ranking in U.S. for mesothelioma & asbestosis deaths
While naturally occurring asbestos deposits do not exist in Indiana, the state's numerous manufacturing industries used an abundance of imported asbestos-containing materials for their insulating capabilities and heat-resistant qualities. For decades prior to the 1980s, manufacturers throughout the state put workers and their families at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
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Maintenance workers who repaired machinery in manufacturing plants were most at risk for experiencing asbestos exposure. Any disturbance to asbestos-containing materials could have resulted in airborne asbestos fibers. Once airborne, anyone working nearby could have unknowingly inhaled asbestos. Between 1999 and 2013, Indiana reported nearly 900 asbestos-related deaths. This mortality ranks the state 21st in the nation for these conditions.
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Indiana businesses used asbestos-containing products in industries that produced steel, automobiles, electrical equipment, chemical products, rubber, petroleum and coal. The risk for asbestos exposure was the highest for steel mill workers because asbestos was used in a variety of applications in the mills for its ability to withstand high temperatures. The county with the highest incidence rate for asbestos-related diseases in Indiana is Lake County, where you can find the city of Gary, best known for its steel mills.
One of Indiana’s famous native sons, actor Steve McQueen, is a historic representation of the dangers of asbestos exposure. A veteran who served in the Marines before his acting career took off, McQueen cleaned asbestos insulation from pipes aboard a troop ship, where he was exposed to massive amounts of the toxic mineral. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1979 and died in 1980 of a heart attack following surgery to have a malignant tumor removed from his neck at a clinic in Mexico. McQueen’s on-screen legacy is that of a man’s man. He starred in films such as “Bullitt,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “The Great Escape” and “Papillion.”
Eli Lilly and Company, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, employs more than 11,500 people statewide. The company is responsible for developing the chemotherapy drug Alimta (pemetrexed), which was introduced in 2004 for the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma. When combined with Cisplatin, Alimta has shown to boost the life expectancy of many pleural mesothelioma patients.
In 2003, U.S. Steel Corporation lost a mesothelioma case filed by Roby Whittington, a 70-year-old retired worker from the company's Gary Works plant in Gary, Indiana. Whittington worked for more than 30 years at the plant, where he was exposed to asbestos insulation materials. A Madison County, Illinois, jury awarded Whittington $250 million, including $50 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive payments. At the time, this was the largest asbestos-related verdict for a single plaintiff in U.S. history. Although U.S. Steel was expected to appeal the verdict, the company instead settled with Whittington out of court for an undisclosed amount.
In 1984, a concerned union member of a Nuturn Corporation brake manufacturing plant in New Castle, Indiana, requested OSHA evaluate the level of asbestos exposure and the potential risks to employees. The survey detected asbestos concentrations that far exceeded the allowable amount, concluding that a health hazard for asbestos exposure was present at the Nuturn plant.
Future pulmonary function tests and chest X-rays of 170 plant workers revealed several complications from the asbestos exposure. Many workers had abnormal pulmonary function test results, demonstrating obstructive and restrictive breathing patterns. Five workers showed X-ray abnormalities and one showed signs of asbestosis, a fatal lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.
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