In January of this year, Plant Insulation Company, of Emeryville, California was ordered to pay more than $4.3 million to the families of three San Francisco Bay Area pipefitters who died of mesothelioma.
The awards go to the survivors of Concord, California resident William C. Hearn, former Sacramento County resident James Harris, and former Sebastopol resident George Wetch.
The verdict, handed down by the San Francisco Superior Court, found that Plant Insulation Company, a large industrial insulation distributor and contractor, continued to distribute asbestos-containing products even though company officials knew asbestos could cause illness and death.
According to testimony, Plant Insulation Company – which was ruled 59-percent liable for Hearn’s death – continued to sell off products containing asbestos (in boxes marked “asbestos-free”) in the 1970s, along with their stock of non-asbestos insulation products.
The jury ruled on the basis of product liability and negligence, following testimony by one former insulator who said this practice of mislabeling and selling off old stock continued well into the late 70s, or long after both health officials and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized its dangers.
Asbestos fibers, inhaled, can lead to lesions in the lungs which cause mesothelioma, an invariably fatal cancer that can take up to five decades to manifest and commonly results in death.
In November of last year, Plant Insulation Company settled the case of Joseph Sandra. In September of last year, the company settled in the death of Douglas Vanden Broek. In July, the company also settled in the case of former San Francisco resident Warren Schiebold.
In 1989, the EPA issued a final rule banning most asbestos-containing products. This rule was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in 1991. As a result of the Court’s decision, the following specific asbestos-containing products remain banned:
- flooring felt
- roll board
- corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper
- asbestos in products that have not historically contained asbestos
Remaining on the market are:
- Asbestos-cement corrugated sheet, asbestos-cement flat sheet, vinyl-asbestos floor tile, asbestos-cement shingle, and millboard
- Asbestos clothing
- Asbestos-cement pipe and pipeline wrap
- Automatic transmission components, clutch facings, friction materials, disc brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks, and gaskets
- Non-roofing coatings, roofing felt, and roof coatings.
The Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007, S. 742, which has been making the circuit since 2003, never became law. Products containing asbestos are still manufactured and sold in the United States today, or shipped in from overseas by manufacturers of American origin who choose cheap, foreign labor over the health of United States’ citizens.
Asbestos is everywhere, in the buildings where we work and live, the schools our children attend, even the hospitals where we go to receive health care. Asbestos does not degrade with time, remaining a constant threat, and neither OSHA, the CDC, nor the American Cancer Society, has ever established minimum, safe levels of exposure.