The case of an Australian man is highlighting the mesothelioma risk from home renovation when asbestos is present.
Forty-two year old Matthew Werfel recently won a lawsuit against Amaca, the asbestos producer previously known as James Hardie. The company manufactured the asbestos-containing cement sheets that led to Werfel’s pleural mesothelioma.
The record $3 million payout is an expensive warning to other DIY homeowners about the potential mesothelioma risk from home renovation.
Asbestos in Construction Products
Asbestos is a mineral that has to be mined from the ground. As early as the 1930’s, companies like James Hardie recognized its potential value as a construction material.
Asbestos is strong, plentiful and resistant to heat and corrosion. It was used for decades to construct homes and buildings, even after scientists made the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma.
James Hardie was one of the biggest suppliers of asbestos and asbestos-containing construction products. Thousands of homes in Australia and around the world contain asbestos from James Hardie.
But the company failed to warn homeowners like Werfel about the mesothelioma risk from home renovation in these buildings.
Amaca Blamed for Mesothelioma Risk from Home Renovation
When asbestos products are sanded, asbestos fibers can be inhaled and trigger mesothelioma. According to Australian media, Matthew Werfel was exposed to asbestos dust at two times in his life. The first was when he worked for a fencing contractor as a teenager.
The second was in the mid-2000s when he unknowingly faced mesothelioma risk from home renovation. Over several weekends, Werfel sanded and painted the asbestos-containing concrete walls of his house.
In her judgment, Judge Leonie Farrell said, “By the time of Mr Werfel’s exposure there can be no doubt that Amaca knew the risk that was posed to renovators.”
But Amaca never issued any kind of warning about the mesothelioma risk from home renovation.
Farrell made an example of Amaca, awarding compensation to Werfel for pain and suffering, as well as future economic loss, medical expenses, and loss of life expectancy. The total award added up to $3,077,187.
Werfel Part of ‘3rd Wave’ of Mesothelioma Sufferers
Werfel is part of what the Australian government refers to as the ‘3rd wave’ of mesothelioma sufferers.
The first wave of mesothelioma victims were those who originally mined and manufactured asbestos products in the early 20th century. The ‘2nd wave’ of mesothelioma patients is made up of workers who originally built and repaired homes like Werfel’s in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
The 3rd wave of asbestos victims include those who, like Werfel, faced mesothelioma risk from home renovation. The number of these 3rd wave mesothelioma patients is on the rise in Australia.
Mesothelioma is a highly aggressive cancer for which there are few viable treatments. To reduce the risk of mesothelioma from home renovation, people who own homes built before 1980 should consult an asbestos abatement professional first.
Both the EPA and OSHA have said there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
“Terminally ill man awarded $3m for asbestos exposure while renovating”, August 6, 2019, Australian Associated Press, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/aug/07/terminally-ill-man-awarded-3m-for-asbestos-exposure-while-renovating