Although most people have heard news stories about the dangers associated with asbestos, many of us have limited knowledge about exactly what asbestos is and why it has become so controversial. The word “asbestos” is a general term that applies to multiple minerals sharing similar properties. These minerals are heat resistant, resist chemical degradation, and do not dissolve in water. Thus, asbestos historically has had many popular commercial applications, including being used in building materials and automobile parts.
However, exposure to asbestos, mostly from breathing asbestos fibers suspended in the air, can create serious health risks. The World Health Organization states that all types of asbestos are carcinogenic, and that 125 million people across the world are exposed to asbestos at work. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) agrees that all forms of asbestos can cause cancer in humans.
As a result of the wide acceptance that asbestos creates health hazards, its use is now highly regulated in the United States. Unfortunately, this regulation came too late for many people who have suffered from its associated diseases, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer caused by exposure.
In this article, we’ll cover a brief history of asbestos regulation in the United States, as well as helpful information about Oregon asbestos law.
History of Asbestos and Litigation
Humans have used asbestos since ancient times. It has been used commercially in cement and as an insulation material since the late 1800s.
The dangers associated with the use of asbestos in the textile industry have been recognized since at least the 1930s. Some early studies appeared to underestimate the effects of asbestos because the diseases associated with it often do not appear until many years after initial exposure. However, a 1965 study by Selikoff, Churg, and Hammond examined insulation workers and found evidence of asbestosis in almost fifty percent of the workers, and found abnormalities in over ninety percent of those working with asbestos for more than forty years. Many other studies have confirmed the dangers of asbestos.
Initially, claims by employees harmed by asbestos were often resolved through the worker’s compensation system. Because the law often makes worker’s compensation benefits the exclusive remedy for an injured worker, employers frequently argued that employees could not maintain a lawsuit against their employers for damages. However, thanks to determined litigants and their attorneys, exceptions gradually emerged.
For example, in one California case, Reba Rudkin worked in a Johns Manville Products Corporation plant for 29 years, where he was routinely exposed to asbestos. He filed a lawsuit against his employer for damages. Mr. Rudkin contended that he developed lung cancer and other asbestos-related illnesses as a result of his exposure to asbestos.
Because he alleged that his employer fraudulently concealed from him and his doctors that he had a disease caused by inhaling asbestos, thereby inducing him to continue to work under hazardous conditions, the court held that he was not limited to a worker’s compensation claim and that he could sue the employer for damages.
Today, asbestos is regulated by a few different entities. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration began regulating asbestos in 1971, and the Environmental Protection Agency also regulates asbestos.
Current Regulations: Oregon Asbestos Laws
Oregon asbestos laws also outline rules and regulations designed to protect both workers and the public. Oregon.gov provides numerous resources on asbestos for homeowners, contractors, businesses, landlords, and more. According to the state of Oregon, “There’s no known safe level of exposure” to asbestos.
The full requirements of Oregon asbestos law can be found in Oregon Administrative Rules 340, Division 248, governed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. These laws consist of dozens of rules applicable to the milling, manufacturing, fabricating, abatement, and disposal of asbestos, or any situation where a potential to asbestos exposure exists.
What if I think I’ve been exposed to asbestos?
If you think you have been exposed to asbestos, either in the workplace or elsewhere, it’s important to take steps to protect your health and your legal rights.
Oregon asbestos laws include a statute of limitations, which means that once you know about an asbestos-related illness or injury, or reasonably should have known, you have a time limit in which to assert your claim. Therefore, it’s important to contact an attorney promptly to ensure that your rights are protected.
Fortunately, not all exposure results in harm that requires a lawsuit. However, when harm does result, we believe that those who wrongfully caused the harm should be held accountable for their actions. The attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are experienced in investigating and pursuing claims based upon harmful asbestos exposure. Please call us with your questions or for a free consultation.