Louisiana is home to one of the largest, most productive seaports on the Gulf of Mexico: New Orleans. Known as "The City That Care Forgot" and for its Mardi Gras celebrations as well as for a general lifestyle of good food, good drink and good times, New Orleans is also the centerpiece of a state grappling with asbestos issues. Louisiana shipyards, like others around the country, and oil refineries struggled with asbestos exposure.Find Top Doctors in Louisiana
ranking in U.S. for mesothelioma & asbestosis deaths
The city and state found a new reason to be concerned about the toxic mineral in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which caused devastation to the point that the region is still recovering. Asbestos-related diseases claimed the lives of at least 856 Louisiana residents between 1999 and 2013.
Because of the amount of oil pulled from the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana is home to many oil refinery laborers who were exposed to asbestos on the job and are at risk for developing mesothelioma. Asbestos was used to insulate tanks, vats and pipelines.
Miners in Louisiana didn’t mine asbestos itself, but the mineral was used in processing and to prevent fires. Salt mines like Cargill’s giant operation in Breaux Bridge used asbestos in the salt purification process.
An occupation often forgotten at risk of asbestos exposure is that of first responder. Police, firefighter and rescue personnel, not to mention volunteers, were exposed to asbestos while responding to Hurricane Katrina. Many others were exposed during the Katrina aftermath while cleaning up and rebuilding New Orleans and parishes around southern Louisiana.
Asbestos was the favorite material used to insulate pipelines in Louisiana’s oil refineries in Shreveport, Princeton and Lake Charles. It was used for its heat resistance because oil is highly flammable, and the refining process requires high temperature and pressure. Asbestos was also used to insulate tanks, reactors, pumps and furnaces.
One example of how Louisiana residents were exposed to asbestos is the story of heart surgeon Mike Hackler of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During the summers as a college student, Hackler worked at the Port of Baton Rouge unloading asbestos. Every 100 bags, he was required to open a back and sort through it for any contraband. Several decades later, Hackler and some of his friends who also worked at the port, were diagnosed with mesothelioma.
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Shipyards and oil refineries were not the only sources of asbestos exposure for New Orleans residents. From 1965 to 1985, W.R. Grace operated an exfoliation facility that received approximately 148,000 tons of asbestos-containing vermiculite from Libby, Montana. Exfoliation of vermiculite involves heating the mineral in a furnace to expand or pop it into smaller pieces. This process is known to release more asbestos than other processing methods.
The facility exfoliated the contaminated vermiculite to make attic insulation called Zonolite, masonry insulation, concrete aggregate, horticultural soil conditioner and Monokote, a popular spray-applied fireproofing that contained 10 percent to 19 percent chrysotile asbestos.
Land use around the now abandoned site was a mix of residential, commercial and industrial property. Thousands of community members living, working and shopping around the W.R. Grace facility were exposed to asbestos without ever suspecting it. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry noted in a 2005 report that approximately 70 to 90 former workers were exposed to asbestos at the plant during the years it operated as a vermiculite exfoliation facility.
New Orleans' Jefferson Parish, where the former W. R. Grace vermiculite facility is located, is ranked 19th among all U.S. counties for mesothelioma deaths.
Although the W.R. Grace terminated its New Orleans operations in 1998 and reportedly cleaned the facility, its buildings are still standing and abandoned vermiculite processing equipment is still on the premises. Other businesses have operated at the facility since Grace left, creating the potential for ongoing, low-level asbestos exposure for anyone working on the premises. Testing performed in November 2008 confirmed the presence of asbestos inside the facility and in soil samples around the building. In June 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a plan to collect soil samples at the Grace facility and nearby locations to assess the extent of asbestos contamination. Asbestos-containing vermiculite has been observed on the grounds, and it is possible that residents may have scavenged this material for use as fill or driveway surfacing material.
A few other facilities in New Orleans received the same contaminated vermiculite from Montana, including the former Southern Mineralite Exfoliation Facility in the Bywater neighborhood. Facilities in several other parishes and cities in Louisiana received the vermiculite as well, including Orleans Parish, St. John the Baptist Parish, Oil City and the city of Monroe.
