Massachusetts Residents Call for Asbestos Ban

May 8, 2013

boston-skyline_l.jpgMesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report that residents of Massachusetts recently gathered outside the State House in Boston to remember the commonwealth's fallen workers. Despite its known cancer-causing properties, asbestos is still legal in the United States, taking the lives of about 3,000 people every year.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), along with the Massachusetts ALF-CIO, recently released the annual "Dying for Work in Massachusetts" report, which calls for more rigorous enforcements of OSHA protection measures and penalties for noncompliance. The report, written by MassCOSH executive director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, emphasized how significantly OSHA is understaffed and underfunded, resulting in fines that are often too little to enact any lasting remedies and too late to save lives.

This year's "Dying for Work" report details the disparity between doled-out OSHA violations and the actual imposing of punishments for them. Among the most dangerous of these violations include the failure to locate and remove asbestos from buildings under construction. Asbestos was used widely, and abundantly in Massachusetts, between the 1930s to the 1970s, when it was officially linked to mesothelioma, a devastating and almost always fatal type of cancer. By the 1980s, asbestos was banned in almost all building-related applications in the U.S., although we continue to import it by the tons.

The removal and abatement of asbestos, however, is not required by Massachusetts law, despite its presence in nearly all infrastructures constructed in the four decades before it was banned. Massachusetts is one of the few states without abatement and removal laws, which is surprising - or perhaps, indicative - considering mesothelioma rates are substantially higher in this state than the national average. This disproportionate rate is the result of a number of confounding factors, including the state's large number of high-risk industry jobs, such as in shipbuilding and repair, and the state's failure to regulate, notice, or punish asbestos infractions.

Occupational mesothelioma fatality rates are expected to rise at least until 2016. This is due to the extended latency period associated with asbestos diseases, which also include lung cancer and asbestosis. After initial exposure to airborne asbestos, which may go completely unnoticed depending on the situation, diseases can take anywhere between 20 and 50 years to develop in the body.

Among its requests, the report asks for extensions on the 30-day limit for employees to file for whistleblower protection when reporting jobsite hazards (such as the presence of asbestos). To help heighten protection measures, the report is also calling for more bilingual OSHA investigators.

In most other states, employers and contractors who violate asbestos standards face criminal prosecution. Currently in Massachusetts, public employees are exempt from federal OSHA laws, leaving much potential for abuse. In response, advocates are urging legislators to pass a bill that would apply all OSHA regulations to public employees, along with state enforcement requiring temporary workers to get written reports of their job assignments.

Unfortunately, mesothelioma patients are typically given less than one year to live when first diagnosed. As mesothelioma is almost always due to work-related exposure, the report is asking the state to raise the workers compensation burial allowance from $4,000 to $8,000.

In 2012, at least 1,800 Massachusetts residents were diagnosed with cancers that were connected to job-related exposures, and another 320 residents died from occupational diseases. Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins believe that no one should give their lives for a paycheck. If you or a loved one was diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease from exposure on the job, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation. Contact one of our experienced asbestos attorneys as soon as possible for a free legal consultation.