern Georgia, this region’s low number of related deaths indicates that fatal exposure is far more common at the workplace. Because of the mineral’s excellent insulation properties, asbestos-containing materials were used to construct many older facilities. Exposure has been documented in federal buildings such as Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and several of the state’s 13 military bases, including Fort Stewart, Fort McPherson and Hunter Army Airfield. Ranking fifth in the nation for military employment, Georgia has military bases representing all branches of the service.
The state’s manufacturing industry, which employed 344,000 people in 2010 and accounted for 11 percent of Georgia’s GDP, is also known for exposing workers. In 1989, a Health Hazard Evaluation by the Centers for Disease Control found that Keebler Company workers in Atlanta may have inhaled the fibers released from one of the plant’s ovens. Other areas of Georgia’s manufacturing sector like textile and paper product production exposed workers to asbestos contained in aging machinery and equipment.
Natural asbestos forms in several locations throughout Georgia, with the highest concentrations found in Rabun and White counties. The U.S. Geological Survey identified 52 sites within the state that contain the mineral, including former asbestos mines, former prospects and reported occurrences. The Sall Mountain Region in White County features high-quality anthophyllite asbestos that was mined there for nearly a century by the Sall Mountain Asbestos Company. Excavation at the site began in 1894, making Sall Mountain Asbestos the first documented company in the U.S. to produce the mineral on a large scale.
Several other locations along the Appalachian Mountain Range also contain deposits, specifically in the Blue Ridge and the Piedmont plateau region. The Piedmont region is home to the Soapstone Ridge, another asbestos-rich area located about eight miles south-southeast of Atlanta. If left alone, natural asbestos is mostly harmless. However, environmental exposure can occur if the deposits are disturbed and microscopic fibers are released into the air and then inhaled.
Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties have the most mesothelioma incidences in Georgia. At least 27 Fulton County residents were diagnosed with mesothelioma between 1999 and 2008, and most could trace their exposures to asbestos back to Georgia-Pacific. Headquartered in Atlanta, this pulp and paper company has defended nearly 300,000 asbestos claims since the 1960s.
In 2005, Georgia's State Department of Natural Resources investigated an incident where multiple piles of garbage, including asbestos materials, were dumped illegally on the east side of Amicalola State Park. Dozens of trash heaps containing rusty barbecues, picnic tables and spools of wire were abandoned in the Atlanta park in 1999. The 2005 investigation revealed that there were also contaminated ceiling tiles among the debris, which reportedly came from a restroom demolished in 1999. The disposal of asbestos is highly regulated in Georgia, and the illegal dumping may have put park attendees at risk for related disease. Amicalola hosted 900,000 visitors in 2003, making it one of Georgia's most popular parks.
Several important changes to asbestos litigation in Georgia have occurred over the past decade in response to an increasing number of claims. A major reform took place in 2005 when the Georgia Supreme Court established a higher standard of proof claimants must meet before receiving any compensation.
Claimants in Georgia now must prove that exposure to asbestos was the only cause of their disease, otherwise known as a "substantial contributing factor." By state law, it means exposure happened "in close proximity" on a regular basis and over an extended period of time. Before the law was passed, claimants only had to show that asbestos exposure contributed to their medical condition, which is much easier to prove.
As of April 12, 2005, the new law was applied to all past and future claims filed in Georgia. However, the Georgia Supreme Court in November 2006 decided the law should not apply to cases filed before it was enacted, stating that it violated the constitutional rights of claimants who did not have to meet the new requirements when they originally filed their claim.
By making it harder for victims of asbestos exposure to receive compensation, the law led to a significant drop in the number of new lawsuits. One Fulton County State Court judge saw his caseload fall from 1,200 to only a dozen after the law was put into effect.
In 2007, some key provisions were added to the law. As of May 1 of that year, asbestos lawsuits in the state can only be filed by current residents or people who resided in Georgia at the time of exposure. For those with conditions other than mesothelioma, including nonmalignant diseases like asbestosis, the law now requires claimants to provide a medical report from a qualified doctor stating that asbestos exposure was a substantial contributing factor for their disease. The report must prove the doctor has examined the patient's occupation, exposure, medical and smoking history, and also verify that at least 15 years have passed between exposure and diagnosis.
One of the world's leading manufacturers of tissues, paper, packaging and construction products, Georgia-Pacific received much attention over the past few decades for exposing employees and consumers to harmful asbestos-containing materials. In 1965, the company acquired Bestwall Gypsum Corp., whose product line included a joint compound containing a small percentage of chrysotile asbestos.
Although Georgia-Pacific discontinued the manufacturing and sales of the compound in 1977, the aftermath of more than a decade of exposure resulted in cases of related disease, countless deaths and hundreds of thousands of lawsuits against the company. Approximately 290,000 claims have been filed against Georgia-Pacific since the mid-1980s, and the company set aside $665 million to pay for claims through 2012.
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