Oregon Woman Gets $5.6 Million in Asbestos Case

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A 66-year-old Oregon woman who owned two small ceramics teaching and manufacturing businesses has received an award of $5.6 million in a suit against several talc mining companies.

Linda O’Donnell operated her businesses from 1973 until 1993 and was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma last year, allegedly caused by the inhalation of asbestos-containing talc products used at her ceramics studio. The contaminated talcs were mined by various companies in Death Valley, California, where asbestos was a common contaminant in the commercially mined talc deposits, says a press release by the law firm that represented O’Donnell and her husband in the proceedings.

Expert witnesses testified that the Death Valley talcs used by Mrs. O’Donnell “invariably contained a small percentage of tremolite asbestos,” a form of asbestos known to be extremely carcinogenic. Documents obtained from the talc mining companies showed that they were aware of their asbestos problem in the early 70s, and that they regularly tested their talc to monitor its asbestos content yet continued to sell the talc to companies that would include it in products sold to consumers.

The press release explains that “the talcs were mixed with dry clay and water to form ‘ceramic slip,’ a liquid clay mixture that was poured into molds to dry. The talc used in the slip usually came in 50 pound sacks, which were dumped into a hopper for mixing, creating clouds of dust and intense asbestos exposures. After the dried ceramic figures were removed from molds, they were sanded to prepare them for glazing and firing, resulting in additional exposure to asbestos dust.”

Mrs. O’Donnell, her lawyers say, engaged in these activities on a daily basis throughout her ceramics career, which lasted about 20 years.