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West Virginia May Face A New Set Of Asbestos Cases

October 28, 2009

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - For a while, it seemed like the number of health problems for West Virginians exposed to asbestos was falling off. However, a lawyer who works on these cancer cases says new ones are cropping up in a group many had not expected.

According to Charleston attorney Bill Schwartz, the number of cancer cases remains steady, because even family members who were exposed secondhand are at risk. He cites the case of a Wheeling man who died last year.

"His only exposure was putting on his father's coat and other clothing to do his chores. Twenty or thirty years later, unfortunately, at the age of 49, he developed mesothelioma."

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that people can get only after being exposed to asbestos, and it can take decades to develop. Congress put strict controls on workplace asbestos starting in the 1970s, and the number of non-cancerous asbestosis cases among former insulation workers at West Virginia's power plants and chemical factories has fallen dramatically. Asbestosis is scarring of the lungs due to asbestos exposure.

Schwartz thinks cancer cases from secondhand asbestos exposure will mean the courts will be wrestling with the problem for years to come.

"The housewives and the children of the workers were exposed. And if you project the latency out 20 or 30 years, people that are now entering their late 40s and 50s, unfortunately probably will be developing mesothelioma."

Insulators Local 80 in Winfield has been collecting money for research and, with their contractor partners, they recently raised more than $100,000 through a charity golf event.

Schwartz believes the state's courts are doing a good job of sorting through the cases and making sure the sickest victims are compensated. Supporters of tort reform contend that some asbestos cases include questionable medical claims and even outright fraud. But Schwartz says of the 60 or so cases given trial dates in each of the last six years, not one has been thrown out by the courts.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV