Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral which was widely used in the manufacture of a variety of products beginning in the late nineteenth century. Although the majority of exposure to asbestos occurred between 1940 and 1980, in occupations such as construction, shipyards, railroads, insulation, sheet metal, automobile repair, and other related fields, exposure continues to this day.
Asbestos fibers are inhaled by workers and remain in the lungs where they can cause disease. Fibers are also inhaled by family members or any other person coming into contact with asbestos wherever it may be.
A recent study predicts that there will be an increase in the number of reported mesothelioma cases in the United States in the future. Therefore the continuing epidemic of workers' compensation claims for mesothelioma will not abate as previously predicted as many exposed workers' and their families seek benefits including medical monitoring.
"Mesothelioma, a rare tumor, is highly correlated with asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma, similar to all asbestos-related diseases, is dose/intensity dependent to some degree, and studies showed the risk of mesothelioma rises with cumulative exposures. Multiple processes occur in an individual before mesothelioma occurs. The impact of mesothelioma in the United States has been continuous over the last half century, claiming between 2,000 and 3,000 lives each year.
"Mesothelioma is a preventable tumor that is more frequently reported as associated with asbestos exposure among men than women. However, the rate of asbestos-associated mesothelioma is on the rise among women due to a better investigation into their histories of asbestos exposure. It is of interest that investigators detected asbestos-associated cases of mesothelioma in women from nonoccupational sources—that is, bystander, incidental, or take-home exposures.
"It is postulated that asbestos-associated mesotheliomas, in both men and women, are likely underreported. However, with the implementation of the most recent ICD-10 coding system, the correlation of mesothelioma with asbestos exposure is expected to rise to approximately 80% in the United States. This study examined the demographic and etiological nature of asbestos-related mesothelioma. Mesothelioma from asbestos exposures: Epidemiologic patterns and impact in the United States, Richard A. Lemen Journal Of Toxicology And Environmental Health, Part B Vol. 19 , Iss. 5-6,2016
"Workers' compensation benefits have been awarded to claimants who have been exposed to asbestos and who have suffered asbestos-related disabilities. Bolger v. Chris Anderson Roofing Co., 112 N.J.Super. 383, 271 A.2d 451 (Co.1970), aff'd 117 N.J.Super. 497, 285 A.2d 228 (App.Div.1971). The courts have recognized an asbestos exposure as causing multiple disabilities, and awards have been made for occupational exposure which has resulted in a “second disease”. Shepley v. Johns-Manville Products Corporation, 141 N.J.Super. 387, 358 A.2d 485 (App.Div.1976). Jon Gelman, Workers Compensation Law, 39 NJ Practice Series 9.20.
The United States has yet to completely ban the use of asbestos and recent regulations to do so have been put on hold by the Trump Administration. In light of the concerns raised by this study, reconsideration of a complete ban of asbestos products in the US should be reconsidered without further delay.
Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters).