Asbestos Law and Regulation in Oregon
Although most people have heard news stories about the dangers associated with asbestos, many of us have limited knowledge about exactly what asbestos is and why it has become so controversial. The word “asbestos” is a general term which applies to multiple minerals sharing similar properties. These minerals are heat resistant, resist chemical degradation, and do not dissolve in water. Thus, asbestos historically has had many popular commercial applications, including being used in building materials and automobile parts.
However, exposure to asbestos, mostly from breathing asbestos fibers suspended in the air, can create serious health risks. The World Health Organization states that all types of asbestos are carcinogenic, and that 125 million people across the world are exposed to asbestos at work. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) agrees that all forms of asbestos can cause cancer in humans. As a result of the wide acceptance that asbestos creates health hazards, it’s use is now highly regulated in the United States. Unfortunately, this regulation came too late for many people who have suffered from its associated diseases, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer caused by exposure.
History of Asbestos and Litigation
Humans have used asbestos since ancient times. It has been used commercially in cement and as an insulation material since the late 1800s. The dangers associated with the use of asbestos in the textile industry have been recognized since at least the 1930s. Some early studies appeared to underestimate the effects of asbestos because the diseases associated with it often do not appear until many years after initial exposure. However, a 1965 study by Selikoff, Churg, and Hammond examined insulation workers and found evidence of asbestosis in almost fifty percent of the workers, and found abnormalities in over ninety percent of those working with asbestos for more than forty years. Many other studies have confirmed the dangers of asbestos.
Initially, claims by employees harmed by asbestos were often resolved through the worker’s compensation system. Because the law often makes worker’s compensation benefits the exclusive remedy for an injured worker, employers frequently argued that employees could not maintain a lawsuit against their employers for damages. However, thanks to determined litigants and their attorneys, exceptions gradually emerged.
For example, in one California case, Reba Rudkin worked in a Johns-Manville Products Corporation plant for 29 years, where he was routinely exposed to asbestos. He filed a lawsuit against his employer for damages. Mr. Rudkin contended that he developed lung cancer and other asbestos-related illnesses as the result of his exposure to asbestos. Because he alleged that his employer fraudulently concealed from him and his doctors that he had a disease caused by inhaling asbestos, thereby inducing him to continue to work under hazardous conditions, the court held that he was not limited to a worker’s compensation claim and that he could sue the employer for damages.
Current Regulation of Asbestos
Currently, asbestos is regulated by a few different parties. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration began regulating asbestos in 1971, and the Environmental Protection Agency also regulates asbestos. The state of Oregon also has asbestos rules and regulations designed to protect both workers and the public. You’ll find some helpful links at the end of this article.
What If I Think I’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos?
If you think you have been exposed to asbestos, either in the workplace, or elsewhere, it’s important to take steps to protect your health and your legal rights. Oregon has a statute of limitation, which means that once you know about an asbestos-related illness or injury, or reasonably should have known, you have a time limitation in which to assert your claim. Therefore, it’s important to contact an attorney promptly to ensure that your rights are protected. Fortunately, not all exposure results in harm that requires a lawsuit. However, when harm does result, we believe that those who wrongfully caused the harm should be held accountable for their actions. The attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are experienced in investigating and pursuing claims based upon harmful asbestos exposure. Please call us with your questions or for a free consultation.
ATSDR Public Health Statement for Asbestos: www.atsdr.cdc.gov/PHS/PHS.asp?id=28&tid=4
Oregon OSHA Asbestos Rules and Information: http://osha.oregon.gov/Pages/topics/asbestos.aspx
United States Geological Survey - “Asbestiform Minerals and Human Health”: http://health.usgs.gov/inhalation/asbestiform.html
OSHA Regulatory History: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=PREAMBLES&p_id=775
Oregon Department of Air Quality - Asbestos: http://www.deq.state.or.us/aq/asbestos/index.htm
Oregon Demolition Survey Requirement: https://www.oregon.gov/CCB/contractor/Pages/asbestossurveyrequirement.aspx
Oregon OSHA - Asbestos: http://osha.oregon.gov/Pages/topics/asbestos.aspx