Mesothelioma Attorneys by State > Washington
How a Past Filled of Asbestos Impacts the State of Washington Today
While the state of Washington today is filled with pristine outdoor landscapes, Seattle tech startups, and environmentally friendly policies, its past was not immune to our nation’s history of abundant asbestos use. At least 1,730 people in the state have died from mesothelioma since 1979, and asbestos exposure and contamination has been confirmed in 90 cities within its borders.
Washington ranks 8th in the number of deaths caused by asbestos in the United States. And in terms of death rates, Washington’s is over 50% higher than the national average.
So why is this? What exactly happened in the state of Washington that exposed so many of its citizens to the toxic asbestos leading to these high rates of mesothelioma and other deadly diseases?
Coastlines, Shipbuilding, and World War II
Seattle Washington’s location on the water made it a hub for shipbuilding and repairs, especially during World War II. The Puget Sound, home to Todd Pacific and Bremerton Naval Shipyard, was rife with shipbuilding jobs during these years, and another naval shipbuilding company, Kaiser, was located just up the Columbia River. The Navy and other builders used asbestos as fireproofing material, insulation, and pipe lagging in ships. It was economical useful and durable, and tons of it was used to insulate boilers, hulls, and pipes in military vessels.
Many naval employees and shipyard workers had jobs that exposed them to the deadly mineral every day. Not only were asbestos insulators subjected to regular harm through handling and breathing of fibers, but machinists, pipefitters, electricians, painters, boilermakers, and shipfitters were frequently in direct contact with the toxin.
Reports about the dangers of asbestos exposure at shipyards date back to the 1940s, yet long hours below deck without adequate ventilation continued to be part of the job description for workers here. And the men who later crewed these vessels and lived in the ship’s tight asbestos-insulated quarters weren’t safe from it either.
The toxin was used so extensively in this industry that researchers estimate that asbestos may have ultimately killed the same number of shipyard workers as servicemen who were killed while serving in the line of duty during WWII.
It’s no surprise then that asbestos exposure has hit military veterans particularly hard, with the Navy being the branch most affected by related diseases. In fact, veterans file 30% of all mesothelioma lawsuits.
The Timber Industry
The wood industry has always been a central part of Washington’s economy, including secondary products like paper and its derivatives. Many paper and pulp mills in the northwestern part of the state still have asbestos in their machinery and buildings today. The toxic substance is even used in the actual paper-making process, particularly in drying felts and adhesives, leaving employees of the industry at risk for exposure.
Oil Refineries and Power Plants
While Washington doesn’t produce any oil, it’s the first port of call for oil tankers coming in from Alaska. Because of this geographical fact, the state became a center for oil refineries. Hazards are a daily part of the job for petroleum workers, as asbestos is known for being an excellent flame retardant, used not just in fire doors and pipes of these facilities, but in fireproof suits, gloves, and hoods that workers were made to wear. This wearable asbestos was known to become friable if the suits were damaged or ripped, and many workers subsequently inhaled or swallowed the deadly fibers.
Though some have since been closed, Washington is also home to nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. In terms of asbestos exposure, these are some of the most dangerous workplaces for employees regardless of precautions taken. Power plants historically used asbestos as insulation around pipes, wires, boilers, and generators, and exposure became almost inevitable.
Airplanes and Aluminum
Boeing, the international aircraft manufacturing company, has a huge presence in Seattle Tacoma (SEA) and other smaller towns located nearby. With the building of aircrafts necessarily comes metal fabrication, another job where asbestos-coated gear was prevalent and often mandatory. Boeing has since cleaned up the asbestos used in its facilities, but at least one generation of employees was exposed to asbestos during their time with the company and has had to deal with its deadly consequences.
Along those lines, aluminum production has also been a valued industry in Washington since World War II. That manufacturing requires very high heat, and though it’s not as deadly as working in a steel mill in terms of asbestos exposure levels, that deadly mineral contained in the insulation often became friable. Fibers were released into the air of these factories that employees breathed every day on the job.
Washington, like many other states, once processed asbestos in one form or another using shipments of asbestos from the mines in Libby, Montana. The Vermiculite NW plant located in Spokane imported tons of the dangerous mineral in order to manufacture an insulation called Zonolite. Around 63,611 tons were shipped to over 33 sites all over the state.
