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Asbestos Dangers in Older Buildings

Boston is a city of buildings that were constructed at a time when asbestos was heavily used in virtually all aspects of construction. Yes, there are historical buildings in Beacon Hill that were built at time before the industrial revolution, but many of the buildings in our city were constructed during the Victorian era at the heart of the industrial revolution in the United States and Western Europe.  This is the reason we have so many Victorian style buildings and Queen Ann Victorians with large round towers and ornate exteriors.

asbestos lawsuits BostonAs time went on, and newer buildings were constructed including the three deckers we find all over Boston, asbestos was still used heavily. It was used because of its abundance, which made it cheap, and the fact that it is naturally resistant to heat, fire, caustic chemicals, and electricity.  It is also an excellent chemical bonding agent, as was discovered later.  For this reason, asbestos fibers were added to many different construction products. It was used in flooring materials including tiles, and wallboard materials, as drywall was replacing plaster as the material of choice, and wall joint compounds. 

As our Boston asbestos exposure attorneys can explain, one product that was used during construction that was particularly harmful was known as Colton Gun Plastic Cement.  This particular product was manufactured by the Portland Cement Company or Calportland and is called plastic cement, because it has a higher degree of plasticity than other cements. The power was sold in bags of dry powder that weighted around 100 pounds. This power contained chrysotile asbestos.

This is a type of serpentine asbestos is particularly harmful, because when someone inhales or ingests the deadly fibers, they can become trapped in a protective layer of tissue known as the mesothelium.  The mesothelium lines most internal organs and provides a protective barrier for the body.  However, when these fibers become trapped in the mesothelium, the body has no way to expel them.  Over time, they can metastasize into the deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma.  Mesothelioma can occur in the lungs, where it is known as malignant pleural mesothelioma.  This is named after the pleural lining of the lungs, and it is the most common type of malignant mesothelioma.  However, it should be noted that this is the not the same type of lung cancer we typically associate with smoking.  That cancer, which we actually call lung cancer, is an entirely different disease.  Asbestos can also cause cancer to occur in the abdomen, where it is known as malignant peritoneal mesothelioma and in the chest cavity, where it is called malignant pericardial mesothelioma.

The reason this cement product was so dangerous to those manufacturing it and those handling it was because it was in powder meaning it was very likely to give off dust which contained the harmful fibers and could easily be inhaled. When workers opened a bag of this, they were not being careful to avoid inhaling, because they did not know it was deadly.  This was the main problem with asbestos and the reason it was used for as long as it was.

Product liability lawsuits against manufacturers who commonly used asbestos in their products often assert the dangers were concealed, and defendants failed to warn of hazards that were not know to the public.

The sad reality of the situation is that the general public had no idea that asbestos was toxic.  There are good reasons for this, and it was because the companies that mined the material and produced products did not tell the public.  In fact, they took steps to hide that fact, and that is the reason for such high verdicts in many of these mesothelioma lawsuits in Boston and across the nation.

While this may seem strange that they were able to hide such a big secret from the general public, we have to remember that the dissemination of information happened much slower and differently than it does today. For example, there was no internet and there were no 24-hour cable news networks. The public basically had to rely on what they were told, and this was the case for much of history.  Not only did not these companies go out of their way to hide the fact that asbestos was toxic, they also went so far as to misdirect the public by actually coming out and saying that asbestos was safe.

Once that became too difficult for the companies to convince the public of, they would actually say that their product was not an alternative, but rather a safe alternative, to asbestos.  Not only was this untrue, but memos that have been discovered and other company records showing the companies in the asbestos injury were well aware they were killing people.  However, they also knew it would take decades for people to become sick and die, and they were much more concerned with making money in the present than they were with not poisoning people.

While this product and many others were very dangerous to all workers at factories and construction sites, the materials were generally safe to the occupants of the homes and other structures, as there was no danger of the fibers being inhaled once the cement was set and the materials were in place. However, once the materials were disturbed through renovations, demolition, or something like a fire, they could become very dangerous once again to those nearby.

As discussed in a recent news article from KHON 2, a high-profile apartment complex fire in Hawaii is now raising asbestos concerns for residents and those in the surrounding areas. While the building was generally safe for occupants prior to the fire, as discussed above, once the building was partially destroyed by the fire, much of the debris was left in a state that is capable of being crushed under the power of the human hand.  This material contains asbestos and when it is in such a fragile form it is known as friable asbestos.  Once we have friable asbestos, we have a serious risk to occupants.

However, as discussed in the article, once the fibers are inhaled, there is no way for the body to expel them and there is nothing doctors can do to remove them either.  However, this does not mean that you have to do nothing.  While asbestos typically takes between 20 and 50 years for a patient to develop malignant mesothelioma to the point where there are noticeable symptoms, it is possible to diagnose the illness much earlier with careful monitoring.  If it is diagnosed at an early stage, it may be possible to more effectively treat the cancer to prevent it from getting to an advanced state where there is no cure and very few effective means of treatment.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Doctor explains dangers of asbestos as Marco Polo residents raise safety concerns, July 26, 2017, By Manolo Morales

More Blog Entries:
Montana Settles Asbestos Claims for $25M, Feb. 19, 2017, Boston Mesothelioma Lawyer Blog