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Asbestos Miners: Exposure and Mesothelioma Risks

Although U.S. asbestos mines have been closed for decades, asbestos contamination of other substances continues to put miners at risk of developing mesothelioma. Former asbestos miners are still being diagnosed with deadly illnesses. Miners diagnosed with mesothelioma may be entitled to recover substantial compensation.

During the peak years of the Industrial Revolution, asbestos was in high demand and used in over 3,000 products. According to American Mine Services, mining is a $61 billion industry with 13,000 active mines, though no asbestos mines are still in operation today.

Asbestos Mining in the United States

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, approximately 60 asbestos mines operated in the eastern United States alone. The first mine was opened in 1894, and the last mine closed in 2002 in California. The most common type of asbestos mined was chrysotile asbestos, but crocidolite, anthophyllite, and amosite forms were also mined throughout the United States.

Asbestos Exposure in Mining

Occupational Health and Safety ranks miners in the top five occupations most impacted by asbestos. This is not surprising considering that the nature of a miner’s work is to disturb the mined substances in a minimally ventilated environment. Despite these mines having been closed for over two decades, former asbestos miners are still being diagnosed with mesothelioma today.

Leadership in the mining industry has been slow to respond to the risks. Although OSHA reduced the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter over an eight-hour period in 1994, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) failed to make this adjustment.

As a result, miners were legally exposed to up to 2 fibers per cubic centimeter throughout their shifts, an astounding 2000 percent higher concentration than all other workers. MSHA did not adjust the PEL until 2008, according to EHS Today. Today, the MSHA PEL matches the OSHA PEL.

Mines are not always compliant. Even when they are, there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure, and working in these conditions daily allows the toxic substance to accumulate in the body.

Is asbestos still mined today?

Despite the known risks of asbestos, it is legally imported into the United States from countries that still mine it. Russia is the leading supplier of asbestos.

The largest asbestos mine in the world is located in Asbest, Russia, according to the New York Times, where the economy relies strongly on asbestos production and even takes pride in it. Asbestos is also mined in Kazakhstan, China, Brazil, and Zimbabwe, according to Statista.

Asbestos Contamination in
U.S. Mines

As a naturally-occurring substance, asbestos is located in metamorphic rock and serpentine deposits throughout the earth’s crust and commonly occurs near other valued substances.

How might miners be exposed to asbestos?

MSHA acknowledges that asbestos may occur alongside the following rock and mineral formations:

  • Talc
  • Vermiculite
  • Taconite
  • Serpentine limestone
  • Banded ironstone

Asbestos becomes dangerous when it is disturbed. While it appears as solid rock or woven fibers, each visible fiber is actually comprised of millions of microscopic, invisible fibers that can easily become airborne and then inhaled.

Once inhaled, they cannot be broken down in the body. Instead, they embed deeply into the tissues, leading to deadly illnesses, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

Factory miners

Asbestos Exposure in Coal Mines

Approximately 15 percent of coal mines are contaminated with asbestos, according to Mining Dot Com. Coal mining occurs in open-pit and underground mines. Toxic air pollutants in underground mines pose greater risks to the miners because of the reduced ventilation, but exposure levels can also be quite high in open pits.

Coal miners also face the risk of developing coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung, according to the American Lung Association. This is caused by the coal dust in the air, which, in contaminated mines, also contains asbestos.

This makes mesothelioma coal workers especially vulnerable because both conditions may occur together. Both mesothelioma and coal workers’ pneumoconiosis impair the ability to breathe. Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis also causes scarring of the lungs. If this occurs alongside asbestosis, the results can be especially dire.

The Libby Vermiculite Mine

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring substance similar to mica that has been used in building insulation and soil amendments. Vermiculite was discovered in Libby, Montana, in the 1800s by gold miners.

According to the EPA, the Zonolite Company began mining it in the 1920s until W.R. Grace purchased the company in 1963. The Libby mine was the largest vermiculite mine in the world and supplied 80 percent of the world’s vermiculite.

Vermiculite is itself a harmless substance, but the vermiculite in the Libby mine was contaminated with tremolite-actinolite asbestos, which came to be known as Libby amphibole asbestos.

During processing, vermiculite undergoes an intense heating process that causes it to pop and form a lightweight substance. The most intense exposures occurred during this process.

The asbestos in this mine impacted the miners as well as the residents in the small town of Libby. The mine was closed in 1990, but miners and residents continue to experience its effects.

Talc Mines

Like asbestos, talc is a silicate mineral that is mined from the ground. It is the softest mineral on earth valued for its texture and ability to wick moisture. Unfortunately, talc is mined in the same areas where asbestos occurs. As a result, asbestos contamination in talc mines is common.

The presence of asbestos in talc made headlines when The Lanier Law Firm won a historic verdict in the first lawsuit linking cancer to asbestos in baby powder, which is made from talc. In court, Mark Lanier used a block of cheese to demonstrate that the veins of asbestos in talc cannot be separated from it.

However, it can be disturbed when the talc is removed from the earth by miners. The asbestos in talc is friable, which means it easily becomes airborne just by touching it.

Taconite Mines

The minerals that form asbestos can occur in two forms, known as asbestiform or non-asbestiform. The chemical formula remains unchanged. The only difference is that the asbestiforms have begun forming fibers. Asbestos fibers are typically long with tiny diameters. They are a type of elongate mineral fiber.

Chrysotile asbestos is the sole form of asbestos known as serpentine asbestos, named for the serpentine rock in which it occurs. All other forms of asbestos are known as amphibole asbestos.

Taconite is a special type of iron ore mined in Northeastern Minnesota. According to a study by the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, taconite miners are exposed to both asbestiform and non-asbestiform elongate mineral particles of amphibole and non-amphibole origin.

