Asbestos in Florida

A group of six silicate minerals, asbestos was once known as a “wonder element.” The ore was used heavily in several industrial capacities due to its cost-effectiveness, durability, and fire-resistant properties. This was before researchers discovered that asbestos could cause serious illnesses (including cancer) if a person was exposed to it for too long.

In the U.S., Florida is second only to California in asbestos-related deaths.

Before asbestos health risks were discovered (and even some time after), asbestos was heavily used in insulation, pipes, and in the development of other industrial products. The U.S. military also used the mineral in the development of military bases, tools, vehicles, aircraft, ships, and shipyards.

High-Risk Areas

Asbestos does not exist naturally in Florida, but many shipments of the mineral were made to sites across the state. These sites then commercially distributed the product to the market where other companies later used the toxic mineral industrially.

Typically, areas with high rates of illness and death related to asbestos exposure have high rates of continuous construction, shipyards, and/or manufacturing plants. Because the average age of a mesothelioma diagnosis is 72 years old, some counties popular among senior citizens likewise have high rates of asbestos-related deaths.

The top 20 counties with asbestos-related deaths in Florida are:

  1. Palm Beach
  2. Pinellas
  3. Broward
  4. Miami-Dade
  5. Volusia
  6. Hillsborough
  7. Lee
  8. Pasco
  9. Brevard
  10. Duval
  11. Sarasota
  12. Marion
  13. Orange
  14. Lake
  15. Manatee
  16. Polk
  17. Hernando
  18. Collier
  19. St. Lucie
  20. Escambia
This is an image of Libby, Montana..

Libby, Montana

There was a mining site in Libby, Montana, that discovered an abundance of a mineral called vermiculite in 1881. Like asbestos, vermiculite was commonly used in insulation, brake linings, roofing, and soil conditioners. The vermiculite within this mining site was also heavily contaminated with asbestos. A company known as W.R. Grace took over Libby mining operations in 1963, fully aware of the asbestos contamination.

Despite W.R. Grace’s knowledge of asbestos pollution in the mine, as well as its harmful effects on human health, they didn’t notify their employees. They also continued distributing the contaminated vermiculite to construction sites around the country, especially Florida. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that over 100,000 tons of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite were shipped to Tampa alone.


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Occupational Exposure

Asbestos occurs as a bundle of fibers that do not pose a significant health risk when left undisturbed. However, in the case of construction, demolition, mining, renovation, and other occupations that may disturb the mineral, the fibers can become airborne and much easier to swallow or inhale.

Employees of Florida Power and Light (FPL) have filed lawsuits against their employer for asbestos exposure.

In Florida, shipyards, oil refineries, power plants, and construction sites, as well as five asbestos processing plants, were functional and operating until the 1980s, significantly increasing asbestos exposure risks. Countless people worked in shipyards from 1914 to the 1980s in the cities of:

  • Jacksonville
  • Miami
  • Panama City
  • Tampa

Even today, exposure risk is still high among many Florida employees – especially construction workers.

  • In 2007, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) investigated employee complaints against Posen Construction. Workers alleged they were forced to handle asbestos-containing material (ACM) without protection. Moreover, they were told to dump the material in a new lake near Alico Road in Fort Myers.
  • In 2014, the Department investigated asbestos-related violations in Pensacola. Inspections of Maverick Demolition, Inc. seemed to show five violations including improper removal and disposal of ACM.


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Commercial Buildings and Residential Homes

Floridians who inhabit old houses or building structures are at considerable risk for exposure to asbestos. Many building products were manufactured with asbestos to increase their strength and fireproof them. Nearly all houses built before the 1980s have asbestos somewhere in their structure. Additionally, water damage and other types of weather damage significantly increase the chance of exposing residents to asbestos-containing insulation and cement.

Asbestos-containing products to look out for in older residential and commercial structures include:

  • Caulking
  • Ceiling tiles and popcorn ceilings
  • Corrugated roof sheets
  • Decorative plaster
  • Interior walls
  • Insulation
  • Pipe insulation
  • Siding
  • Vinyl floor tiles

Since asbestos fibers are harmful when disturbed, it could be dangerous to renovate or otherwise disturb older structures. If you happen to have asbestos items in your home and need to renovate or demolish them, there are professional asbestos abatement companies that can help you safely remove these items without risking exposure.


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Military

Across the state, there are 21 U.S. military bases, from all branches of the military. Furthermore, the Pensacola-Jacksonville area houses more military installations than any other city in the state.

Today, veterans make up almost 30 percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses.

Veterans of the U.S. Navy (followed by Marines) are most likely to develop asbestos-related conditions due to its prevalence in ships, shipyards, buildings, and planes. Too, many of Florida’s naval bases were built decades before public health regulation. Consequently, thousands of men and women stationed in Florida were exposed to asbestos.

