Shipbuilding, one of the oldest industries in Maine, is a tradition that dates back more than 400 years. Shipbuilding also ranks among the most dangerous industries in America for exposure to asbestos, a mineral which once was considered vital to the building and operation of seaworthy vessels. It's a major reason why at least 433 Maine residents died of malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases from 1999 to 2013. With more than 200 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, the water always has provided a thriving way of life in Maine.Find Top Doctors in Maine
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Jobsites in Maine where asbestos exposure is documented:
The first asbestos case to reach a jury trial in Maine involved Blaine Austin, who painted pipes at Bath Iron Works after asbestos insulation was applied to the pipes. Austin also swept up the floors after the insulation workers applied asbestos. Austin died of mesothelioma in 1977 and his wife later filed a lawsuit against sixteen asbestos manufacturers, who made products that Austin worked with throughout his career. All but two of the defendants settled out of court, including Raybestos-Manhattan Inc. and Unarco Industries Inc.
The judge precluded some of the plaintiffs claims because the asbestos products involved were sold before Maine passed its products liability law in 1973. In 1981, after five weeks of trial, the jury ruled that while Raybestos and Unarco were guilty of negligence, Austin was equally guilty of negligence for failing to wear a respirator. Recovery was thus barred under Maines comparative negligence statute.
In a historic decision following a change in Maines product liability law, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1983 ordered a federal judge to review the ruling to determine if a retrial was warranted. The federal judge ordered a retrial of the case, and it changed the direction of asbestos litigation in the state. Inclusion of the plaintiffs originally precluded claims changed the course of the verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Austin’s wife won a wrongful death verdict of $323,456.
James Crowley and Emile Richard, two former paper mill workers in Maine, filed separate lawsuits in 2006, but neither held the mills where they worked responsible. Their litigation was against two dozen businesses that provided asbestos products that were used at the mills. Crowley worked at the former Oxford Paper Mill in Rumford, Maine, for three years, while Richard worked at International Paper in Jay, Maine, for 35 years. The outcome of the case is unknown.
There are 14 industrial or military sites in Maine placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) as part of the Superfund law, which was passed by Congress in 1980 in response to the improper disposal of hazardous substances. Only after a preliminary investigation indicates that federal involvement is warranted is a site placed on the list.
Asbestos was listed as one of the contaminants at both the Brunswick Naval Air Station and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, along with the Eastern Surplus Company in Meddybemps. In addition to Superfund sites, Maine is also home to a Brownfield site contaminated with asbestos. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Brownfields are properties with the potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. Maine faces a number of challenges with the asbestos present in the state.
Demolition of an EPA Brownfield, the Forster Manufacturing Co. factory in Wilton, was halted in July 2011 after airborne tests revealed the building contained high levels of asbestos. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) performed the tests, which returned higher than permissible levels of asbestos for workers to be present. About 10 demolition workers were asked to leave the jobsite.
Other people may have been exposed at the factory prior to demolition. A fire occurred in the plant just before demolition started. The police officer and firefighters who responded to the fire could have been exposed to airborne asbestos. Leaving the factorys asbestos untouched posed no threat to the public, the demolition and subsequent fire released asbestos into the air. An asbestos expert who worked in Maine for 30 years said it was the worst asbestos site he had ever seen.
More than $100,000 has been spent to abate asbestos in the factory, and more asbestos must be abated before demolition can continue. The town is using a series of grants to pay for cleanup and will likely apply for a separate Brownfield cleanup grant to finish the job.
Matt Mauney is an award-winning journalist with nearly a decade of professional writing experience. He joined Asbestos.com in 2016, and he spends much of his time reading, analyzing and reporting on mesothelioma research articles to ensure people in the mesothelioma community know the latest medical advancements. Prior to joining Asbestos.com, Matt was a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel. Matt also edits some of the pages on the website. He also holds a certificate in health writing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read More