By Rick Shapiro, Railroad Accident/FELA Attorney
Workers with railroad companies such as Norfolk Southern, CSX, BNSF, Amtrak, etc. have been known to suffer serious lung conditions as a result of exposure to asbestos. The once popular material was embraced by the construction, manufacturing and railroad industries given its cheap price, easy availability and usefulness in absorbing sound and heat. However, asbestos is also a highly toxic fiber which can get lodged in the linings of your lungs and eventually cause deadly conditions like mesothelioma.
Given the well-known danger of asbestos, manufacturers were finally forced by government regulators to severely restrict if not entirely eliminate the use of asbestos in the United States. Back in the 1970s, asbestos usage reached its peak, with more than 800,000 metric tons of the product being used across the country. Thankfully, pressure from the federal government and others forced companies to cut back use so that by 2011, just barely 1,000 metric tons of asbestos were used in the U.S.
Despite the dramatic drop in asbestos usage, there has not been a similar decline in the number of mesothelioma cases. Though many people would expect the number of mesothelioma and other lung disease cases to drop by corresponding amounts, the rate of mesothelioma diagnosis has actually remained constant in the U.S. for decades. According to the American Cancer Society, the rate of mesothelioma diagnosis increased substantially between the 1970s and the 1990s and has remained fairly constant since then. Today, approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year.
Why have the rates remained the same despite the dramatic drops in asbestos usage? For one thing, even though new usage of asbestos has declined dramatically, old asbestos can still lurk in buildings undetected. Because of how prevalent asbestos used to be, there are many structures that could contain asbestos which might inadvertently harm workers who never even knew it was there. The time and expense associated with asbestos cleanup has deterred some people from taking action to remove the harmful substance.
Another reason why mesothelioma rates have not declined is that asbestos exposure can take years if not decades to manifest as mesothelioma. In some cases, even a short-term exposure to asbestos can result in the development of mesothelioma fifty years later.
Given this long lead-time, many people who worked in and around asbestos decades ago are only now being diagnosed with lung disease.