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How Much Asbestos Exposure Is Safe? 

David C. Thompson, P.C.  Dec. 29, 2022

With all the news stories about asbestos and the serious diseases it can cause, including mesothelioma, the substance is not totally banned in the United States, though it is regulated. Still, in the first three months of 2022, 114 metric tons of asbestos were imported into the United States, exceeding the 100 metric tons for all of 2021. 

Asbestos use began declining following the enactment of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to ban its use altogether, but the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ban in 1991. As a result, the ban now applies only to new uses of asbestos and thus prohibits these specific asbestos-containing products: flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper.  

Asbestos was widely used in manufacturing and construction through the 1970s and into the 1980s, and many homes today dating back then may still contain asbestos, though it should pose a problem only during reconstruction or remodeling, not on a daily basis. The overall risk is low. 

The effects of exposure to asbestos fibers, or dust as it is alternately called, usually take years to lead to serious illnesses, often affecting the lungs if inhaled or affecting the digestive system if swallowed. A single exposure rarely will develop into something serious health-wise. 

Nonetheless, with asbestos still being used in certain manufacturing and construction environments, the long-term effects can be devastating to those exposed without the proper safeguards.  

If you or a loved one has developed any of the symptoms or diseases borne of asbestos exposure because of your work situation in or around Grand Forks, North Dakota, contact David C. Thompson, P.C.  

As a personal injury attorney, David C. Thompson has been advocating for those affected by asbestos or chemical exposure since 1984. He will help you fight for the compensation owed to you for the debilitating effects of asbestos exposure, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and more. David C. Thompson also proudly serves clients throughout the state, including in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo. 

Exposure Limits and the Effects of Asbestos 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets guidelines for the use of asbestos with regulations governing shipyards, construction, and general industry. These regulations set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for asbestos at 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air during an eight-hour period. The regulations also establish an excursion limit (EL) of 1.0 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter over a 30-minute period. 

Employers are expected to monitor and assess both PEL and EL to maintain safe working conditions. OSHA states: “If the exposure has the potential to be above the PEL or EL, employers must use proper engineering controls and work practices to the extent feasible to keep it at or below the PEL and EL.” Thus, it falls on employers to maintain safe working conditions through whatever means necessary, but this may not always happen. 

The question then is: What happens if the exposure levels are not maintained? When can an exposed worker expect to see symptoms of a resulting disease? 

The answer is that symptoms typically don’t appear until after years of exposure, although an extremely intense short-term exposure also heightens the risk of disease later in life. A one-time exposure might lead to symptoms down the road if the asbestos was scraped, sawed, smashed, or drilled. Poor ventilation can also be a contributing factor. 

What Diseases Result From Asbestos Exposure and When? 

Again, keeping in mind that repeated exposure is generally the path to symptoms later in life, asbestos can lead to both lung and digestive problems. Generally speaking, symptoms won’t appear until 10 to 30 years after extended exposure. 

Asbestos is considered a carcinogen – a substance that causes cancer – and thus can lead to mesothelioma, a cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen, as well as cancers of the lungs, larynx, and ovaries. It is also possible for cancers of the stomach, pharynx, and colorectum to result from asbestos exposure, though the evidence here is more limited. 

Nonmalignant asbestos-related diseases include asbestosis, hyaline pleural plaques, pleural thickening, pleural effusion, atelectasis, peritoneal effusion, and pericardial effusion.  

Where to Turn for Compensation 

If you develop an asbestos-related disease while on the job, you will likely have to turn to the workers’ compensation system for compensation for medical treatment and lost wages from missing work. You cannot directly sue your employer. However, if you work for a contractor or subcontractor, they may not provide workers’ compensation coverage, so you may be free to sue. 

You can also sue if a third party, such as a manufacturer, is the cause of your exposure. 

Consulting with an experienced attorney can reveal the most appropriate path forward to obtain the fair and just compensation you deserve. If you do develop symptoms from asbestos exposure, your first step should be to consult with an attorney experienced in these types of claims. 

If you are able to pursue legal action in a court of law, you will need to prove that negligence caused your disease. In other words, the defendant you’re suing must have had a duty of care toward you and then breached that duty of care. Accordingly, the four elements you need to prove in a negligence lawsuit are: 

  • The defendant had a legal duty to protect you from asbestos exposure. 

  • That duty was breached. 

  • The breach caused you (the plaintiff) harm. 

  • As a result, you suffered damages (medical expenses, loss of income, and more). 

Experienced Guidance When You Need It Most 

If you or a loved one is suffering the effects of asbestos exposure, you need to seek legal guidance and direction immediately. You are no doubt entitled to compensation for your expenses and losses, especially if the exposure took place in work conditions.  

When it comes to asbestos-related illnesses, different routes to recovery exist, starting with workers’ compensation and rising to personal injury lawsuits. Veterans’ benefits and other sources of compensation may also be available. 

If you’re in the Grand Forks region of North Dakota, or anywhere in the state, rely on the experience and knowledge of David C. Thompson to help you navigate the legal system and claim the just compensation due to you. Reach out to him immediately at his firm, David C. Thompson, P.C.