Typically, military jobs that exposed servicemembers to the highest concentrations of asbestos include:

  • Aviation engineer and mechanic
  • Boilerman
  • Engine mechanic
  • Hull technician
  • Machinist’s mate
  • Pipefitter

Military bases built and ran by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps in Florida include:

  • Naval Air Station Jacksonville – The base was commissioned during World War II. Today, it is the size of a small town.
  • Naval Air Station Key West – In Boca Chia Key, Florida, the base is a training area for air combat.
  • Naval Air Station Pensacola – Located next to Warrington and nicknamed “The Cradle of Naval Aviation,” this base was the first station commissioned by the Navy in 1914.
  • Naval Air Station Whiting Field – This base is in the Northwest Florida Panhandle and has a large community of military retirees.
  • Naval Station Mayport – A part of three Navy bases in the Jacksonville area.
  • Naval Support Activity Panama City – The base sits on St. Andrew Bay in Panama City Beach. This naval warfare unit houses many ships with a direct, deep-water route to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • United States Southern Command – Headquartered in Doral, the command is a joint force representing the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

Asbestos-Related Conditions

Several asbestos-related conditions can develop from prolonged asbestos exposure. Diseases from asbestos have long latency periods, as sometimes an illness can take over 20 years to develop. Diseases caused by exposure to the mineral include:

Cancer

  • Mesothelioma – The most common illness to develop from prolonged exposure. Mesothelioma occurs when tumors form in the tissue linings of the lung (pleural), heart (pericardial), or abdomen (peritoneal), the lung being the most frequent location.
  • Lung cancer – Like mesothelioma, only instead of cancer forming in the tissue lining of the lungs, the tumors develop within the lung.

Non-Cancer Diseases

  • Asbestosis – When asbestos fibers damage and scar lung tissues.
  • Pleural effusion – Fluid buildup in the space between lung and chest cavities.
  • Pleural plaques – Benign portions of the lining of the lungs thicken.

The most common symptom of these combined conditions is breathing difficulty. If you have reason to believe you’ve been exposed to asbestos and have chronic breathing issues, see a doctor immediately. The earlier disease can be detected, the more treatment options a patient can have.

Think you’ve worked or lived somewhere with high asbestos risk? Request a case evaluation to assess your chances for exposure.
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Florida Asbestos Regulations

Since there’s such a daunting number of old, asbestos-contaminated buildings in Florida, the state has a series of strict regulations put in place to prevent environmental exposure from the demolition of such properties. In 1982, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Asbestos Removal Program came into effect, pushed by the EPA to protect Florida residents.

Those who plan to bring changes to the structure of any of the below-listed buildings must notify the Florida DEP first:

  • Two or more neighboring residential buildings
  • Commercial buildings
  • Industrial structures
  • Institutional buildings
  • Public buildings
  • Ships
  • Waste disposal sites

The state of Florida follows the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) to aid in protecting its residents. The NESHAP is a national set of regulations developed by the EPA, as stated by the Clean Air Act (CAA).

NESHAP puts the responsibility of proper asbestos removal onto building owners and managers. The Florida DEP is the entity responsible for administering the NESHAP regulations under the Florida Administrative Code.

The NESHAP’s purpose is to protect public health by minimizing the release of asbestos fibers during activities that involve the processing, handling, and disposal of asbestos-containing materials, otherwise known as ACMs. The program also clearly defines work practices to be followed during demolition, renovation, or disturbance of most structures, installations, and buildings. The regulations also require that the owner/operator of the building notify the correct DEP district office or local program before any demolition or renovation of ACMs.

Florida Homes With Asbestos

Many Florida homes were built before materials like asbestos-containing popcorn ceilings or siding were outlawed. Continuous heat and rain can damage these structures and release hazardous toxins into the air too small for the eye to see.

To protect homebuyers, Florida laws require sellers to disclose a range of information about the house. Any history of sinkholes, legal claims, and environmental hazards (including asbestos, Chinese drywall, lead, and mold) must be disclosed to buyers. Usually, sellers log these on the Florida Seller’s Property Disclosure form.

Legal Compensation for Florida Citizens

Those diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related conditions were most likely exposed while on a job site and without their knowledge. The employer may be liable for this exposure due to negligence or lack of adherence to asbestos regulations. Victims may be eligible for compensation if they’ve developed an illness from prolonged exposure.

Patients can file a personal injury lawsuit against the companies responsible, or in the case that the patient dies before the claim is filed, a family member can file a wrongful death suit.

Speak with an experienced attorney about the unique details of your potential case, they’ll be able to tell you your options and suggest the best methods for filing a claim.

Florida Mesothelioma Treatment Centers and Surrounding Areas

If you develop mesothelioma or another cancer due to asbestos exposure, a cancer treatment center could prove to be extremely beneficial. There have an array of medical professionals with specific experience in handling a patient’s cancer diagnosis and developing a specialized treatment plan.

Cancer treatment centers in and around Florida include:

Florida

Georgia

Alabama

Next Steps

Give your doctor a visit if you suspect you’ve been exposed to asbestos at any point in your life. You can also contact your local Florida Department of Environmental Protection if you have any questions about asbestos in your area.

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