William didn’t “connect the dots” –or asbestos fibers-- until he was recently diagnosed with asbestosis. “First I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2005 but I don’t smoke and the doctors at the VA hospital never explained how else I could have developed this disease,” he says.
(According to asbestos.com, COPD is not directly caused by asbestos, but researchers suspect that exposure can increase a person’s risk for developing an asbestos-related disease, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.)
“I worked at a sandblasting company in the early 1970s where we blasted paint and rust off large butane tanks,” says William. “Asbestos was coated on the tanks and the air would be completely clouded over with asbestos fibers and who knows what other chemicals. We didn’t have any safety gear, nobody ever mentioned it.”
William explains that, although he didn’t know it at the time, he did some research after his asbestosis diagnosis and found out that the heaters and pipes he helped demolish from commercial and residential buildings were insulated with asbestos. “Again, no safety gear— we weren’t even given as much as a paper mask,” he adds.
Asbestos was widely used in the construction industry up until the 1970s. One recent asbestos lawsuit was filed on behalf of six Tennessee workers who alleged that they were exposed to asbestos after contractors refused to supply them with safety equipment. At the time, and like William, the workers were unaware that the materials they were ordered to demolish contained asbestos—and they were told as much by the contractors. However, government manuals later revealed that indeed, the materials did contain asbestos.
READ MORE ASBESTOS MESOTHELIOMA LEGAL NEWS
Acting on his asbestos attorney’s advice, William has compiled a list of companies he worked for, contractors and any brand names of products potentially containing asbestos that he can remember. But it is an effort just to do that: He is now living with supplemental oxygen and is completely house-bound—at 65 years old. “Sometimes I can’t take a deep breath and it feels like I am suffocating,” he says.
Construction workers, along with shipyard workers, auto mechanic and military veterans are at the greatest risk of asbestos exposure. These occupations are known to have the most prevalent asbestos use.