Mesothelioma Attorneys by State > Illinois

Chicago Asbestos Attorney

Asbestos and Mesothelioma in Chicago and Illinois

With a history of booming industry and a growing population of workers, Illinois suffers from many of the same issues as other states when it comes to a past that’s filled with excessive asbestos use. Though perhaps for residents of Chicago and Illinois, its problems are on a much larger scale. The state now ranks sixth in the nation for mesothelioma deaths. And many residents may have been exposed to asbestos fibers just because they lived in close proximity to contaminated sites and workplaces.

As the third-largest city in the country, Chicago is home to many mesothelioma victims who’ve previously worked in the city’s manufacturing, oil refining, and shipping industries. Due to its port location, huge population, and the arrival of several large companies in the 1950s, Chicago is one of the higher risk cities in the country for asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma.

Shipyards and Naval Bases Around Chicago

Chicago’s canals, deepwater ports, and location along the Great Lakes made it a major transport hub in the 1800s. This sparked big growth – both in terms of population and industry – as canals linked Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River for the first time and vessels began pouring in. As demand grew, shipbuilding, marine facilities, and naval bases were built around the city, including Chicago Bridge & Iron Company, Naval Station Great Lakes, and (until the 1970s) American Shipbuilding.

The Navy actually required the use of asbestos for fireproofing and insulating ships, eventually in spite of the fact that they’d learned of its health risks. Exposure affected not only the naval shipbuilders but commercial shipbuilders and suppliers, as well as those sailors who had to work below deck on asbestos-laced vessels. These work conditions have caused mesothelioma, lung cancers, and asbestosis in many a Chicago laborer and veteran.

Oil Refineries, Power Plants, Chemicals, and Construction

Many other industries heavily relied on asbestos, as it was widely praised for its insulation and fire-resistant properties from the 1950s through the 1970s. Chicago’s rapidly growing economy was no exception.

Those jobs with the highest risk for asbestos exposure and subsequent diseases included power plants and oil refineries, both of which played an important economic role in the city and all over the state. Amoco, Shell, Mobil, and CITGO all operated refineries in Illinois, and they’ve all been sued for asbestos-related negligence.

Chicago and other parts of Illinois are also home to several power plants. These jobsites notoriously exposed workers to asbestos fibers, even when precautions were taken. In the past, they frequently used asbestos-containing insulation to shield against high and fluctuating temperatures in their facilities. The first privately funded nuclear reactor in the country, Dresden Generating Station, was opened down the road from Chicago in 1960. Although they might’ve had clean safety records, it was still difficult to ensure that employees weren’t exposed to those lethal fibers.

A few other Illinois companies were known for using asbestos as insulation, like the many chemical plants and steel manufacturing mills surrounding Chicago. These are also some of the most dangerous jobs for workers in terms of repeated asbestos exposure.

Furthermore, many schools and administrative buildings in Chicago were built using the deadly material. As the buildings age, fibers can naturally be released into the air. Recent reports show that Chicago Public Schools have failed to remedy issues in nearly 200 schools where asbestos was used in building materials like insulation, floor tiles, and ceiling tiles. There’s even asbestos in some of the city’s public water systems due to the usage of asbestos cement in water pipes from the 1930s through the 1970s.

Asbestos Imports from Libby, Montana

Like other states, Illinois felt the impacts of the infamous W.R. Grace through its asbestos refining plants located in southwest Chicago. Over 370,000 tons of vermiculite was imported into the state between 1948 and 1990, primarily for the purpose of manufacturing insulation products. These shipments from the mine in Libby, Montana were delivered to over 30 different locations in Illinois, Chicago receiving the bulk of those shipments.

The W.R. Grace site in West Chicago spans over 6 acres, including one main industrial building. Processing here involved heating the vermiculite until it exfoliated or popped to become a lightweight insulation, either Zonolite or the spray-applied Monokote. Records indicate that air samples taken inside the facility in 1975 potentially exceeded OSHA’s permissible asbestos exposure limits by six to seven times. This West Chicago plant processed over 273,000 tons of vermiculite during the years it was in business.

While no amount of asbestos exposure is safe, workers at this plant were likely exposed to extremely hazardous levels of the toxic fiber. The plant closed in 1996, but as late as 2003 the EPA detected trace amounts of asbestos in the soil at that location.

Deaths from Mesothelioma and Asbestosis

For all these reasons, Illinois unsurprisingly has higher rates of asbestos-related diseases than many other parts of the United States. In fact, in 2006, two counties in the state ranked in the top twenty counties in terms of malignant mesothelioma rates.

Between 1999 and 2013, over 1,900 people died from mesothelioma (1,777) and asbestosis (156) in Illinois. Many more unrecorded deaths likely stem from asbestos-related lung cancers. In the years to come, more deaths are certain to follow as long latency periods for these diseases expire and more residents who were exposed to asbestos, whether occupationally or incidentally, are diagnosed with mesothelioma.

In 2015, 32% of all asbestos claims in the U.S. were filed in Illinois. Cook County, where Chicago is located, was home to 355 total cases in 2014 and 2015. But Madison County, a national epicenter for these types of cases, took the number one spot in the country with 2,197 cases over those two years alone. St. Clair County in Illinois is another emerging hotspot for asbestos suits as well. Traditionally plaintiff-friendly, these counties have been referred to by commercial defendants as “judicial hellholes.”

Cook County has previously been a good place for asbestos plaintiffs to bring suit against corporate defendants. However, recently a prominent judge barred all actions by plaintiffs if they’d yet to be diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease or failed to show symptoms. One of the few upsides for residents of Chicago is that the mesothelioma program at the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center is among the best in the nation.

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