Asbestos in North Dakota

north dakota
39th

ranking in U.S. for mesothelioma & asbestosis deaths

North Dakota maintains a low death rate from asbestos-related diseases compared to other states. A large part of that low ranking is that the state is the third least-populated state in the nation, with much of its economy based on agriculture. States with the highest rates of asbestos-related disease typically have economies driven by mining, manufacturing or other industrial sectors. However, North Dakota residents still face an increased risk of asbestos exposure even if the threat is not clearly apparent.

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Much of the asbestos exposure risk in the state comes from natural disasters, product imports from Montana and relatively unknown environmental dangers, in addition to hazardous jobsites where the majority of exposures occur. Statistically, the threat of the toxic substance may be as close to residents as within the four walls of their North Dakota homes. Because of its widespread use in previous decades, asbestos can still be found in homes or buildings across the state in the form of construction materials or consumer products.

Asbestos lawsuits are not common in North Dakota despite known instances of asbestos exposure. Because asbestos-related diseases frequently take decades to show symptoms, the long-term effects of previous exposure may not become apparent for years to come. Therefore, the landscape of asbestos issues possibly may change in the future. Continued observation of asbestos risk factors is required to ensure that the proper treatment resources and environmental policies are place to meet the needs of the public.

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Mesothelioma and Asbestosis Deaths, 1999-2013

  • 113 mesothelioma deaths
  • 20 asbestosis deaths
  • 133 total deaths

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Occupations and Environmental Areas at Risk

No single occupation in North Dakota presents an outstanding risk for asbestos exposure, but there are a few jobs to watch. Harmful exposures in the state primarily stem from construction and industrial jobs.

Occupations with asbestos exposure hazards:

  • Insulators
  • Construction workers
  • Industrial plant workers
  • Emergency workers

Jobsites with Known Asbestos Exposure

Most asbestos exposure cases stem from occupational exposure, which refers to an employee’s interaction with asbestos in the workplace. Despite North Dakota’s relatively low number of mesothelioma diagnoses, some places within the state still face a serious threat. Certain jobsites have had confirmed cases of asbestos exposure where the full extent of harm is still not yet known.

Robinson Insulation Plant

Located in Minot, North Dakota, the former Robinson Insulation Plant was a jobsite where employees were exposed to hazardous levels of asbestos. From 1967 and 1983, the plant housed over 16,000 tons of asbestos-containing vermiculite. The surrounding areas of the plant consisted of industrial, residential and commercial sites.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, environmental samples from the Robinson Insulation Plant showed that some of the asbestos came from a mine in Libby, Montana. The site was eventually purchased by the city and the buildings were demolished. All former employees of the plant are recommended to undergo medical testing to identify any potential health issues, if they have not already done so.

Minot and Widespread Flooding

In the summer of 2011, the First District Health Unit, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), warned homeowners in the city of Minot and surrounding areas that asbestos exposure was a serious threat. Homes that were destroyed from recent floods possibly contained asbestos. By some accounts, the floods of 2011 were the worst floods in the state’s history. More than 11,000 residents were evacuated and more than 4,000 homes were damaged. The underlying environmental threat existed within the materials in the homes. Some homes likely contained asbestos in either the foundation of the structure, or in various products throughout the home. Zonolite insulation, a branded form of vermiculite-containing asbestos material, was of major concern for local health organizations. This attic insulation was likely used in thousands of homes in the state during previous decades, where it likely remains today.

Importing Asbestos from Libby

One of North Dakota’s most notable cases of asbestos exposure stems from Libby, Montana, where a large portion of the population contracted asbestos-related diseases. Vermiculite-tainted asbestos that was mined in Libby was shipped to many other states, including four cities in North Dakota. The vast majority of it was sent to Stanton and Minot.

Erionite in North Dakota

asbestos gravel

One hidden threat to North Dakotans is a toxic substance that is widespread but unknown to many. Erionite is a naturally occurring mineral that closely resembles the chemical structure of asbestos. It is located in at least a dozen states in the nation. Its similarity to asbestos can be very misleading. Early data show that erionite may be as much 800 times more likely to cause mesothelioma than asbestos, which poses a potential threat.

In North Dakota, erionite is frequently used as gravel for roadways. Like asbestos, the mineral doesn’t become toxic until the fibers are disturbed. Residents who drive on these roads release fibers into the air on a regular basis. Once airborne, the fibers can become lodged into the lungs of unknowing motorists, students and commuters.