Louisiana residents who develop asbestos-related diseases as a result of exposure to Graces contaminated vermiculite may apply for compensation through WRG Asbestos PI Trust, the trust fund set up after Graces bankruptcy proceedings concluded. Because proof of exposure is necessary for someone to receive compensation, most claimants hire an experienced asbestos lawyer to professionally handle the claim.
The city of New Orleans was forever changed when Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005. The resulting flood waters destroyed innumerable buildings, residential homes and forestry in the Gulf Coast area. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned that more than 100 pollutants may have been present in flood waters, drinking water and the air after the hurricane. The EPA announced the risk of exposure to pesticides, sewage waste, chemicals, parasites, asbestos and a host of other hazards, which posed a health risk for relief workers, as well as those individuals who did not evacuate the area.
Asbestos posed a unique issue for those assisting in the cleanup. Toxic asbestos fibers can become airborne when asbestos-containing materials are crushed, torn or otherwise destroyed. The structural damage caused by the hurricane could have released asbestos into the air, putting many individuals at risk of unknown exposure. Some structures that survived the hurricane were damaged enough to warrant later demolition, but proper asbestos abatement safety precautions were often overlooked at the time.
Asbestos is present in many older homes, especially in structures built prior to the 1970s. The EPA noted that special care should be given when handling or removing insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, siding, shingles and other materials that may potentially contain asbestos. The presence of asbestos still poses a significant concern as the area continues to be rebuilt.
Until Aug. 29, 2008, the EPA allowed debris that could have contained asbestos to be disposed in landfills without liners approved for such waste. This action helped to clean up debris in a timelier manner, but may have exposed people to asbestos in the process. As of May 2008, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality had issued 120 enforcement actions for violations related to Hurricane Katrina, and some of them involved asbestos. Seven air quality violations all relating to the handling of asbestos materials were issued against several Louisiana landfills. Failing to sufficiently wet asbestos materials, which prevents the spread of asbestos fibers, was among the violations.
Considering the extensive history of occupational asbestos exposure in the state of Louisiana, it comes to no surprise that many asbestos lawsuits have been filed and tried in the state.
While most asbestos lawsuits are settled out of court, some do make it to trial. Certain states, such as Texas and Kentucky, are known for favoring defendants, while other states tend to favor plaintiffs. Louisiana juries have a recent history of awarding million-dollar verdicts to plaintiffs with mesothelioma, the most aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
However, not all asbestos cases are a slam dunk in Louisiana. In 2014, a Louisiana jury ruled in favor of two asbestos defendants, John Crane Inc. and Steel Grip Safety Apparel, after determining they were not responsible for a former pipefitter and welders asbestos exposure.
Louisiana residents have one year from the date of their diagnosis with an asbestos-related disease to file a personal injury lawsuit, which is known as a statute of limitations. Most states allow two years.
Kenney v. John Crane Inc., Haveg Inc., Rexam In September 2011, a jury awarded $7.55 million to Thomas M. Kenney, a Slidell, Louisiana, man who contracted mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos on the job. Kenney was exposed to asbestos through products made by manufacturers John Crane and Haveg while working at Tenneco. He was also exposed to asbestos while working at American Can (now Rexam Beverage Can Company). John Crane produced and supplied asbestos gaskets to Tenneco, while Haveg supplied asbestos piping to Tenneco.
Mabile v. Down Chemical In 2013, a Louisiana jury awarded $5.95 million to Sidney Mabile after determining Dow Chemical was responsible for his development of mesothelioma. Mabile worked as an electrician at the Dow Chemical Plaquemine facility outside of Baton Rouge, where he was exposed to asbestos. During the discovery process of the suit, Mabiles lawyer uncovered evidence that Dow Chemical predicted a portion of its employees would get cancer as a result of the companys use of asbestos, but that that it would be more cost effective to keep using asbestos.
Morvant v. Asbestos Corporation Limited Throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, Mary Morvants father worked at a Johns Manville plant in New Orleans. The plant manufactured asbestos piping with raw asbestos received from Asbestos Corporation Limited. Morvants father unintentionally brought home asbestos fibers on his clothing, exposing his daughter to the toxic mineral. Morvant was diagnosed with mesothelioma in October 2012 and later filed suit against Asbestos Corporation Limited. In November 2013, a Louisiana jury found Asbestos Corporation Limited responsible for the plaintiffs illness and awarded $6.4 million to Morvant.
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