One of the great dangers that comes with asbestos is second-hand exposure that can occur when someone comes in contact with the toxic asbestos fibers through another person’s clothes, hair, shoes or other belongings. In locations where asbestos is mined or processed, the problems associated with second-hand asbestos exposure can be accentuated to a great degree.
There are several activities that are particularly dangerous for those who live in close proximity to an asbestos worker including laundry. In a recent case from the St. Louis suburb of Granite City, Illinois, a woman, died from second-hand exposure to asbestos that occurred when she regularly washed her husband’s clothes. Her husband, Ronald Simpkins, came in contact with asbestos while working for CSX, a national rail freight company that used brakes and insulation for railroad equipment that contained asbestos.
The woman, Annette Simpkins, died in 2007.
Reversing a previous ruling, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the estate of Simpkins could sue CSX for damages related to her asbestos-related lung cancer. Oftentimes, those who contract asbestos diseases from second-hand (or take-home’) exposure have less legal ground than those who are exposed at their places of employment.
The vote in the Supreme Court was 4-2, with Justices Charles E. Freeman and Anne M. Burke dissenting. Justice Freeman wrote that no relationship existed between the plaintiff and the defendant and, that the railroad could not have foreseen the dangers to others because the dangers of the carcinogen were not known until 1965, after Ronald Simpkins left his job.
Nevertheless, asbestos had already been linked to numerous deaths and diseases at that point. Many companies that used the substance were aware of the risks and health effects and ultimately did nothing.