We represent Jean, whose husband worked at Durez, North Tonawanda, between 1961 and 1980. Jean and Paul were married in 1962. Jean washed Paul’s work clothes every week, and more frequently in the summertime. She didn’t know it at the time, but the process of shaking out and laundering her husband’s clothes releases millions of microscopic asbestos fibers into her breathing zone, and contaminated the family home.

In 1995, Jean entered the Asbestos Health Screening Program begun nine years earlier by Occidental Chemical Corporation in response to demands by the International Association of Machinists Local representing the Durez work force. The program provides yearly screenings for former Durez employees, who were part of the work force during the asbestos years, 1959 through 1979. Spouses are also eligible for the program, which includes a regular physical exam, breathing tests, and x-ray or CT of the chest and lungs. (The program is not currently open to the children of workers, even if they helped do the family laundry. If you believe that your children were exposed to asbestos in this manner, your family doctor or health maintenance organization can make a referral to a lung specialist.)

Jean was followed by the Screening Program medical staff and by her own doctors. In 1998, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent extensive surgery for the removal of a portion of her lung.

Working on Jean’s behalf, our office contacted scientists at New York City’s Mt. Sinai Medical Center in order to have her lung tissue tested for the presence of asbestos fiber. Tests were conducted, and they revealed high concentrations of asbestos fibers, particularly a rare form of asbestos fiber used at the Durez plant. These high concentrations were found in Jean’s lymph nodes adjacent to her lungs. The lymph nodes drain fluid from the lungs, and that is why the asbestos fibers were concentrated there. 

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Based on these studies, another physician trained at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center has offered his opinion that Jean’s lung cancer is a result at least in part of her husband’s work exposure at Durez, and the performance of her household duties. The doctor’s opinion was further strengthened by the fact that although Jean was a former cigarette smoker, she quit smoking cigarettes in about 1980, and her smoking history prior to that time was not extensive.

We are pursuing a claim on Jean’s behalf, and on behalf of her family. The diagnosis and surgery caused a major disruption in her life. She has had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. She is just now getting back on her feet and back to work, but things can best be described as touch and go for Jean and Paul’s family. This case may be set for trial before the end of the year 2001 and either resolved by settlement or a jury verdict.

If one or more of the members of your family worked for any significant period of time at the Durez facility in North Tonawanda and you laundered the work clothes at home, you should consider seeking a medical evaluation. If you are still living in the same house, 20 or 30 years later, you may consider having tests done to determine whether the laundry facilities or basement are still contaminated by harmful levels of asbestos. Asbestos does not disappear, and it does not degrade. There is a distinct possibility that asbestos fibers brought home on your husband’s clothes or your son’s clothes 30 years ago are still present in your home today.

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