Asbestos Overview

Asbestos Lung Cancer and Disease

Asbestos Cancers

Asbestos exposure not only causes mesothelioma cancer, but several other cancerous and non-cancerous conditions. While the only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, workers with a history of asbestos exposure may not realize that their colon cancer or lung cancer is not simply the result of bad luck. GPW’s asbestos disease attorneys have defended many people who suffer from asbestos-related diseases beyond mesothelioma.


Pleural, peritoneal, and pericardial mesothelioma are all caused by asbestos exposure. Learn more about mesothelioma.

Lung Cancer

One in four cancer diagnoses in the US are cancers of the lung. Asbestos exposure can greatly increase your risk, even if you smoked. Learn more about asbestos lung cancer.

Colon Cancer

Colon, rectal, and colo-rectal cancers can result from asbestos. Learn more about asbestos-related colon cancer.

Throat Cancer

The delicate tissues of the larynx can be injured by indestructible asbestos fibers. Learn more about asbestos-related laryngeal cancer.



Asbestosis is the scarring of the lung tissue that results when asbestos fibers become lodged in the lung. This disease causes shortness of breath by limiting the lung’s ability to expand and contract. There is no treatment available for those suffering from this chronic disease. Since it takes at least 20 – 30 years from the initial exposure for asbestosis to develop, people with exposures to asbestos in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s are now being diagnosed.


Asbestos Disease Attorneys

After years of exposure without protection or warning, it is ironic that there is a sharply limited time to bring suit against those that injured you. Statutes of limitations (sometimes called statutes of repose) vary from state to state and put limitations from the time of diagnosis–or a similar event–to the time to file a lawsuit. In many states, there are only two years from the date of diagnosis in which you can file an asbestos lawsuit.

These time limitations mean researching and understanding your options early is instrumental in making sure your rights are not frustrated by an expiration date. GPW’s asbestos attorneys have years of experience they can share with you regarding filing an asbestos lawsuit. Settlements in asbestos cases, legal processes, and understanding how long your legal battle might last are just a few of the questions our clients often have. Please contact us for answers to your specific questions or to discuss, with no obligation, your case.

Asbestos Timeline

Asbestos litigation became prominent in the 1960s and 1970s, but suspicion about the adverse effects of asbestos exposure can be traced back centuries. Medical examinations on asbestos workers in the early 1900s laid the groundwork for continued research into the connection between asbestos exposure and disease and by the 1920s, the link was established. However, it wasn’t until the 1971 verdict of Borel v. Fiberboard that the asbestos industry began to admit responsibility for placing the lives of their workers at risk. Today, while not banned outright, asbestos is heavily regulated in the United States and many of the asbestos companies and manufacturers have declared bankruptcy due to the amount of lawsuits.

Adverse effects of asbestos observed

Archeological discoveries found asbestos use dates back thousands of years, when evidence of clay pots strengthened by asbestos fibers in Finland and ancient text describing a “magic mineral” that was heat resistant were discovered .The adverse effects of asbestos can also be traced back to the first century, when Greek geographer, Strabo and Roman Pliny the Elder noted a “sickness in the lungs of slaves,” who were tasked with weaving asbestos fibers into cloth.

Autopsies on asbestos workers reveal fibers in the lungs

Asbestosis can be traced back to the early 1900s after a post- mortem examination of a 33-year-old asbestos textile worker found fragments of asbestos fibers in the lung tissue. The individual who had been examined was the last survivor of a group of 10 men who had worked in the carding room of a factory in 1886. In 1917, Dr. Henry K. Pancoast from the University of Pennsylvania observed scarred lungs and asbestos fibers in the X-rays of 15 asbestos factory workers. Just a year later, a report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor noted an increase in the mortality rate of American asbestos-factory workers and that it had become common practice for insurance companies to not offer life-insurance policies to those who worked in conditions that were considered hazardous to one’s health.

The term "asbestosis" first appears in medical literature

The first time asbestosis appeared in medical literature was in 1924 after English physician Dr. W.E. Cooke performed a post-mortem examination of a patient who had over 13 years of asbestos exposure. The autopsy showed severe pulmonary fibrosis and strands of dense tissue (that were fibrous in nature), throughout the lungs and surrounding membrane. These findings led to numerous investigations throughout the mid-to-late 1920s that proved there was a direct relationship between asbestos exposure and the fibrosis (or scarring) of the lungs. However, in the United States, no such research was underway for asbestos workers, and compensation for those suffering from an asbestos-related disease didn’t surface until decades later.

