Veterans diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma know that one of the most painful aspects of being diagnosed with this rare form of cancer is the knowledge that they are leaving behind devastated family and friends. That was certainly the case for Pietrao Macaluso, a 56-year-old construction worker who died after years of removing asbestos-contaminated boiler equipment from single family homes in Brooklyn in the 1970s and 1980s. This week a Manhattan jury listening to a negligence case against the manufacturers of those boilers also saw that pain and loss, and awarded Macaluso’s girlfriend and eleven-year-old twins compensation in the amount of $60 million.
For many people, the most upsetting aspect of a mesothelioma diagnosis – or any other asbestos-related disease – is learning that their condition could have been prevented. Ask any veteran diagnosed with pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma about where their cancer came from and they are likely to recite a list of companies that supplied their branch of the military with asbestos-contaminated materials, hiding the mineral’s dangers from America’s Armed Forces administration in order to reap the biggest possible profit. In recent years, many of those companies have been forced to pay big payouts to mesothelioma victims, both to compensate them for their medical expenses and as punishment for having been so careless with so many human lives. Now one of America’s leading consumer companies is facing the same punishment as a New Jersey jury ordered Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier to pay a 46-year-old banker and his wife $117 million in damages.
The presence of hidden asbestos is what has been behind many mesothelioma diagnoses in America’s veterans and tens of thousands of others. For veterans, the asbestos was in the insulation and other components of battle ships and barracks, vehicles and weapons, and nobody who worked with it was aware of its dangers: its deadly effects were only made public decades later when the fatal form of cancer’s symptoms began to arise. Unfortunately, the same asbestos that caused so much pain and suffering for veterans is also hidden in an estimated 30 million American homes that were insulated using Zonolite, an insulation made from the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from the Libby, Montana vermiculite mine. This insulation can do harm if disturbed, and up until now there has been no easy or effective way for homeowners to determine the source of their insulation, but now the U.S. Geological Survey has announced the availability of a hand-held spectrometer that makes the process simple.
If you are a veteran who’s been affected by malignant mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease, then you’re well aware that most diagnoses could have been prevented if only corporations and asbestos companies had acted responsibly when they had the chance. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos, a mineral that was publicly revealed to be a carcinogen in the 1970s. It has been proven that the management of many companies whose products incorporated asbestos were aware of its dangers long before that announcement was made, and chose to keep the information secret. That’s how so many of America’s military personnel were exposed to asbestos prior to the 1970s, and tens of thousands of other workers as well. Unfortunately, a recently adjudicated mesothelioma lawsuit involving consumer giant Johnson & Johnson has made it apparent that there was also asbestos present in many consumer products, and that like so many others, the company hid the information in order to continue reaping huge profits.
The statistics about veterans and mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are sobering: roughly one out of every three victims is a veteran of the United States Navy, Army, Marines or another branch of the Armed Services. Though the actions of asbestos companies that knowingly provided asbestos-contaminated products to the military during the war years and the years thereafter were unconscionable, those companies were not alone in the disregard they showed for their potential victims. Another example is being seen right now in a New Jersey court room, where a jury is deliberating about the culpability of one of America’s corporate giants in the mesothelioma diagnosis of a 46-year-old banker.
It is well known that unethical behavior by companies was behind tens of thousands of cases of malignant mesothelioma in veterans and others in the United States. In the years prior to the 1970s, that behavior came in the form of exposing workers and military personnel to asbestos while knowing that the material was dangerous: no protective clothing was provided and no warnings given, and as a result untold numbers of victims were put at risk for asbestos-related disease. Though it is now well known that asbestos is carcinogenic, that does not mean that companies are behaving any better today. The most recent example is the story of a family in Littleton, Colorado that hired a contractor to remove a popcorn ceiling in their 1970s-built home. Though they specifically told him that the ceiling likely contained asbestos, he went ahead and did work without an asbestos license. The result was an extensive contamination of the family’s home.
Though it’s hard for anybody unfamiliar with asbestos-related cases to imagine, the news that an company has pushed back against an elderly woman’s request to have her trial date expedited comes as no surprise to veterans with mesothelioma and others impacted by this carcinogenic material. Fortunately, the appeals court judge overseeing Ardella and Robert Fox’s case against Metalclad Insulation, LLC. dismissed the asbestos company’s argument, calling it “baseless” and saying that it “makes no sense at all.”
Every new discovery about the mechanism behind malignant mesothelioma brings us one step closer to finding a cure, and researchers from the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine made a big enough discovery to bring us several steps closer. According to a study published in The FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) Journal, a group of scientists there have discovered how contact with asbestos in one part of the body leads to mesothelioma tumors forming in another part of the body.
Annette and Leonard Faram should have been able to enjoy their golden years together instead of having to struggle with malignant mesothelioma. But the rare and deadly form of cancer claimed Annette’s life at the age of 82, decades after she had been exposed to asbestos while washing Leonard’s asbestos-contaminated work clothes each day.
Veterans who have been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos in variety of settings. For many their exposure came while serving in Navy ships or in shipyards, while others breathed in the toxic dost in the barracks or mess halls, or while driving military vehicles. Knowing the pain and misery that asbestos causes, it makes an odd type of sense that it originated while in a dangerous setting: that’s why it is so difficult to imagine that people living in the beautiful tropical setting of the U.S. Virgin Islands are also at risk from the rare and deadly disease, but it’s true.