Asbestos Use in Washington
Washington has several oil refineries along its coast that have been there for decades. There is also a history of ship construction and repair in Seattle and at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. Washington also was host to many paper and pulp mills, being located in the epicenter of the Northwest woodlands. Crown Zellerbach and Scott Paper were prominent in paper production; today they have been superseded by Georgia Pacific and Weyerhauser. The Boeing aircraft manufacturing facilities have been a major employer in the Tacoma area for decades. Prior to 1975 asbestos products were used liberally in aircraft as insulation; asbestos was also used in protective gear employed by metalworkers.
Spokane was also the location for Vermiculite-Northwest, a processing plant owned by W.R. Grace that turned asbestos-laced vermiculite ore from a Libby, Montana mine into asbestos-contaminated insulation. The Libby mine and its products eventually drove W.R. Grace into bankruptcy as protection from the tens of thousands of mesothelioma and asbestos claims. The Washington processing plant closed in 1974.
Mesothelioma & Asbestos Deaths in Washington
Washington ranks very high among the fifty states for total asbestos related deaths. According to a survey of death certificates recorded from 1979 to 2000, nine hundred seventy residents died of asbestosis and from 806 to 1,387 residents succumbed to mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer. The federal government began tracking mesothelioma deaths in 1999. In 2005 the responsible agency reported that there had been an additional 559 mesothelioma deaths in the state over the preceding six years. King County, center of the shipyard activity, accounted for a quarter of these deaths.
Legal Rights of Mesothelioma Victims in Washington
Washington State Department of Ecology regulates asbestos abatement and disposal in the state. The statutes of limitation in Washington allow three years after discovery of an asbestos relate illness to file a product liability claim or a personal injury suit. There is a also a three year statute of limitations for wrongful death suits, often filed by relatives who have lost someone to fast moving, lethal malignant mesothelioma.
Asbestos Lawsuits in Washington
There has been a fair amount of legal activity in Washington over asbestos exposure, although the generation that was exposed in the King County shipyards is growing very elderly. One case decided in 2007 awarded over $1 million to a pipe fitter who worked in a paper mill in Port Angeles. According to Washington state law only companies who actually supplied the asbestos products were liable, but the plaintiff was able to track some of them down even though they had gone into bankruptcy.