But perhaps what’s worse, investigations showed that conditions inside the Spokane insulation plant were “extremely dusty,” and workers had likely been exposed to levels of asbestos in the air that significantly infringed upon occupational standards of the time (though no level of exposure has proven to be safe). Shockingly, air samples from 1972 and 1973 exceeded OSHA standards by 4 to 500 times.
Former workers at the plant have spoken of coworkers who have died from lung disease A newspaper in the area reported the death of at least one employee with mesothelioma which occurred 36 years after working at Vermiculite NW for only 23 months. Soil samples from the site still test positive for asbestos and even off-site samples show trace levels of the toxin.
Naturally Occurring Asbestos
Not your typical source of asbestos exposure, Washington has several sources of naturally occurring asbestos within its borders. Fortunately, a few of them remained unmined.
Chrysotile asbestos can be found in serpentine rock deposits in the northeastern part of the state. (Serpentine rock is the source of nearly all commercial asbestos.) Two mining sites in Skagit County and Okanogan County actually produced a modest amount of asbestos from the 1890s through the 1930s. The former was a mine over 75 feet long, while the latter was an open pit mine used to generate asbestos for paint and plaster. The mine workers from these job sites were heavily exposed to the toxin.
Another site being monitored by the EPA is the area around where the former Asbestos-Talc corporation worked. A quarry near Swift Creek and the Sumas River in Whatcom County may have caused deposits to flow into those waters, which could cause airborne asbestos for residents when river levels are low.
An Unusually High Rates of Asbestos-Related Diseases
There’s been an odd finding when it comes to malignant mesothelioma rates in King County, Seattle Washington and surrounding counties.
Three counties – Kitsap, Franklin, and Mason – were included among the thirty counties in the whole country with the highest rates of malignant mesothelioma. These counties suffered deaths at rates of 48.0, 39.6, and 37.4 respectively, compared to a national average of 11.1. A second study that looked at geographic distributions of the cancer found that two Washington counties – Kitsap and Pierce – both fell within the twenty counties with the highest malignant mesothelioma rates in the nation.
Mesothelioma Cases in Washington and the Future of These Diseases
Luckily, it appears that the courts in Washington are taking the issues of asbestos exposure seriously, enforcing laws requiring the safe disposal of the toxin and criminally charging contractors who misrepresent having met those requirements. Interestingly, courts have also upheld verdicts for mesothelioma victims who contracted the disease via second-hand exposure. Barbara Brandes was awarded $3.5 million after suing her husband’s employer, Brand Insulations, for negligence.
Her husband worked as an operator at the insulation refinery, and each day she would wash his work clothes and sweep up the dust that fell off of them, breathing in the deadly fibers and unknowingly exposing her family to the danger. This verdict is an important victory for mesothelioma victims as as it is the largest in the state of Washington for a “take home” exposure case, however, Ms. Brandes passed away before the trial was completed.
The peak of asbestos use in Washington fell between the 1960s and 1980s, which means that the state has yet to see the full impact that it will have on the population’s health. Although there have already been over 7,200 asbestos-related deaths from 1999 to 2013, with the prevalence of dangerous jobs throughout Washington’s history, the state will likely see even more. Located along the Puget Sound and the former capital of the shipbuilding industry, King County (where Seattle is located) currently sees close to 100 asbestos-related deaths per year.
Sadly, due to the long latency periods of diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis, many of those shipbuilders, veterans, timber industry employees, and power plant workers have not yet been diagnosed with a cancer that may eventually end their lives.
Mesothelioma treatment centers in Washington:
At least 1730 people have died due to asbestos exposure since the year 1979 . Mesothelioma is a fatal condition and the diagnosis of this disease is critical, because it can develop symptoms spontaneously years and years after the asbestos exposure that triggered it initially. This is why it is crucial to get an early diagnosis so that treatment can be started as soon as possible. The state of Washington has the following treatment center for mesothelioma:
UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
DEPT. OF SURGERY
MESOTHELIOMA TREATMENT SECTION
1959 NE PACIFIC ST. BOX 356310
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON 98195-6310