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Silicosis Litigation on the Rise

Mar 29, 2008
In the early 1930s, a mining scandal in Hawk's Nest, West Virginia rocketed the country, calling attention to the dangers of an industrial mineral called crystalline silica. A construction company asked its workers to mine the mineral using dynamite, but did not give them breathing masks to prevent them from inhaling the thick dust that resulted. Nor were the workers told of the dangers of the silica dust, which collected so heavily on their skin and clothes that they tracked it home at night. As little as a year later, they began dying of a severe respiratory difficulty that we now know was probably silicosis, a disabling and incurable lung disease.

The Hawk's Nest scandal resulted in a slew of lawsuits and a new, strict set of workplace safety standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandating ventilation, protective gear and limits on how long a worker may be exposed to silica. Since the Great Depression, the number of U.S. silicosis deaths has steadily declined, and personal-injury suits related to the disease have dwindled that is, until now.

In the past four years, the number of silicosis-related lawsuits filed in the U.S. has skyrocketed. U.S. Silica, one of the nation's largest makers of industrial silica sand, reported a tenfold rise in personal-injury suits against it between June of 2001 and June of 2002. The state of Mississippi saw 76 new silicosis suits statewide in 2001; by the end of 2004, that figure was more than 20,000.

Part of that rise can be attributed to simple probability. Silica is the second most common mineral on Earth, found in hundreds of industrial materials such as concrete, cement, sands, paints and pavement. And despite the well-known danger of silicosis, which was identified in European stone cutters as early as 1705, some employers still fail to adequately protect their workers or warn them to avoid silica dust. OSHA reports that 1.7 million U.S. workers are exposed to silica dust each year; 250 of those workers die.

But another part of the increase in silicosis litigation has to do with its similarities with asbestos litigation. Like silica, asbestos is an industrial mineral that was once widespread in construction and manufacturing, potentially exposing millions of Americans to a debilitating disease. Like silica, asbestos can be inhaled but not exhaled, causing lung scarring and crippling respiratory damage. The same industries and many of the same companies were involved in the manufacture and use of both minerals.

Unlike silica litigation, asbestos litigation has passed its peak, with many lawsuits either finished or slated for a general settlement fund put together by Congress. With awareness of silica dust's dangers rising, asbestos attorneys are now lending their experience and expertise to silica litigation.

Like asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases, silicosis is caused by the human body's inability to breathe out fine particles that reach toxic concentrations with repeated occupational exposure. Once silica finds its way into the body, it lodges deep within a part of the lungs that can't be cleared by coughing or mucous.

Over time, this causes inflammation, scarring, and a tissue buildup called pulmonary fibrosis - all of which leave the victim short of breath after even light exercise.

Other symptoms include fatigue, extremities turning blue, loss of appetite and a persistent cough. In more severe cases, silicosis can weaken the heart and cause respiratory failure, leaving patients dependent on a respirator to breathe. It has no cure. And because silicosis is caused only by occupational exposure, it is 100 percent preventable.
About the Author
To learn more about silicosis lawsuits, visit http://www.LegalView.com/. Readers can also learn about the latest mesothelioma jury verdicts, which is a disease similar to silicosis. Or learn about the Heparin recall at http://baxter-heparin.legalview.com/.
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