ranking in U.S. for mesothelioma & asbestosis deaths
West Virginia, located in the heart of the Appalachian range, is a primarily rural state with abundant natural resources. Heavily supported by logging and coal mining — two industries known for asbestos exposure in the workplace — the state has been home to numerous exposure threats. All but two of the state's 55 counties (Jefferson and Hardy) boast active coal mines, with 117 coal seams operated in the entire state.
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From 1979 to 2001, Kanawha County, Cabell County and Putnam County had the highest incidences of asbestos-related deaths, with up to 172, 63 and 31 deaths, respectively. These counties were home to some of the state’s most prosperous coal mines, including ACME Cabin Creek Consolidated Coal Co., West Virginia Southern Coal Co., and Putnam Coal Mines. West Virginia residents may also have been exposed to asbestos at coal refineries, metalworking shops or any of the state’s 36 power plant facilities, where asbestos insulated the high-heat machinery.
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With 117 coal seams in West Virginia, the state’s most notable asbestos threat was its mining industry. Many West Virginia mines were owned by Union Carbide, a company that has been heavily involved in related lawsuits. Miners, contractors and refinery workers were all at risk of inhaling the toxic mineral as coal was pulled from the earth and processed. Crushing, grinding, cutting or roughly handling asbestos-containing coal placed workers at risk for inhaling or ingesting the fibers.
Not all coal mines were home to asbestos, but mining equipment posed an additional threat. Brake linings, welding blankets, pipe insulation and transit panels from mines have all been found to contain asbestos. Once mined, some of the coal is distributed to in-state power plants, such as Dominion Virginia Power, Allegheny Energy Supply and Monongahela Power Company. These plants once used asbestos-containing equipment to create a fine powder out of coal.
Weirton Steel, now the state's largest industrial employer, utilized asbestos as a thermal insulator for its metalworking machinery and consequently exposed many employees. Norfolk Southern Railway, which operated throughout the state, also incorporated asbestos into parts used to build the trains and the railroad tracks. Both Norfolk Southern Railroad and Weirton Steel have been listed as defendants in multiple related lawsuits.
In July 2011, contractors found asbestos under the floor tiles in Clay County's Lizemore Elementary School. The 59-year-old school was inspected in the 1980s, but the toxic product had been covered over rather than removed. The school eventually paid Dan Hill Construction approximately $9,000 to remove the 1,782 square feet of contaminated tile.
Currently, West Virginia's Radiation, Toxics and Indoor Air Division regulates any projects that involve asbestos, including removal in homes or factories. They also oversee related safety plans in schools through the AHERA program.
The laws in West Virginia specify that anyone who engineers, supervises or works on an official asbestos abatement project must possess specific licenses distributed by the government. The state's revenue from licensing fees is then used for education and outreach purposes.
West Virginia courts have received a number of asbestos-related cases. In 2002, a Charleston court found Union Carbide liable for thousands of asbestos-related deaths and illnesses. After more than a day and a half of deliberations, jurors agreed the company should pay compensation to victims exposed to asbestos in its chemical plants from 1945 to 1908 and in its Calidria line of products from 1964 to 1972.
The case initially involved about 8,000 claimants filing suit against more than 250 asbestos corporations, but only 2,000 remained after all companies but Union Carbide settled out of court or had the claims dismissed. A series of hearings followed for each individual case. The first verdict against the company in a Calidria case, filed by a shipbuilder diagnosed with mesothelioma, totaled $4.2 million.
In 2009, the son of a deceased asbestos worker for Allied Chemical named 79 defendants in a wrongful death claim. The companies included 3M Company, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Union Carbide Chemical and Zenith Pumps, among others.
Another recent case was filed in 2011 by a mesothelioma patient who was exposed in his career as an ironworker and coal miner. He worked with the toxic mineral for 45 years and named more than 120 companies in his lawsuit. As a non-smoker, he attributed his mesothelioma to manufacturers, including Allied Chemical Corporation, General Electric Company, UB West Virginia, Inc. and West Virginia Electric Supply.
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