Asbestos Exposure in Alabama
Alabama is home to nine naturally-occurring asbestos deposits, which are found in the northern portion of the state along the Alabama-Georgia border. These sites were prospected but never mined commercially. Alabama received most of its asbestos from other states, including the contaminated ore mined in Libby, Montana.
Residents who were exposed to asbestos came into contact with the toxin primarily in occupational settings. Asbestos was durable, cheap, and heat-resistant, and heavily used on construction sites and in manufacturing plants. Those who worked in these industries before the government regulated its use, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, faced the highest risk of asbestos exposure.
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Manufacturing plants, shipyards, factories, and military installations across Alabama used asbestos-containing products, exposing thousands of workers to the toxic mineral.
Fort McClellan, located near the town of Anniston, was a U.S. Army training installation that opened in 1917. The Army’s Chemical Corps, which trained soldiers in chemical warfare, was housed there. Service members who worked and lived there before 1999 may have been exposed to trace amounts of radioactive materials and toxic waste, including asbestos. The installation closed in 1999 as part of the Army Base Closure and Realignment Committee (BRAC). It has since been remediated and now houses the Alabama National Guard and other state agencies.
Residents who worked in large shipyards, like the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, were regularly exposed to large amounts of asbestos. It was the perfect insulation for heavy-duty equipment in boiler rooms, on pipes, and within ship walls. Fireproofing materials containing asbestos were also used in engine rooms. Shipbuilders who built or repaired large vessels often cut through steel, disturbing the asbestos that was used in paint and products and would inhale the excess dust.
U.S. Steel Corporation, which had locations in Birmingham, Fairfield, Ensley, and Irondale, used raw ore imported from a vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana, that was contaminated with asbestos. Vermiculite is an odorless, fire-resistant mineral that expands to more than 30 times its original size. It was used in many products, including building insulation, and was often sold under the brand name Zonolite. The same shipments of raw ore were sent to Zonolite exfoliation plants in Alabama, where workers were exposed to large amounts of dust containing toxic asbestos fibers.
Manufacturing plants were another source of asbestos exposure for Alabama workers. One particular factory, the Cement Asbestos Products Company, or Capco Pipe, manufactured water pipes using a combination of cement and asbestos. The pipes were constructed in Ragland and shipped across the country. Workers from the plant handled asbestos without any masks or protection, inhaling the dangerous dust every shift.
School Teachers and Administrators
Before asbestos was regulated in the early 1980s, schools were insulated with asbestos-contaminated products. The material is no longer used in construction, but teachers, administrators, and students face a higher risk of exposure in older buildings. If asbestos-containing materials like drywall, vinyl flooring, textured paint, or wallboard are disturbed, the fibers are released into the air.
The Consequences of Asbestos Exposure
Many Alabama residents handled asbestos directly and weren’t even aware the substance was toxic. Billy Ray St. John worked on the line at Capco Industries in Ragland for 14 years. The company manufactured cement asbestos pipe, which was used to carry water.
To date, Billy Ray doesn’t have any asbestos-related diseases. However, his wife Inez developed pleural mesothelioma through secondary exposure. For years, she inhaled toxic asbestos dust while doing his laundry and cleaning his shoes.
Inez died in July 2019. Shortly after her mesothelioma diagnosis in November 2018, the St. John family spoke to Mesothelioma Hub, and Billy Ray described his experience working in the plant.
“I moved to a job on the line grinding the pipe, and it was very dusty,” Billy Ray said. “Then I went from that job, on down the line to ‘flex.’ We would flex the pipe to see if it would break or anything, and then we’d roll it, down through there, and the end of it would be full of that dust. A lot of times, we’d catch it with our hands if we could.
It looked like you have flour on your clothes, it would be real dusty with that flour, and it was on my shirts. And she would wash my clothes, and the dust would come off when you would, she would pick them up. It was real dusty.”
Asbestos Exposure at Alabama Jobsites
In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted an assessment of sites that likely received thousands of tons of asbestos-contaminated ore mined in Libby, Montana. The agency compiled the list below:
- Robert Smith Company
- Southern Zonolite Company/W.R. Grace
- U.S. Steel Corporation
- U.S. Steel Corporation/Ensley Blast Furnace
- Zonolite Company/W.R. Grace
If you or a loved one worked at or near one of these job sites, you might be eligible for compensation.
Tornado in Tuscaloosa Exposes Thousands to Asbestos
On April 27th, 2011, a deadly tornado ripped through the town of Tuscaloosa. The monster storm was 1.5 miles wide, with winds measuring 190 mph. It left behind a 5.9-mile path of destruction that killed 53 people, injured nearly 1,000, and decimated thousands of homes and buildings.
Not only was the damage extensive, but it also created a public health crisis. The tornado destroyed nearly 7,000 old buildings and homes that were constructed with asbestos, releasing toxic fibers into the air, where they could be inhaled or ingested.
As workers sorted through the wreckage, they struggled to find the proper way to safely remove and dispose of asbestos-laden materials found in residential neighborhoods. Federal laws regulate asbestos abatement in commercial and multi-family buildings, like apartment complexes. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) is in charge of these buildings. However, there was no plan in place for single-family homes.
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Alabama’s Asbestos Laws
Before 1980, Alabama operated under a “last exposure rule” that allowed families or workers only a brief window of time to file an asbestos lawsuit. This law only provided workers one year to file a claim, based on their last exposure.
The regulation also didn’t take into account when patients were diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. Cancers like mesothelioma have a long latency period or time between exposure and the onset of symptoms. Some patients aren’t diagnosed for decades.
The “last exposure rule” was amended on May 17, 1980. The state now uses a “discovery rule” for victims, which begins when they are diagnosed. Under current state laws, which have been modified throughout the last decade, patients with an asbestos-related illness have two years from the time of diagnosis to file a claim.
If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos at work or home, you may be eligible for compensation. Complete our free case evaluation to connect with a qualified mesothelioma attorney.