Sickness is one of the few things that can go wrong for which we don't often blame other people. After all, who knows what causes a lot of health problems? In a few cases, however, we do know what causes problems. One of the ailments that is ascribed to traceable sources is mesothelioma. People afflicted with this condition have been seeking compensation for decades, and the few people still suffering often have the same option.
Dozens of companies made the decision to use asbestos in their operations during the first half of the 20th century. Although scientific documents from the 1930s show the possible risk that asbestos poses to the human respiratory system, it was prized as an insulator and fire retardant late into the 20th century.
When scientists determined that asbestos is hazardous to people's health, it began a revolution in the practices of product safety. Millions of dollars worth of materials were recalled from distributors, thousands of buildings had installed asbestos removed or contained and many people turned to the civil court system to seek the financial damages they needed to recover.
It comes as a relief to doctors, scientists and workers of many kinds that asbestos is off the market. The natural crystalline fiber was prized for centuries as protection against fire, but the material has been correlated to mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer in the lining around thoracic organs, for the last few decades.
Cancer is always a difficult diagnosis to hear, and it can be harder to live with. Residents of Louisiana are statistically more likely to develop certain types of cancer than much of the rest of the United States, which includes lung cancer, stomach cancer and mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma gets its long name from the specific part of the body it affects. It is a cancer that occurs in the thin lining that covers most vital organs, which are all in the middle of the torso. The lining is called the mesothelium, an older word for the middle of the torso.
Mesothelioma is, fortunately, a very rare disease, generally understood to be caused by a limited number of factors. This is little comfort to this disease's victims and their families, as the prognosis is generally negative if a person experienced those factors.
Many citizens and workers in Louisiana experienced health problems due to the use of asbestos in construction and insulation in the second half of the 20th century. In fact, asbestos-related illnesses have become the largest and most expensive class of lawsuits and other tort actions in U.S. history. But the problem persists, partially because of the complexity of these health problems.
There are not many public health issues that have attracted as much attention -- or cost as much money -- as asbestos. The substance's use as an insulator in the middle of the 20th century ensured that much of the rest of the century was spent arguing over its ill effects in court. Thousands of people suffering from respiratory disease or injury have lodged complaints in courts across the country.
Louisiana has a long history of litigation over asbestos, and the end is not yet near. A 71-year-old veteran of local politics is suing parts of Jefferson Parish and other related defendants for exposure to asbestos during his decades of experience as a school board and parish council member. The suit alleges their culpability for his mesothelioma, which was diagnosed within the last year.