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St. Louis, Missouri Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos and Mesothelioma in St. Louis and Missouri

Historically, Missouri has been a blue collar center for industry, from chemicals to manufacturing to power plants to automobiles. All of these jobs are notorious for putting employees at risk for exposure to asbestos. The state is also home to the Missouri Lead Belt, where miners risked daily contact with asbestos fibers through the excavation and handling of mineral ore.

Between 1999 and 2013, at least 735 people in Missouri died from asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis. There are confirmed exposure sites in 20 cities across the state, like Kansas City, Joplin, Columbia, and Independence.

However, St. Louis accounts for the most deaths of them all.

St. Louis as a Hotspot for Industry and Asbestos

The city of St. Louis with its many manufacturing jobs is a focal point for these lethal diseases, accounting for a quarter of asbestos-related fatalities in the state of Missouri. Over 24 places in the city have been contaminated with asbestos over the years.

In the late 1800s, industry began to grow in St. Louis when breweries like Anheuser-Busch set up shop in the city. Due to its central location and proximity to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, transport of goods became a big operation which continues to flourish today. Known as the “Gateway to the West,” St. Louis was and still is a major inland port in the United States in terms of tonnage. Major corporations like Emerson Electric, Energizer, and Monsanto flocked to the city. Shipbuilding jobs also became available within the city.

All of this growth and industry, however, came at a cost.

Automobiles and Breweries

Automobile manufacturing entails, of course, work with brakes and clutches, which commonly contain asbestos. These St. Louis auto industry workers – especially those employees in manufacturing plants – would have been exposed to asbestos day after day. Mechanics and technicians were also at risk for future complications due to inhaling the deadly fibers. General Motors was one of the facilities in the city that was found to be an asbestos exposure site, putting workers at risk for developing fatal diseases like mesothelioma.

Possibly the most famous operations in St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch was founded here in 1852. Despite the fact that asbestos is used nowhere in the beer brewing process, like other large manufacturers, it was frequently used in the structure of the factory as well as the manufacturing equipment for its insulation and fire-resistant properties. This major company has been sued for exposing employees to asbestos over the years, along with at least four other brewing companies in the state. Those most likely to be exposed at breweries are equipment maintenance workers and plant workers.

Asbestos Processing Facilities and Cleanup

Multiple plants in and around St. Louis processed asbestos to make materials for construction before they were eventually outlawed. From insulation to roofing to pipes, all of these facilities had a potentially deadly impact on employees, but also the surrounding community as well.

The infamous W.R. Grace operated an asbestos-processing plant in St. Louis where it manufactured the insulation material, Zonolite. The company imported nearly 105,000 tons of vermiculite from the Libby, Montana mines to Missouri. Much of this vermiculite was contaminated with the deadly tremolite form of asbestos.

Their facilities in St. Louis operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and work conditions were dusty, inside and out. Residents reported that dust from the plant accumulated outside and even came into nearby homes. While experts don’t believe that asbestos fibers traveled airborne too far from the company, many reported that children frequently played on piles of raw vermiculite and in railroad cars around the facility. The business didn’t provide workers with uniforms until the 1980s, and it’s likely that many carried home asbestos on their clothes. Employees often failed to use the dusk masks or showers provided until it became required by the company.

Another St. Louis company, the Ruberoid Corporation, made asbestos-based roofing products. GAF Corporation acquired them in 1965 and was later hit with several asbestos lawsuits due to the dangerous levels of the fibers in the air within the facility. The nearby CertainTeed plant also manufactured asbestos in the form of cement piping. Confidential memos from the company confirm that they were aware of asbestos-related diseases popping up in the neighborhoods surrounding their St. Louis plant.

Both of these companies improperly disposed of their asbestos along the banks of the nearby Maline Creek. CertainTeed used chrysotile and the more dangerous crocidolite asbestos. When they shut their doors in 1979, the company merely placed soil on top of the asbestos they’d dumped by the creek alongside broken asbestos pipes.

Due to cost, this asbestos was never cleaned up until the EPA assessed the site in 1992. Testing revealed that the area was thoroughly contaminated with both chrysotile and crocidolite asbestos. The creek later flooded in 1993, distributing asbestos debris all across the floodplain. Cleanup wasn’t completely finished until 2001, but the contamination of the flood zone could still pose threats today.

Recent Missouri Asbestos Lawsuits

Possibly the biggest asbestos cases in recent Missouri history involved the renovation of a courthouse in Jackson County. Renovations by U.S. Engineering potentially exposed over 7,000 people to asbestos over the years, particularly government workers.

The initial plaintiffs were the family of Nancy Lopez, a woman that worked in the courthouse for 27 years who later passed away from mesothelioma. In 2011, the family was awarded $10 million in damages, the largest settlement ever for any single mesothelioma victim in Missouri.

Between 1983 and 1985, the plaintiffs alleged that U.S. Engineering took no precautions to safeguard employees from asbestos as they renovated the Jackson County Courthouse. Workers cut through pipes coated with asbestos and tracked the resulting dust throughout the building. Employees noted that grit and dust was everywhere while they worked, and it coated everything, including the papers they had to handle. There were no warning signs posted, and the dust particles blew through the building’s air vents.

Along with the initial lawsuit, Lopez’s co-workers also filed a claim against U.S. Engineering for its negligence. They merely requested that they receive free medical testing for the duration of their lives so that they might catch any asbestos-related diseases early on. This complaint turned into a class action lawsuit which resulted in an $80 million award for plaintiffs (to be split amongst many beneficiaries who might’ve been exposed).

This second case was settled in 2016, just a week before the trial was set to begin.

Changing Laws and the Future of Mesothelioma in St.Louis and Missouri

The Missouri General Assembly has been considering a bill that has the potential to hurt mesothelioma victims and their future lawsuits. This new law – currently known as HB 333 – would force plaintiffs to report (within 30 days) that they’d filed against an asbestos trust. They’d also have to disclose how much compensation they have or hope to receive. This law is what’s known as “transparency legislation” and twelve other states already have such a law.

Mesothelioma victims and their families believe that a law like would make it harder to get their day in court, allowing companies to run out the clock on their lives.

Many plaintiffs choose to sue companies in St. Louis because the state’s laws allow for it. St. Louis courts aren’t necessarily plaintiff-friendly, but the district is known for its efficient and expert judges. When big tobacco cases were litigated here, the defendant corporations notoriously won.

Still the governor of Missouri claims that the state’s civil judicial system is hurting the economy and its ability to bring in new businesses. To resolve this issue, legislators have introduced bills that look to change the state’s rules on venue and bar certain cases.

It remains to be seen whether St. Louis’s asbestos victims will still be able to get a fair shot at justice in their home state. Though recent settlements suggest that it’s still possible, current politics might be aiming to curb those cases and deny victims their day in court.

What is certain is that there will be more and more mesothelioma and asbestos victims coming forward as the latency periods for these deadly diseases tick away. Missouri residents and former workers from St. Louis’s many industries have not yet seen the end of the effects caused by years of asbestos use.

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