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Asbestos Exposure & Lung Cancer in Construction Workers

If you worked construction, even briefly, you may have been exposed to asbestos

Most people know that construction is a dangerous job, but they’re probably thinking of accidents on construction sites: falls from heights, being struck by construction equipment, and so on. What some workers may not recognize is that they were also exposed to more subtle hazards, and one of the deadliest of those hazards is asbestos.

For many decades, construction workers were among the professions most frequently exposed to asbestos, and there is no safe level of exposure. Decades later, many of those workers are being diagnosed with lung cancer and mesothelioma. Here’s what former construction workers need to know about the risks and their legal rights.

How asbestos was used in construction

Because of its durability and fireproofing properties, asbestos was widely used in a variety of construction applications for many decades, until the late 1980s. Asbestos was used in masonry, plaster, drywall, joint compound, shingles, tiles, mortar, concrete, paint, siding, and more. Asbestos was also used in a variety of construction tools and supplies, from fire-resistant gloves to construction felts to duct tape. Even as manufacturers began to phase out asbestos products, construction workers were still put at risk when they had to disturb or demolish existing asbestos-containing structures.

Construction sites were particularly dangerous places for asbestos exposure because of the amount of activity. When objects containing asbestos are cut, shaped, sanded, or otherwise disturbed, asbestos fibers become airborne. Even workers who didn’t work directly with asbestos products may have been exposed to asbestos dust spreading across the job site. There was also a significant risk of secondary exposure: workers would unknowingly bring asbestos fibers home on their hair and clothing.

Construction trades that risked asbestos exposure

Workers in all construction trades were exposed to asbestos on job sites, including but not limited to:

  • Insulators: because asbestos was ubiquitous in insulation, insulators were among the most likely to be exposed to the substance. Insulators were responsible for measuring and cutting asbestos-containing insulation sections, dispersing fibers into the air. Insulation can also rip and tear when inserted behind drywall, again releasing dangerous fibers.
  • Bricklayers and masonry workers: raw asbestos was frequently mixed into compounds for bricks, stones, or blocks, and the dangerous fibers would be released during cutting or demolition. The use of power tools during masonry work would distribute even more fibers into the air.
  • Plasterers and drywall workers: until it was banned, chrysolite asbestos was widely used in drywall products, drywall tape, and joint compound. Drywall workers were exposed when cutting panels, fastening drywall to framework, and patching holes in drywall sheets with asbestos compounds.
  • Painters: asbestos was used in certain paints and textured coating products, such as popcorn ceilings. In addition, spackling compounds applied to surfaces before painting often contained asbestos.
  • Roofers: asbestos was widely used in shingles and other roofing products for its fire-resistant and insulating properties. Roofers often worked with asphalt cutback or asphalt emulsions that contained asbestos compounds.
  • Tile setters: asbestos was commonly used in tiles and grout products, which would release asbestos fibers when damaged or disturbed. Tile setters were also often exposed to asbestos when removing or renovating existing flooring.

Companies that manufactured construction asbestos products

  • Insulation: W.R. Grace & Co., Celotex, Owens Corning, Delaware Insulation, U.S. Mineral Products, Fuller-Austin Insulation, C.E. Thurston & Sons, A C & S Inc, Shook & Fletcher.
  • Roofing Materials: Johns Manville, Flintkote Company, Republic Powdered Metals.
  • Tiles & Flooring Products: Kentile Floors, Congoleum Corporation.
  • Cement: California Portland Cement, Hanson Permanente, Combustion Engineering, Harbinson-Walker, Kaiser Aluminum.
  • Paint & Texture Products: Kelly-Moore Paints.
  • Wall Products: Bestwall Gypsum.
  • Joint Compound: Georgia-Pacific, Kelly-Moore Paints.
  • Other Construction Materials: General Aniline and Film Corporation, Gold Bond, National Gypsum, Nicolet/Keasbey & Mattison, Synkoloid Company.

How asbestos causes lung cancer and mesothelioma in construction workers

Once asbestos fibers are inhaled, they become trapped in the tissues of the lungs, where they have several damaging effects on the body. The presence of asbestos fibers triggers chemical reactions and affects biological processes that can lead to cancer formation. Asbestos fibers also impact the body’s ability to fight tumors, allowing cancer to progress more aggressively.

In addition, many former construction workers have other lung cancer risk factors that can compound the effects of asbestos. In particular, smoking and asbestos have synergistic effects – meaning the risk of lung cancer for smokers exposed to asbestos is greater than the risk of smoking and asbestos alone. In part, this is because smoking represses the parts of the immune system that respond to asbestos and damages the parts of the lungs that remove pollutants. Smoking also increases the development of scar tissue in the lungs, which increases the risk of asbestosis and asbestos-related lung cancer.

But even with other risk factors, there is a long latency period – that is, there is a long delay between exposure to asbestos and development of lung cancer. Anywhere from 10 to 40 years or more may pass between exposure and a cancer diagnosis. That’s why pursuing compensation can be tricky.

Legal options for construction workers with asbestos-related lung cancer

Workers who were exposed to asbestos on the job can pursue financial compensation from the companies that manufactured those asbestos products. (This bears repeating: you can seek compensation from the manufacturer, not your former employer.) Depending on the circumstances, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit or a trust fund claim:

  • Asbestos lawsuits: some asbestos manufacturers are still in business and can still be sued for damages (financial compensation) for the harm their products caused. An asbestos lawsuit is a civil claim filed against the manufacturer. You need to prove that you were exposed to their products and developed an asbestos-related disease as a result.
  • Asbestos trust fund claims: many asbestos manufacturers have gone out of business and set aside funds to pay claims for future claimants. If you were exposed to products from one of these companies, you can’t sue them; instead, you can file a claim with the applicable trust fund. Trust fund claims often have lower payouts than lawsuits, but the process is also quicker.

Again, there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. If you spent a single summer working on a construction site 40 years ago and now have been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may have a case. The only way to know is to talk to an experienced attorney.

A law firm that stands up for construction workers with lung cancer

If you were exposed to asbestos on the job and have now been diagnosed with lung cancer or mesothelioma, you have legal rights. You deserve financial compensation, but the process of getting compensation can be difficult. Filing a lawsuit or trust fund claim requires a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of how you were exposed to asbestos and which manufacturer or manufacturers were responsible. Our law firm can help.

The Ferrell Law Group has extensive experience and a winning track record in asbestos claims for workers throughout the United States. Give us a call or contact us online today for a free consultation.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this article, “Asbestos Exposure & Lung Cancer in Construction Workers.”

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