One of the main uses of asbestos was for creating fireproofing materials and heat-resistant products. Asbestos is naturally nonflammable and noncombustible, with an extremely high melting point. As a result, it is commonly found in products and materials produced for fire prevention, firefighting, and fireproofing.
Coming into contact with particles of asbestos present in fire-resistant materials could put an individual at risk of developing serious diseases, including a fatal cancer called mesothelioma. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an illness connected to exposure to asbestos through a fireproofing product or material, you may be entitled to financial compensation.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos describes a group of six naturally occurring silicate minerals that are composed of long, thin fibers. Each fiber is composed of microscopic “fibrils” that can be released into the air if an asbestos particle is disturbed. The carcinogenic or cancer-causing nature of asbestos has been speculated about for many decades. It was not until the 1980s, however, that the United States began to regulate the use of asbestos in consumer products after the International Agency for Research on Cancer confirmed that all six types of asbestos can cause cancer.
Microscopic asbestos particles and fibers can become lodged in the inner tissues of the body if ingested or inhaled. One common location for asbestos to get stuck is in the mesothelial tissues, which is the protective outer membrane that surrounds many of the internal organs. Asbestos can get trapped in the lining around the lungs (the pleura), for example, if it is breathed in. Over the course of many years, asbestos fibers can cause irritation, inflammation, tissue damage, and scarring. The damage can be severe enough to alter the DNA and create cancer cells.
The Use of Asbestos in Fire-Resistant Materials
Asbestos is an incredibly versatile substance that was used widely in product manufacturing. Chrysotile asbestos could be woven into strong, lightweight materials that are more durable than cotton and nylon. Asbestos particles are flexible enough to be mixed with cement and sprayed in spray-on insulation materials. They could also be mixed or woven with many other materials to create a variety of fire-resistant goods. Finally, asbestos was mined in abundance, widely sourced and inexpensive.
The chemical properties of asbestos made it ideal as an additive in materials that needed to be resistant to heat and flame. Asbestos has a high melting point of around 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, so it can withstand extremely high temperatures without combusting. It is also thermally inert, meaning heat will travel slowly within the material. Asbestos is also non-conductive to electricity and resistant to corrosion.
What Fireproofing Materials Contain Asbestos?
There were a lot of things to recommend asbestos as an ideal substance to incorporate into fireproofing and flame-retardant materials. However, researchers determined asbestos to be a known human carcinogen in the 1980s, linking it to deadly diseases such as mesothelioma. Before the Environmental Protection Agency began regulating the use of asbestos in manufacturing, it was used in a wide variety of fire-resistant products.
Some of the most common uses of asbestos in fireproofing include:
- Asbestos boards
- Fire cloth
- Fire doors
- Friction products
- Heaters and furnaces
- Insulation and coatings
- Ironing board covers
- Mechanical equipment
- Shipbuilding materials
- Spray-on fireproofing
- Welding blankets
This is not a comprehensive list; product manufacturers created thousands of fireproofing items and materials that contained asbestos. Some of the most notable companies are Armstrong World Industries, Babcock & Wilcox, Dana Corporation, Johns-Manville, National Gypsum Company, Turner & Newall, and U.S. Gypsum Company. Today, these manufacturing companies can face lawsuits for the illnesses caused by their asbestos fireproofing products.
Fire Prevention Materials and Asbestos-Related Diseases
For many decades now, researchers have established that being exposed to asbestos can cause cancer and a range of other serious diseases. Mesothelioma is the illness most commonly associated with asbestos exposure. This is an aggressive type of cancer that is always fatal. The average life expectancy after being diagnosed with mesothelioma is 12 to 21 months with treatment, according to the National Library of Medicine. However, each case and patient is unique.
In addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure also causes the following illnesses:
- Lung cancer – inhaling asbestos fibers can also result in cancer forming in the lungs themselves rather than the pleura. Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Asbestosis – a chronic condition of the lungs that can cause a persistent cough, trouble breathing, and chest pain. Having asbestosis puts an individual at a higher risk of developing mesothelioma or lung cancer.
- Conditions of the pleura – damage to the pleura caused by asbestos can result in health problems such as pleural thickening (scar tissue that can become calcified) or effusion (a buildup of fluid in the chest cavity), leading to symptoms such as trouble breathing and chronic fatigue.
An individual could be at risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases if a fireproofing material that contains asbestos is damaged, disturbed, cracked or broken. This may release asbestos dust and asbestos particles into the air, putting an individual at risk of inhaling or ingesting them and developing one or multiple related illnesses later in life. It is important for anyone who may come into contact with asbestos fire-prevention materials to use the proper protocols to protect themselves against harmful exposure.
Where Are Asbestos Fireproofing Materials Found?
Knowing where asbestos fireproofing might be found in your home, workplace or community can help you avoid contact with this dangerous substance. Asbestos-containing materials were used in many fireproofing applications. Any item that needed to resist high temperatures, pressure, corrosion or flame may have been made using asbestos to achieve these goals. For this reason, asbestos materials can be found all over the country in various locations.
