ranking in U.S. for mesothelioma & asbestosis deaths
Asbestos exposure continues to be a major threat for Ohio residents, ranking the state among the top 10 for asbestos-related deaths. Individuals are at a higher risk for asbestos diseases if they worked in factories or worked with high-heat machinery. People may have been exposed to asbestos if they worked in metal works plants such as those run by Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, AK Steel Holding Corporation or LTV Steel, all of which had operations in Ohio. Similar risks apply to manufacturers of car parts, such as employees of Ohio Cast Products.
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Anyone who worked in a vermiculite processing plant is also at an elevated risk for asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. The Scotts Company and other Ohio vermiculite plants received the raw mineral from Libby, Montana. Vermiculite from Libby is known to contain asbestos, which is released during processing and poses a health hazard.
Residents who suspect they’ve been exposed to asbestos have resources at their disposal. Government-approved educational programs provide important asbestos-related information to the public, and Ohio is home to one of the top cancer centers in the country. Mesothelioma patients and their families in Ohio may also have legal options to cover medical costs.
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Ohio is the nation’s largest producer of rubber, plastics, metal products and appliances. Each of these manufacturing processes requires a significant amount of insulation and fireproofing. Widespread use of asbestos in the state resulted in nearly 2,000 deaths from mesothelioma and asbestosis from 1999 to 2013.
A disproportionately high number of asbestos-related deaths occurred in Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and Cleveland.
Asbestos exposure has been linked to various businesses and facilities across the state.
In 2004 and again in 2007, employees at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland contacted the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to request an inspection of buildings 500 and 501. Employees expressed concern about a high incidence of cancer among employees at these buildings, which were constructed with asbestos products. After inspecting the facilities, NIOSH found that the majority of asbestos had been removed from the buildings during abatement projects and that the remaining asbestos posed minimal to no threat to current employees. The inspection summary states, however, that former employees may have been exposed to asbestos prior to major abatement projects. These employees may be at risk of developing mesothelioma or lung cancer because of past exposure. The NIOSH report found no abnormal cancer rate among current or former employees at the time, as employee cancer diagnoses and rates were consistent with national averages.
Ohio Cast Products manufactured iron car parts in Canton until its bankruptcy in 2004. The site was abandoned until 2008, when a fire destroyed significant portions of the facility. Firefighters dispatched to the site discovered numerous containers filled with flammable liquid. The fire department requested further inspection and cleanup help at the site. During an official inspection, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials found asbestos and other hazards. The EPA labeled the former Ohio Cast Products site as a Superfund site and began immediate cleanup. This included asbestos abatement to get rid of large amounts of asbestos particles that could easily contaminate surrounding air and soil.
Although the site is now being cleaned up and monitored, former employees at Ohio Cast Products may have been exposed to asbestos, some as recently as 2004. Individuals who worked at Ohio Cast Products or who entered the abandoned site may develop mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis.
Between 1967 and 1980, the Scotts Company’s Marysville facility received and processed 430,000 tons of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from Libby, Montana, making it the largest U.S. consumer of the ore in the nation. Vermiculite from Libby is notorious for containing harmful asbestos fibers.
When the vermiculite was processed, it released asbestos particles into the air. These particles posed a hazard for the plant’s workers, who were put at risk to develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related health conditions. Medical studies conducted on the workers noted that 26 percent of the company’s employees had asbestos-related lung scarring or pleural plaques.
The EPA feared that local residents were also at risk of asbestos exposure. People living in the area before 1980 may have been incidentally exposed to asbestos in the air near the plant. However, soil samples from 2000 were negative for asbestos contamination and the area was declared safe.
Businesses and individuals in the U.S. must adhere to the Clean Air Act, a federal law passed in 1963 to protect the public from hazardous or toxic air pollutants. There are several cases in Ohio where violations to the Clean Air Act and other EPA laws have resulted in serious fines.
Honey Creek Contracting Company and its owner, David Sugar, bought Weirton Steel Plant in 2004 with plans to renovate the facility. According to prosecutors, Honey Creek and its owner knew the plant contained more than 36,000 feet of asbestos pipe insulation. But the company allowed workers to remove the asbestos insulation without following proper procedures, thereby violating the Clean Air Act. In August, 2011, Honey Creek and Sugar were convicted of conspiracy to violate asbestos requirements. Honey Creek was fined $30,000 and ordered to pay for employee X-rays. Sugar was fined $10,000 and given a probation sentence of 36 months.
In 2011, Famous Realty of Cleveland was fined $20,700 for failure to meet EPA regulations for handling asbestos during demolition of the former Apex Manufacturing site. After the demolition was completed in 2008, an Ohio EPA inspector found dry, crumbling asbestos-containing material in the debris. Workers involved in the demolition and residents who live nearby are at risk of asbestos exposure because proper abatement procedures were not followed.
The Ohio judicial system is designed to efficiently handle asbestos claims as they are filed. Regulations are in place to streamline the process, unify complaints and classify case types and demands. Ohio courts also regulate who is allowed to file asbestos cases.
In the past, Ohio courts were flooded with claims filed by people with minimal exposure to asbestos and little to no evidence of asbestos-related disease. To help ensure actual victims will have access to timely compensation, Ohio passed House Bill 292. This bill requires people to meet specific medical criteria before filing a claim to prove they were actually harmed by asbestos. In addition, claimants must provide a written opinion from a competent medical authority that asbestos was a substantial contributing factor to their disease.
These requirements help Ohio avoid a common problem in other states where plaintiffs win compensation for future health conditions that may not arise. House Bill 292 also suspended the statute of limitations for asbestos cases, allowing asbestos-exposed people to file lawsuits in the future if they do get sick.
In 2013, an Ohio jury awarded $27.5 million to a 40-year old English professor and his wife. John Panza’s father worked at the Eaton Airflex brake company in close proximity to asbestos-laced brake pads from National Friction Products Corp. As a child, Panza was exposed to asbestos fibers on his father’s work clothes. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2012. Later that year, he filed suit against multiple defendants, including Kelsey-Hayes Co., National Friction’s successor.
At the time of the verdict, Kelsey-Hayes was the only remaining defendant. The jury attributed 60 percent of the liability for Panza’s injuries to Kelsey and 40 percent to Eaton Airflex. According to The Plain Dealer, Kelsey-Hayes is liable for the entire award because Eaton was immune from the lawsuit under Ohio law because of its status as an employer.
The award is currently the largest mesothelioma verdict in Ohio history. It included $515,000 to Panza for economic damages, $12 million in non-economic damages and $15 million for his wife’s loss of consortium claim.
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