Mesothelioma Is Preventable | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

Knowing the primary cause of a disease enables people to avoid contracting that particular illness. Very few deadly diseases have a clearer cause than mesothelioma.

As explained on the American Cancer Society website,

Asbestos exposure is the main cause of pleural mesothelioma. About 8 out of 10 people with mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos. When asbestos fibers are breathed in, they travel to the ends of small air passages and reach the pleura, where they can cause inflammation and scarring. This may damage cells’ DNA and cause changes that result in uncontrolled cell growth. If swallowed, these fibers can reach the abdominal lining, where they can have a role in causing peritoneal mesothelioma.

Other cases of mesothelioma have been linked to radiation treatments for cancer and to frequent use of talc body powders that contain asbestos fibers.



A Painful, Then-Fatal Condition

The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma—by far the most common form—closely mirror those of lung cancer. Medline Plus, which is maintained by the National Library of Medicine, states that people with mesothelioma attacking the lining of their lungs experience

  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain under the rib cage
  • Pain, swelling or lumps in the abdomen
  • Weight loss for no known reason

Mesothelioma sufferers also die. Unlike lung cancer, effective treatments have yet to be developed. The five-year survival rate for mesothelioma is just 10 percent. For the different types of lung cancer, 5-year survival rates are two to six times higher.

Why People Should Not Develop Mesothelioma

Except in very rare circumstances, individuals who do not inhale asbestos fibers will not develop mesothelioma. It is certainly true that some people can breathe in large amounts of asbestos without ever getting sick, but that does not make exposure to the substance safe. Crossing a busy street safely does not mean you should never wait for a walk signal.

U.S. lawmakers and regulators acknowledged this in 1989, when they took steps toward banning the use of asbestos for nearly all industrial, transportation, consumer and construction applications. Those rules only arrived after decades of evidence accumulated to show that people who worked and lived around asbestos often died from mesothelioma.

The rules contained exceptions and permitted companies and property owners to leave asbestos-containing devices and structures in use. As a result, Americans remain at risk for mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure to this day. It was not until 2019 that an actual “final rule to ensure that asbestos products that are no longer on the market cannot return to commerce” took effect.

Holding Companies Accountable for Not Protecting Workers From Asbestos

Railroads, in particular, exploited the loopholes in the 1989 rules to leave locomotives, rail cars and rail yard buildings packed with asbestos in daily use. Despite knowing as early as the 1930s that they were putting employees’ lives in danger by doing so, railroad corporations deployed asbestos widely while almost never requiring workers to adopt practices that kept the inhalation of airborne fibers to a minimum.

This negligence in protecting their employees makes railroads such as Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern liable for occupational illness and wrongful death claims under the provisions of a law called the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). When representing a client in a FELA case, all a railroad illness attorney needs to do is show that the defendant railroad company failed to take adequate measures to limit the worker’s exposure to asbestos on the job.

If the railroad executives and managers had simply acted in accord with medical science, they could have spared tens of thousands of workers painful deaths from mesothelioma. Instead, those in charge of the railroad industry put short-term profits above long-term human costs.