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Back as far as the days of the Holy Roman Empire, individuals thought asbestos to be a “miracle mineral”. Legend has it that the Emperor Nero used tablecloths woven from asbestos at his lavish parties, simply throwing the cloths in the fire at the end of the night, where – amazingly – they would become clean but would not be consumed.

But even back then, historian Pliny the Elder made public his concerns about the slaves who worked in the asbestos mines of old, noting how many became horrendously ill and how many died at a very young age. As a matter of fact, after working in the mines himself, he encouraged others not to hire slaves who had been miners, citing their poor health and inability to work.

Skip several centuries and you reach the Industrial Revolution, which had workers around the world flocking to newly-minted factories that made all sorts of wondrous products. These factories made rampant use of asbestos-containing materials, intent to avoid fires by using this miracle mineral, which was the best fire-resistant substance known to man. It wasn’t long, however, before doctors of the 19th and early 20th centuries began to make the same connections as Pliny the Elder did centuries before. As early as the first decade of the 1900s, one can find documented cases of asbestos-related diseases among factory workers. Shortly thereafter, doctors gave the disease the name “asbestosis” because of its likely cause.

When the U.S. entered World War II, asbestos exposure was about to reach an all-time high. Both men and women were soon employed in large numbers – both as military and civilian workers – in the nation’s shipyards, airplane manufacturing facilities, and munitions factories. All of those workplaces were filled with asbestos and workers were exposed on a daily basis. Shipbuilders suffered the most, often working to repair damaged ships full of asbestos in a hurry, intent on getting them back in commission. Hence, shortcuts were taken and little or nothing was done to protect workers from inhalation of dangerous fibers.

Through the decades, a variety of other industries used asbestos-containing products of all sorts. Those who were affected may have worked in the jobs listed below.

• Mechanics and other automotive repair personnel

• Power plant workers

• Railroad employees

• Construction workers/contractors

• Miners

• Steel mill employees

• Oil refinery workers

• Asbestos product manufacturers

 

On and after September 11, 2001, a whole new breed of worker suffered serious asbestos exposure – namely, the firefighters, police, and emergency responders who helped with search and rescue and clean-up of the World Trade Center site, wading through tons and tons of toxic debris. The exposure was so severe that the first death from asbestos-caused mesothelioma was reported in 2004. EMS Deborah Reeve, age 41, died that year of a disease that normally takes decades to develop.1

 

What job caused your asbestos exposure? Could it have been avoided? Were you warned about the risks by an employer or manager?

Remember, it’s been centuries since the dangers of asbestos became evident yet factory owners and employers continued to make use of the material until the late 1970s with little or no regard for the health of their workers. If you’ve been sickened by asbestos, you may be able to obtain compensation for your suffering. Don’t hesitate to gather more information about your rights by contacting an experienced asbestos attorney.

1 http://honorees.nemsms.org/reevd07.htm

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