Mesothelioma is connected to asbestos exposure

The term mesothelioma was coined in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until over 50 years later the connection between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma was made. Medical researcher J.C. Wagner and physician Chris Sleggs had been hired by the South African government to study occupational hazards associated with mining crocidolite (blue asbestos). Their findings, published in the British Medical Journal of Medicine in 1960, showed a detailed account of 33 mesothelioma cases who all (but one) had a provable history of asbestos exposure. A few short years later in 1964, American physician Dr. Irving J. Selikoff investigated over 1,117 factory workers who produced and provided amosite-asbestos insulation for the Navy. Through pulmonary function tests, blood tests, and X-rays, Selikoff found evidence of asbestosis in half of the workers, with the extent of the disease being directly related to the length of asbestos exposure. Lung cancer instances were seven times the expected rate.

Landmark case sets precedent for future asbestos lawsuits

The case of Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corporation et. al. was a landmark court case that set the precedent for product liability and personal injury claims for asbestos workers and their families. Clarence Borel had been an asbestos worker for 33 years who had developed asbestosis and mesothelioma by 1969. His initial complaint sought damages against 11 asbestos-insulation manufacturers: Fiberboard Paper Products, Johns-Manville, UNARCO, Ruberoid, Eagle-Pitcher, Pittsburgh Corning, Owens-Corning, Combustion Engineering, Philip Carey Corporation, the Armstrong Contracting & Supply Corporation, and the Standard Asbestos Manufacturing & Insulation Company. Prior to this case, an injured worker’s only recourse was to file a workers compensation claim against his employer for his lung disease. The doctrine of strict liability (Section 402A) aided in Borel’s case, holding product manufacturers liable for neglecting to warn about their hazardous products and stay up-to-date on the latest scientific research. The verdict came back in favor of Borel (who did not live to see the outcome of the trial), which triggered over 25,000 asbestos lawsuits over the next decade. Workers suffering from mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis could now file product liability suits not only against their employers, but against product manufactures as well. This set the stage for asbestos lawsuits as we know them today.

Asbestos regulations in the United States

By 1973, asbestos consumption in the United States was at an all-time high (over 800,000 tons) but after the verdict in Borel v. Fibreboard started to become regulated. The EPA recognized asbestos as an air pollutant, and the ACGIH recognized it as a carcinogen to humans. OSHA came into existence in 1960 and its first action was to ban the use of asbestos containing insulation. Over the next decade, spray applications, pipe and block insulation, and wall patching compounds, were all banned. The permissible exposure limit (PEL) defined and enforced by OSHA was reduced four times since the initial setting in 1971. Today, the PEL is .1 fibers/cc. Prior to OSHA, it was permissible to expose workers to up to 5 million particles of asbestos per cubic foot of air. The EPA attempted to ban asbestos entirely in 1989, but the final rule was over-turned in 1991. In 2016, the Toxic Substances Control Act was amended to allow the EPA to assess potentially harmful chemicals and products before they become available to the consumer. In 2018, the EPA proposed the Significant New Use Rule (SNUR), which is designed to investigate past uses of asbestos. Anti-asbestos advocates strongly believe that this curtails the plan to eventually ban asbestos as it still allows asbestos to be used in manufacturing allows it to be imported and does not take into consideration the different ways in which people can be exposed (i.e., through contaminated drinking water, air).

Asbestos Lawsuits Today

Asbestos litigation is the longest and most expensive mass tort in United States history. Since the first lawsuits began in the 1920s, there have more than 700,000 claimants, 8,000 defendants, and billions of dollars in damages. Many asbestos manufacturers filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy which allowed them to set up Asbestos Bankruptcy Trusts to pay the personal injury claims to those suffering because of their asbestos exposure. As of 2017, over 100 companies have filed for bankruptcy. Today, asbestos lawsuits continue because the latency period between the time of initial asbestos exposure and disease development can span decades. Recent reports have indicated that mesothelioma rates could be on the rise until at least 2020.


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