Family Exposures to Asbestos

People who work with asbestos can carry asbestos home on their clothes, shoes, tools, rags, work supplies, lunch boxes and hair and in their cars, thereby exposing family members to this toxic material. Exposures of this kind are referred to as “take home exposures,” “household exposures,” or “second hand exposures.” James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. is now accepting cases where family members developed asbestos related diseases, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis, because of such exposures.

Industrial hygienists have long recognized that toxic materials can be brought home by workers and have recommended various measures to protect family members from hazardous dusts.  These practices include:

  • Providing work clothes
  • Providing laundry service for work clothes
  • Providing changing areas and separate lockers for street and work clothes
  • Providing showers and washing areas
  • Educating workers about the dangers of asbestos and how to reduce their exposures.

Unfortunately, many companies failed to take any steps to prevent their employees from bringing asbestos home from work, and into their homes, where loved ones would be exposed.  Wives frequently shook the dust from their husband’s clothes before washing them, resulting in significant exposures.  If work clothes were washed in the same load as the rest of the family’s laundry, asbestos fibers could be deposited on the family’s clothes. Asbestos dust could become lodged in carpets, curtains and furniture coverings. And children could come into contact by playing on their father’s lap when he came home from work, or riding in the family car.

One of the largest verdicts in an asbestos case in West Virginia involved the son of an asbestos worker who developed and died from mesothelioma as a result of being exposed as a child to asbestos carried home on his father’s body and clothes and in the car that his father drove to and from work. James F. Humphreys & Associates, L.C. was one of the law firms which represented this gentleman’s family.

Cases of asbestosis and mesothelioma have long been reported among the family members of asbestos workers. In fact, as early as 1897, a doctor writing on lung disease in asbestos workers observed ill health among their family members. By 1924, the industrial hygiene community recognized that street clothes should not be worn at work, and that provisions should be made for washing and changing clothes in dusty occupations. By 1940, Germany had published guidelines for industrial hygiene in asbestos plants that called for separate work and street clothes and for washing work clothes. In 1965, a scientific article was published which suggested a link between asbestos disease and washing work clothes. In 1972, OSHA promulgated regulations that said that asbestos contaminated clothing should not leave the workplace.

Despite the longstanding and growing awareness of the hazards of take home exposures and how to prevent them, courts have not agreed on whether family members who develop asbestos related diseases can recover compensation from the worker’s employer. If you or a loved one have developed mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis because of second hand exposure, you need to retain an experienced law firm which can make a compelling legal argument on your behalf.

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