The family of an Indiana man exposed to asbestos during a high school job was recently awarded $10.6 million. The man, Richard Chisholm, developed mesothelioma and died at the age of 52. Our team of mesothelioma lawyers reminds the public that any amount of asbestos exposure can cause cancer.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that is only caused by exposure to asbestos. Although it is rare, mesothelioma is almost always deadly: just 5 - 10% of patients can expect to survive five years after diagnosis. The survival rate is so low because by the time symptoms appear and cancer is diagnosed, the disease is often in its latest stages.
According to the American Cancer Society, three out of every four mesothelioma diagnoses can be directly linked to asbestos exposure. Generally, most patients were exposed in the workplace when they breathed in asbestos fibers.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled they penetrate the lining of the lungs and chest wall, damaging the cells. Over time (typically between 20-50 years), this cellular damage develops into mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer. In fact, lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis are the top three leading causes of death among people with heavy exposure to asbestos.
Workers most vulnerable to asbestos exposure include: miners, factory workers, construction workers, insulation manufacturers or installers, railroad and automotive workers, ship builders, and gas mask manufacturers. It is important to note that family members of these types of workers are also vulnerable to asbestos exposure, as asbestos can easily travel from work to home on their clothing.
Richard Chisholm exemplifies the fact that even the smallest, briefest exposure to asbestos can be fatal. During high school in the 1970s, Chisholm worked at a ceramics factory in Ohio that used Vanderbilt talc in its products. Until very recently, R.T. Vanderbilt Inc, operated a talc mine in Gouverneur, New York, that was contaminated with asbestos.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral present in rocks and soil, like other natural minerals such as talc. Talc and a specific type of asbestos (called tremolite asbestos) are created by the same geologic process, meaning that they occur in the same rocks and sediment. Thus, when talc is mined it is often contaminated with tremolite asbestos.
Tremolite asbestos is the most carcinogenic type of asbestos. This is likely part of the reason why Chisholm developed mesothelioma after such a short duration of exposure.
In his trial, the jury was shown evidence that Vanderbilt received test results proving that its talc was contaminated with asbestos even before the 1970s, when Chisholm was exposed. An expert witness then confirmed that Chisholm's lung tissue contained the same type of asbestos found in Vanderbilt's talc. The jury ultimately ruled that Vanderbilt was negligent in failing to provide asbestos warnings on its talc product.
Vanderbilt mined this asbestos-containing talc in New York from 1948 to 2007. Many former Vanderbilt workers have developed mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer, later suing the company for their exposure. Other workers, like Chisholm, who worked directly with Vanderbilt's talc products have also filed suit for their illnesses.