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Miners Asbestos Exposure

Many people assume asbestos is a man-made substance. While it is true that asbestos has been refined and processed so it could be used in more than 3,000 different products over much of the last century, asbestos itself is a mineral that is comprised of six silica elements. It is found all over the world and has been used by humans for thousands of years.

The reason it was so heavily used is because it was cheap, easy to extract from the earth and has the natural ability to resist heat, fire, caustic chemicals and electricity. This made it perfect for use as insulation and for fire protection.

The insulation would keep heat in and cold out, and the fire protection capabilities were so good that a blanket of woven asbestos fibers could be thrown on a raging fire, and the fire would go out. It seemed like it was perfect.

However, today we know that it was far from perfect, as our Boston mesothelioma attorneys from the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman know well. The problem is that when the material is inhaled or ingested, the fibers can become trapped in a layer of tissue known as the mesothelium. Once stuck in this tissue, the body has no effective means to expel the fibers, and they can slowly metastasize into the deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma.

Where Does Asbestos Originate?

Simply put, it comes from the ground. It is mined much like gold or diamonds. However, unlike these precious metals, it is much more abundant and can be mined much quicker and cheaper. As noted by Great Mining, asbestos comes in various forms, but the most commonly mined types of asbestos are known as Serpentine asbestos and Amphibole asbestos. The reason we are using most commonly mined in the present tense is because, even though it is barely used in the U.S., many other nations, including China, are still heavy users of asbestos and asbestos products in construction.

Serpentine asbestos, like other serpentine minerals, has a layered structure. From this we have only one subtype of asbestos, known as chrysotile asbestos.

Chrysotile, which is also known as white asbestos, is the most common form of the mineral found in nature, and, while it contains some impurities, it is generally nearly pure asbestos. This type is around 95 percent of all asbestos that has been used in the U.S.

Amphibole asbestos can be further separated into the following types of asbestos:

  • Crocidolite
  • Amosite
  • Anthopyllite
  • Actinolite
  • Termolite

There is no safe amount of asbestos exposure, no matter what type of asbestos is involved.

How is asbestos mined?

There are different ways to mine any mineral from the ground. There is, of course, shaft mining, where tunnels were dug in the ground to mine things like gold, and there is also the more modern strip mining in which the surface of the ground is stripped off, and the material is sifted through various filters to obtain the ore itself.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the bulk of this was done using what is known as the open pit extraction method, and then it was sent to a mill for further processing. With open pit asbestos mining, which is also called open cut or open cast mining, there are no tunnels dug into the earth, and strip-mining techniques are not employed. This method is only useful where commercially used minerals, such as asbestos, are found near the surface in abundant quantities. They will not dig miles into the ground like they would with a diamond mining operation. Asbestos is much more abundant than diamonds or gold and would not be worth costs of a deep earth mining operation.

With an open pit operation, a quarry is cut into the side of rock in overlapping layers that creates a series of circular roads around the pit. The material us cut from the side of the rock face, and the mining equipment, including huge dump trucks, drives on the newly created roads. This is the type of rock quarry that is frequently featured in action movies where we see people chasing each other in vehicles around the mining cuts.

This type of mining operation sends clouds of dust up into the sky that can be seen for miles. We also have very large dump trucks driving around with dust flying off the back of the loader. While this may not be a problem when they are mining granite, it was a public health and environmental disaster. These workers were literally being covered with deadly asbestos fibers and taking the dust home to their families. Many miners and their family members have developed malignant pleural mesothelioma as a result of these open pit mines, as our Boston mesothelioma lawyers have seen over the years.

Asbestos and Coal Miners

While those who worked directly in asbestos mining operations were regularly exposed to the deadly asbestos fibers, there are many other types of mining that can involve incidental exposure to asbestos. The reason for this is because asbestos can form under the same geological condition as other minerals. It is important to document when asbestos exposure occurred to prove causation of asbestos-related illness.

Asbestos will often form alongside coal deposits. With large strip mining operations for coal, it is not hard to imagine how a coal miner will become exposed to the deadly asbestos fibers. However, it is not only from the mine itself, but that they also were using a great deal of equipment that contained asbestos.

As strange as it may sound when you think about it, mining companies were bringing asbestos to the mine, such as that from some machinery, brake linings for vehicles, welding blankets, pipe insulation, extraction equipment, and many other industrial products. This means that even gold miners were being exposed to asbestos when it was not present in the mine naturally.

Asbestos and Vermiculite Mines

Vermiculite is another mineral that comes from the earth that can be used for similar purposes as asbestos, as noted by the Vermiculite Association. While it does not work as well as asbestos, the fact that it is not highly toxic is an advantage over the deadly asbestos fibers. It can be used for everything from growing medium for Orchids to home insulation. The problem is that it forms in the same conditions as asbestos and is often mixed with asbestos. Vermiculite miners were routinely exposed to deadly asbestos fibers, and many have developed malignant mesothelioma.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

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