Asbestos fireproofing materials are commonly found in places such as:
- Aircraft engines and cockpits
- Construction projects
- Energy plants
- Heavy equipment and machinery
- Manufacturing facilities
- Metal smelters
- Military equipment
- Oil refineries
- Power plants
- Railroads and locomotives
- Steel structures and high-rise buildings
- Welding shops
Working in any of these industries or settings could put an individual at risk of occupational asbestos exposure. Living in a home or building constructed with asbestos fireproofing materials could also put individuals at risk of being exposed to airborne particles of asbestos. While no amount of asbestos is safe for human contact, living or working around asbestos comes with the highest risk of developing mesothelioma and other illnesses, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Asbestos in Building and Construction Materials
Asbestos fireproofing materials were integrated into thousands of homes and structures from the 1800s to the 1990s. These materials can still be found in older buildings, including homes, schools and universities, and workplaces. Construction materials are a significant asbestos exposure risk today, especially during repair, renovation, or demolition projects.
Construction and building materials that often used asbestos for fire prevention are:
- Acoustic materials applied to interiors
- Adhesives and glues
- Cement sheets
- Drywall and wallboard
- Flooring materials
- HVAC ductwork
- Insulation (mainly vermiculite)
- Joint compounds
- Plaster and caulk
- Roofing materials and shingles
- Spray-on textures (“popcorn ceiling”)
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Wrap insulation around pipes
Common household appliances and textiles may also contain asbestos, including oven mitts, toasters, ovens, mattresses, and curtains. The owner of any building that may contain asbestos fireproofing materials is responsible for keeping residents, tenants, and visitors reasonably safe from exposure risks. This may mean bringing in licensed asbestos professionals to inspect and safely remove asbestos-containing materials during any building projects.
Asbestos and Firefighters
Firefighters are at a high risk of occupational asbestos exposure. The nature of their jobs often places firefighters inside older buildings that have fire damage, as well as structures that are crumbling or collapsing. Damage to asbestos materials such as drywall and roofing can release asbestos dust into the air. For this reason, firefighters should use proper respirators with HEPA filters to protect them from breathing in asbestos.
While today’s firefighters can be at risk of asbestos exposure due to building materials, firefighters of the past were also at risk because of asbestos in the gear they were wearing and the equipment they were using. Firefighters who worked prior to the 1990s are among the most at-risk populations for mesothelioma and other illnesses. Since the average latency period for asbestos-related illnesses is 20-60+ years, affected firefighters may not know they were exposed to asbestos until many years later.
Asbestos was commonly added to the clothes that firefighters wore and the gear they used to fight fires for enhanced heat and flame resistance. Examples include firefighting suits, helmets, gloves, mitts, boots, pumps, blankets and firetrucks. If any gear was damaged or subject to wear and tear, it could potentially release asbestos fibers into the atmosphere. In addition, firefighters may have brought asbestos particles home with them on their gear, clothing and equipment – putting family members at risk of secondhand asbestos exposure.
Do Fireproofing Materials Still Contain Asbestos?
Today, asbestos has mostly been replaced with cement-based products or stainless steel for the manufacture of fireproofing materials. Federal laws in the U.S. since the 1980s have regulated how asbestos can be used in the production of consumer goods and building materials. Entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration worked to discontinue the use of asbestos in fireproofing materials. Modern materials manufactured in the U.S. cannot contain more than 1 percent asbestos. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done for many victims.
While manufacturers in the United States can no longer create fireproofing materials that contain large amounts of asbestos, many other countries are still producing these materials. They can be imported into the U.S. from other countries, with the exception of spray-on asbestos fireproofing. This product was banned in 1970 with the EPA’s Clean Air Act. It was found to be particularly dangerous; as the wet, foam-like spray dried, it became friable (easily crumbled). The friability becomes more pronounced as the substance ages until even the slightest disturbance could release asbestos fibers into the air.
Compensation for Exposure to Asbestos in Fireproofing Materials
Victims who suffer from illnesses and diseases caused by asbestos may be eligible for financial compensation. Legal options are available to those who were exposed to asbestos by a negligent person or party, such as the manufacturer of asbestos-containing fireproofing materials. An in-depth case review by an asbestos attorney can help you understand your rights as someone who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another serious illness.
Potential sources of compensation for asbestos victims include:
- Asbestos trust funds – bankrupt companies, including many product manufacturers, established trust funds to compensate victims who were exposed to asbestos by their products. The same is true of bankrupt employers who exposed workers to asbestos on the job.
- Lawsuits – a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit could be filed against someone for negligence, or the failure to use reasonable care. If a prudent party would have done more to protect you from being exposed to asbestos in the same circumstances, the defendant can be held liable.
- Product liability claim – a claim brought against the manufacturer of a fireproofing product that contains asbestos may not require the victim to prove negligence under the rules of strict product liability. If the product contains asbestos and caused the victim’s illness, he or she may be entitled to compensation.
Other sources may include workers’ compensation claims and veterans’ claims. A successful asbestos claim could result in a payout that compensates a victim for several economic and noneconomic losses. This may include hospital bills, mesothelioma treatment costs, travel or transportation, lost wages, lost capacity to earn, physical pain, emotional suffering, and wrongful death damages. Discuss the potential value of your case with an attorney.
Are You a Victim of Asbestos Exposure by Fire Prevention Materials? We Can Help
It is difficult to quantify how many people have been and will continue to be affected by the presence of asbestos in fireproofing, heat-resistant, flame-retardant and fire-prevention materials. At Bailey & Glasser, LLP, our attorneys are committed to seeking justice and financial compensation for victims of asbestos exposure. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, we can listen to your story and provide legal advice to you and your family during this difficult time. Request your free case consultation at (866) 871-7971 or by contacting us online anytime.