Asbestos Exposure in Louisiana
Before the 1970s, asbestos was a “miracle mineral” that was used in many industrial capacities for its durability, heat-resistance, and cost-effectiveness. The U.S. military also heavily utilized the mineral in construction. Louisiana ranks 20th for asbestos exposure in the U.S. due to its significant involvement in oil. Prolonged exposure to asbestos can cause progressive cancer known as mesothelioma, which can attack the lungs (pleura), abdomen (peritoneum), or heart (pericardium).
These locations are high-risk because they’ve been connected to asbestos on some level. Jobs that tend to be risky for exposure include:
- Construction workers
- Demolition crews
- Drywall installers
- Factory and plant workers
- Shipyard crew members
- Tile and roof installers
Asbestos occurs naturally in the environment in certain rock deposits. Occasionally, extreme weather or other disturbances can transfer the mineral to other places in the environment, like running water, soil, and air. Even natural asbestos exposure can lead to the development of mesothelioma requiring treatment similar to that prescribed to individuals with lung cancer.
At one point, thousands of pounds of vermiculite contaminated with asbestos was mined from Libby, Montana, and shipped to dozens of processing plants around the country, including Louisiana. This accounted for 70 percent of vermiculite in the United States. Vermiculite is a mineral, with similar properties to asbestos, and also used in several building capacities. In Libby, rates of lung cancer and mesothelioma diagnoses related to asbestos exposure skyrocketed.
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In 2001, it was verified that exfoliation plants in Orleans Parish, Jefferson Parish, and St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana received contaminated vermiculite from the mine in Libby. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) received funding to clean up the sites, but populations living near these facilities may have been exposed.
Asbestos is especially dangerous when its fibers are disturbed. This includes renovation, construction, and demolition projects. When Hurricane Katrina hit, old structures that contained asbestos were severely damaged, releasing the mineral into the air and water. Residents and workers alike were put at risk for exposure.
As workers began to help with cleanup, they removed concrete, bricks, and insulation that contained asbestos and silica. Silica is another toxic mineral and can cause silicosis, a type of lung disease that’s irreversible and associated with lung cancer.
Asbestos was a primary product in many factories, plants, refineries, mines, and more, as it wasn’t declared a cancer-causing substance until after 1970. Even then, the mineral was still used in many building capacities after that. It continued to further contaminate job sites and older structures all around the United States, putting employees and residents at risk for disease. This makes many worksites in Louisiana subject to exposure from the harmful mineral. Some places known for asbestos exposure include:
Oil Refineries and Shipyards
Since Louisiana is right above the Gulf of Mexico, they have a lot of oil refineries and shipyards. Most of which had some form of asbestos within. Workers were exposed to the harmful mineral every day at their jobs, and have now begun developing cases of mesothelioma.
W.R.Grace in New Orleans was a primary mover of asbestos. As well as ExxonMobil, who are now receiving lawsuits for their negligence of asbestos in their petroleum. In 1989, Exxon suffered a deadly explosion in Baton Rouge, further contaminating the port and areas around it. Exxon began facing charges for asbestos in their chemical plants and oil refineries as early as 1937. Some other places that have known asbestos exposure or otherwise exposed employees during employment in Louisiana include:
- Anco Insulations, Inc.
- Baton Rouge refinery
- CITGO Petroleum Corp.
- Enterprise Gas Processing LLC
- Jacob Contractors Inc.
- Humble Oil and Refining Co.
- National Steel and Shipbuilding Company shipyard
- Sasol Chemicals
- Scenic Highway refinery
- Shell Oil facility
Superfund Job Sites
There are thousands of contaminated worksites in the US from asbestos, as well as other toxic substances. The Environmental Agency (EPA) is the organization responsible for minimizing the risk of exposure to toxic substances. The EPA currently utilizes the Superfund, money put in place to help clean contaminated job sites, to find asbestos and remove it from worksites if the owner or other responsible party doesn’t come forward. The W.R. Grace in New Orleans is a designated Superfund site.
Schools and Other Aged Structures
All buildings built before 1980 have the risk of asbestos contamination. A couple of New Orleans charter schools, Lafayette Academy and Rosenwald Collegiate Academy are currently facing two years and multimillion-dollar costs for asbestos removal from their buildings. Other schools that have been contaminated in the past include:
- Lockport Middle School
- Louisiana Tech University
- Greenbrier Elementary School
- St. Francis Xavier School
- St. Amant High School
- Tulane University
Regulations Against Asbestos
There are multiple organizations in place to help combat exposure to and ban asbestos in the United States. The EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) are such organizations.
The EPA passed a set of regulations known as the National Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). Louisiana follows the NESHAP and has also placed state regulations for minimizing exposure to asbestos and reducing its legal use. NESHAP, paired with Louisiana’s state regulations, are put in place to reduce chances for the release of asbestos fibers during all activities that require contact with the carcinogen.
One legal regulation in Louisiana that differs from others is the Louisiana School Abatement Act. This maintains the acknowledgment that asbestos products were used in elementary and secondary schools. The remainder of Louisiana regulations has state specifics on aspects of the NESHAP, such as how certain rules are enforced and the necessary accreditation and legal documentation.
Legal Recourse for Louisiana Residents
Because there is no legal level of exposure, if a person experienced hazardous exposure while on the job and developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related condition, their employer could be held responsible for negligence. It’s essential to speak with an experienced mesothelioma attorney about the details of your illness and exposure to see if you have a case.
Cancer Treatment Centers Near Louisiana
There are many experienced, medical professionals at cancer treatment centers. These doctors have seen many patients with similar lung cases and can offer you specific resources and treatment based on the results from other patients like you. Cancer treatment centers near Louisiana include:
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Main: (713) 792-6161
Toll Free: 1-877-632-6789 (1-877-MDA-6789)
Stephenson Cancer Center
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Main: (800) 750 – 2273
If you suspect you’ve worked in a contaminated environment and were exposed, you don’t have to go through this alone. Get in to see your doctor immediately for a lung screening, diagnosis, and treatment.
It could be helpful to consider where you were exposed. If you came into contact with asbestos at the workplace, it’s most likely due to employer negligence and you could be eligible for compensation via a legal claim.