Asbestos Fines and Litigation in North Dakota

Despite the state’s low ranking for asbestos-related deaths, several lawsuits have stemmed from asbestos exposures and illegal handling of asbestos projects in North Dakota. While North Dakotans benefit from a lengthy statute of limitations for filing asbestos claims, the state does not readily welcome cases from outside states.

The owner of Meide & Son pleaded guilty in 1998 to illegally removing and disposing of asbestos-containing materials during renovations to the Ben Franklin and Action Reaction Sports stores in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Jerry Meide was sentenced to 10 months in jail with one year of supervision upon release. He was also ordered to pay $200,000, which included the cost of asbestos cleanup and a $100,000 fine.

In 1997, a North Dakota jury decided Richard Anderson suffered $340,000 in damages from workplace asbestos exposures that led to his diagnosis of asbestosis. Anderson, a boiler worker who served the Minot Air Force Base from 1959 to 1985, breathed harmful fibers released from Kaylo asbestos products, including pipe covering and block insulation. The jury found Owens-Corning, manufacturer of the Kaylo products, 25 percent responsible for Anderson’s illness, and ordered the company to pay him $85,000. Owens-Corning appealed the verdict, and the court reduced the award to $83,114.

In 1986, the Hebron Public School District in Morton County, North Dakota filed a claim against United States Gypsum Co. to recover the cost of removing asbestos-containing ceiling plaster from two school building additions. Hebron argued that the material was added by contractors who did not disclose asbestos materials were being used. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Hebron and awarded the school district $382,000 in compensatory damages and $450,000 in punitive damages.

A six-year statute of limitations for filing legal claims has made North Dakota an attractive venue for asbestos plaintiffs across the nation, but the North Dakota Supreme Court maintains that out-of-state asbestos claimants put an unfair burden on the state’s courts. In 2011, the state Supreme Court tossed 13 cases from its courts that missed deadlines in other states, arguing these cases placed unnecessary strain on its judges, litigants, jurors and taxpayers.

  1. U.S. Census Bureau – North Dakota. (2011). Retrieved from: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/38000.html
  2. MSNBC–Asbestos dangers lurking in North Dakota rocks. (2009). Retrieved from: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/30190026/ns/health-cancer/t/asbestos-dangers-lurking-north-dakota-rocks/
  3. Environmental Working Group–Government Statistics on deaths due to Asbestos related diseases. 2009). Retrieved from: http://www.ewg.org/research/maps/deaths-due-asbestos-related-diseases
  4. American Red Cross– Red Cross Assists Residents in North Dakota. (2011 July 15). Retrieved from: http://www.redcross.org/about-us/news-and-events/latest-news
  5. Sanford Health– Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center. (2011). Retrieved from: http://www.sanfordhealth.org/Locations/883069297
  6. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry – Former Robinson Insulation Minot Plant, Minot, North Dakota. Retrieved from: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/sites/national_map/fact_sheets/pdf/minotnd-fs.pdf
  7. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry– Fact Sheet: Minot, ND. (2009). Retrieved from: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/sites/national_map/fact_sheets/minotnd.html
  8. Brown, M. Libby, Montana: Health risk Remains In Asbestos-Plagued Town. (2011 May 3). The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/04/libby-montana-asbestos-superfund_n_857713.html
  9. O’Brien, J. (2011, February 23). Out-of-staters Tossed from North Dakota Courts. Retrieved from http://legalnewsline.com/news/231300-out-of-staters-tossed-from-north-dakota-courts
  10. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (1998, December 4). PA North Dakota Company and Owner Sentenced for Illegal Removal of Asbestos. Retrieved from http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/8401b8750376e55085257359003d4806/7d94d213152ac8ef852566d0005a3f2b!OpenDocument
  11. Supreme Court of North Dakota. (1997, January 16). Anderson v. A.P.I. Co. of Minnesota. Leagle. Retrieved from http://www.leagle.com/decision/1997763559NW2d204_1763.xml/ANDERSON%20v.%20A.P.I.%20CO.%20OF%20MINNESOTA
  12. Supreme Court of North Dakota. (1997, January 16). Hebron Public School District No. 13 of Morton County, State of North Dakota v. U.S. Gypsum. OpenJurist. Retrieved from http://openjurist.org/953/f2d/398/hebron-public-school-district-no-of-morton-county-state-of-north-dakota-v-us-gypsum
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. (2013). Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2013. Retrieved from http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html

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