In March 2014, two men in Merced County, California, who knowingly exposed close to 70 student workers to asbestos, were jailed for their crimes. The men received prison time in a blatant case of placing innocent lives in harm’s way under the guise of providing job training to high school students. The men hired the students to remove the asbestos during a renovation project at Castle Commerce Center’s Automotive Training Center from September 2005 to March 2006. The men were said to have used the students to cut costs on the project.
Now, over a decade after the students were first exposed to the deadly carcinogen, a Merced County judge has cleared the way for them to file a lawsuit against the county. According to a Feb. 6 article in Merced Sun Star, 61 students will take the Merced County Office of Education to trial over fears that they may develop mesothelioma, cancer or other chronic illnesses after the work they performed without proper safety gear and precautions.
The lawyer representing the students says they are filing in hopes of having access to “lifelong coverage for preventative health checkups and payments for the fear they might get cancer.” However, the DA argues the students already have coverage through workers’ compensation.
At the time of the trial where the men were found guilty, some students testified their clothes were covered in dust, fog-like clouds were inside the buildings, and they had dust in their noses and mouths. Some students claimed they suffered from nose bleeds and chest pains, according to the Sun Star.
Through the 1970s, asbestos was widely used in products used in the construction of buildings, including schools, apartments and houses. Asbestos-containing products included roofing materials, ceiling tiles and insulation. The risk of being exposed to the mineral continues to this day anytime construction projects are undertaken on older buildings without regard to safety precautions. Removal of asbestos should only be done by trained asbestos abatement workers outfitted with proper protective equipment. Federal and state guidelines are in place to protect workers and the public from exposure.
Asbestos is a mineral that has been linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma, a malignant cancer of the lining of the lung and abdomen that is closely associated with inhaling microscopic asbestos dust. Each year approximately 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma and thousands more die of lung cancer related to asbestos exposure. Signs of asbestos-related illnesses may not develop until many decades after initial exposure.
“The Merced County Office of Education will fully cooperate and student safety is of the utmost importance to our organization,” said Nathan Quevedo, the school district’s spokesman, according to the Merced Sun Star.