Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which the malignant cells are found in the sac lining of the lungs (the pleura), the lining of the abdominal cavity (the peritoneum), or the lining around the heart (the pericardium). Mesothelioma is mainly a disease that results from occupational or environmental exposure to airborne asbestos dust. The disease may not manifest itself until 30 to 40 years after the exposure to asbestos. People diagnosed with mesothelioma are often told that they only have eight to twelve months to live. Surgery and radiation therapy can lengthen life expectancy by removing or reducing the tumors.
The incidence of mesothelioma in the United States is about 14 cases per million people per year. A threefold increase in mesothelioma in males between 1970 and 1984 is directly associated with environmental and occupational exposure to asbestos, mostly in areas of asbestos product plants and shipbuilding facilities. During the construction and maintenance of American warships and other large vessels, shipyard workers and military personnel were commonly exposed to asbestos-containing boilers, insulation, turbines, pipe covering, pumps, gaskets, brake pads, and other asbestos containing products. Other industries that have greater than average incidence of occupational mesothelioma are aluminum plants, chemical plants, oil refineries, power plants, and steel mills.
Only a short duration of exposure to asbestos is needed to have a high risk of developing mesothelioma. Some cases of mesothelioma have been reported after only one to three months of exposure. However, the disease may not become apparent until after 15 to 30 years have passed. In a review of occupationally related mesothelioma cases, the median latency for the development of the disease was 32 years.
There are many attorneys who specialize in representing patients with mesothelioma because it is almost a foregone conclusion that some company or institution is guilty of not having provided adequate environmental control for a tenant at home or for an employee in the workplace. If the attorneys can identify the source of asbestos exposure, the case is relatively easy to win.
In 2008, W.R. Grace, a mining company, agreed to pay the federal government $250 million for environmental cleanup around its vermiculite mine and processing plant in Libby, Montana. The vermiculite, which is a mineral used for insulation and other building materials, was contaminated with high levels of asbestos. The mine operated from 1963 to 1990, and more than 1,200 people became ill, and some died. Exposure to asbestos causes scarring of lung tissue as well as mesothelioma. In 2005, federal prosecutors charged W. R. Grace and seven senior employees with knowingly exposing miners and residents in Libby to asbestos. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2001 as the result of hundreds of millions of dollars in asbestos poisoning claims. In an effort to emerge from seven years of bankruptcy protection, W. R. Grace agreed to settle the asbestos claims for $1.8 billion Dollars.