The exposure is so severe that taconite miners experience a nearly three-fold increase in mesothelioma compared to other miners in Minnesota. The study notes that any mineral can take on an asbestiform, even though only six forms are legally defined.

How does asbestos exposure during mining impact health?

Miners face heightened risks of the following asbestos-related illnesses:

  • Mesothelioma – Cancer of the lining surrounding the lungs or stomach
  • Asbestosis – Scarring of the lungs
  • Lung cancer

In addition, miners may bring home asbestos fibers on their work clothes, exposing family members who can then develop the same conditions.

How can miners protect themselves from asbestos hazards?

Exposure to asbestos in mines is unavoidable, but MSHA provides the following guidance by which miners can protect themselves:

  • Wear NIOSH-approved respirators in asbestos-prone areas.
  • Leave respirators on until contaminated clothing is removed.
  • Shower and change clothing before leaving work.
  • Never take asbestos-tainted clothing home.

What types of compensation are available to
asbestos miners?

The types of mesothelioma compensation available to miners varies based on the type of mesothelioma claim you are eligible to file.

Asbestos Miners Mesothelioma Lawsuits

You may be eligible to file a lawsuit against the mining company that exposed you to asbestos. When you prevail in a mesothelioma lawsuit, you may be able to recover economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are the monetary losses you have experienced as a result of the illness caused by your asbestos exposure.


Medical Expenses

Medical expenses include all expenditures that result from your medical condition, such as the following:

  • Hospitalization
  • Doctor visits
  • Mesothelioma treatment
  • Rehabilitation
  • Palliative care
  • Psychological counseling
  • Hospice care
  • In-home services
  • Domestic services
  • Assistive devices
  • Medical travel

Lost Wages

Lost wages include the time you missed at work as well as future wages you will no longer be able to earn because of your illness. They also include the following:

  • Lost business opportunities
  • Investment losses
  • Loss of 401(k) benefit
  • Loss of the value of other job benefits

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are the quality-of-life losses your injuries have caused. These damages can be substantial and include the following:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of bodily functions
  • Loss of society
  • Loss of enjoyment of life activities
  • Loss of consortium
  • Mental anguish

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are not available in all cases or in all jurisdictions. They are awarded in limited cases when clear and convincing evidence shows that the defendant’s harmful conduct was deliberate, flagrantly reckless, oppressive, or fraudulently concealed.

The asbestos industry is known to have engaged in a pattern of flagrant disregard for human safety, and multiple internal memos have been discovered that point to the widespread fraudulent concealment by leaders in the asbestos industry. As a result, punitive damages are available in some mesothelioma cases.

Wrongful Death Damages

If your loved one has tragically passed away because of an asbestos-related illness, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit and claim the above damages as well as the following on behalf of the estate of the deceased:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial expenses
  • Projected lifetime earnings

Proceeds are distributed to the surviving spouse or next of kin according to the laws of your state.

Asbestos Workers’ Compensation Claims

If your employer purchased a workers’ compensation policy that covered you during your employment when you were exposed to asbestos, you may be limited to filing a mesothelioma workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation does not cover non-economic or punitive damages, but it does provide the following:

  • Free medical care
  • Short-term or long-term disability payments
  • Death benefits

If you are eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim, you cannot file a lawsuit against that employer. You may, however, be able to file a lawsuit against a supplier or other party connected to your employment that contributed to your asbestos exposure.

Asbestos Trust Fund Claims

If the mining company has declared bankruptcy, you cannot file a lawsuit against that company. Mining companies that filed for bankruptcy protection were required to set up an asbestos trust fund for the benefit of asbestos exposure victims.

If your previous employer has filed for bankruptcy, you may be eligible to file an asbestos trust fund claim directly through the fund and receive economic and non-economic damages.

What should I do if I believe I have been exposed to asbestos through mining?

If you or a family member is a miner exposed to asbestos, early diagnosis of mesothelioma is essential. Mesothelioma is often diagnosed in later stages because of the non-specific nature of the symptoms and the lack of experience by most doctors in its diagnosis and treatment. Early diagnosis is associated with longer survival times and a better prognosis.

Having been exposed to asbestos does not mean you will get mesothelioma. You cannot file a lawsuit until after you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness.

How can The Lanier Law Firm help me
with my case as an asbestos miner?

The Lanier Law Firm is a world-renowned mesothelioma law firm with a long record of successful mesothelioma litigation. Our attorneys are ready to stand with you against the companies that unfairly sacrificed your health to increase their profits.

When a person is diagnosed with mesothelioma, they consult an oncologist or someone with experience in mesothelioma. They do not go talk to a brain surgeon or an orthopedic surgeon.

“Similarly, I think it’s important for the client, the person with mesothelioma, to seek out attorneys that are qualified and experienced at handling mesothelioma cases.”Sam Taylor, Managing Attorney of Asbestos Litigation in Houston

One of the most important gauges of a qualified mesothelioma law firm is the firm’s history of results. Our successes are numerous, but below are a few examples:

  • $7 billion dollar verdict in the case of an asbestos exposure victim in Louisiana
  • $2.3 million settlement on behalf of a California electrician exposed to asbestos in the Navy
  • $1.6 million on behalf of the family of a deceased industrial worker exposed to asbestos in Texas
  • $115 million on behalf of 21 Alabama steelworkers exposed to asbestos

When should I contact an asbestos miners mesothelioma attorney?

Every state gives mesothelioma miners a limited time to file a mesothelioma claim. In some jurisdictions, this is as little as one year after diagnosis. Building a mesothelioma case requires the attorney to perform tasks that take significant time before the case can be filed.

Thus, it is in your best interests to contact an experienced mesothelioma attorney as soon as possible. Contact The Lanier Law Firm today to schedule a FREE consultation with an award-winning mesothelioma attorney.

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