Hispanic Population Often Overlooked In Paraquat & Asbestos Mass Torts

By Nicolas E. Ascencio 

Toxic exposure in the workplace is a harrowing reality for workers in the agriculture and construction industries. Heavy chemicals used in large quantities can and do have horrible effects on the human body. Regulatory bodies like OSHA list permissible exposure limits in an attempt to protect workers, but in a tragically large number of cases, a chemical is not known to have harmful effects until it is too late. Two of the largest offenders on a national scale are Paraquat and asbestos. These products were in use for years before scientists and employers knew that they were detrimental to physical health. Now, agricultural and construction workers are dealing with horrific side effects from simply doing their jobs, and those in the Spanish- speaking community are often left without the legal representation they need.

First, what are these products, and how have they affected workers? Paraquat is an herbicide utilized heavily in the commercial agricultural industry as a weed killer. This widely-used herbicide is very effective but has tragically been linked to a variety of serious ailments. 

According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, the ingestion of small to medium amounts of Paraquat can lead to heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure, and lung scarring. Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) also links the use of paraquat to a 2.5x higher risk for developing Parkinson’s disease. It can be difficult at best to know when exposure has taken place, and by the time symptoms arise it is often too late to take any preventative measures. Similarly, in the construction industry, asbestos was heavily used for insulation and fire protection between the 1940s and 1980s. Since then, its use has been severely limited, but it is not banned in the United States. Today, construction workers coming into con- tact with pre-1980s construction are at high risk for asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a known carcinogen, with clear links between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. In fact, The Mayo Clinic asserts that asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor for mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is an aggressive and deadly form of cancer that grows in the thin tissue layer that covers the majority of our internal organs. It is commonly found in the tissue surrounding the lungs, and for most patients, a cure is not possible. Airborne asbestos particles are invisible to the naked eye, so construction workers often have no idea whether or not the air they are breathing is safe or deadly.

In many cases, agriculture and construction workers who have been exposed to harsh chemicals wind up paying tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills and ongoing treatment — all for maladies they developed in what were supposed to be “safe” workplaces. With so many clear and scientifically researched links between these commercially used chemicals and severe, life-threatening maladies, it is no surprise that educated victims are looking for representation in both class action lawsuits and mass torts. These cases can be highly lucrative for the representing law firm, and when it comes to cases involving paraquat or asbestos, a good outcome is highly likely. However, the key to build- ing a successful class-action lawsuit or mass tort case is finding enough victims to make an impact. The more individuals involved in a class-action lawsuit or mass tort case, the more powerful the argument becomes in their favor. The question then becomes: how do firms find enough plaintiffs to make a class action lawsuit or a mass tort case viable for their practices? The answer is deceptively simple — build awareness in the community of victims by presenting legal education and services in Spanish in addition to English. 

The Spanish-speaking population in the United States is massive. According to the most recent U.S. census, over 51% of population growth in the last decade came from this community. 13% of the Hispanic and Latino population in the U.S. speaks Spanish at home — or more than 41 million people, and according to the Migration Policy Institute, 44% of Spanish Speakers in the US are considered to be of limited English proficiency. 

In both the agriculture and construction industries, the presence of Spanish speakers is even more pervasive than on the national stage. American farms are highly dependent on Hispanic workers.

According to the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment, Hispanics make up a fifth of the national workforce, but more than half (51%) of hired farmworkers in the US are Hispanic. It is also important to debunk the myth that most, if not all of these Spanish-speaking agricultural workers are migrants. According to the USDA’s Agricultural Workers Survey, more than 75% of agricultural workers are “nonmigrant: settled,” which means that the majority of Hispanic farmworkers in the United States who are exposed to harsh chemicals live within our borders full time, and rely on our health and legal systems for care. 

Much like the agricultural industry, the construction industry is home to a disproportionally large number of Spanish speakers. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 42.1% of building services workers are Hispanic, and across the entire construction industry, 30% of all workers are Hispanic. The construction industry in the US is responsible for the highest number of fatalities out of any industry sector, and in 2018, asbestos inhalation ranked highest among fatal construction site injuries. Today, the EPA estimates that the “vast majority” of the nation’s public and commercial buildings contain asbestos. Therefore, workers in the construction industry continue to risk asbestos exposure, and companies that employ migrant workers often take advantage of the people they hire without their knowledge. Unfortunately, adequate legal representation for Spanish speakers is still much-needed, and access to this representation will only become more vital, particularly as the Spanish-speaking community continues to grow in the general population and the workforce. 

The participation of Spanish speakers in the US workforce is also increasing at an incredible rate. Between 1990 and 2020, the working Hispanic population grew from 10.7 million to 29 million. The US Department of Labor and Statistics projects that the population will grow to 35.9 million by 2030. This population is getting larger by the day, particularly in industries that present significant potential health hazards such as construction and agriculture.

In contrast with the pervasiveness of Spanish speakers in the United States, the amount of money and time invested into Spanish language marketing is paltry — especially in the legal field. This is particularly apparent in the pay-per-click advertising space. Pay-per-click refers to the bidding system popularized by Google in which companies that want to drive potential customers to their website bid on various keyword terms they think their audience may search for. For example, a firm may bid on “class action lawsuit,” “lawyer,” “legal representation,” and other related terms. The company that bids the highest secures the top spot in a google search results page, ensuring that their target audience sees their ad first. When someone clicks on the ad, the company is charged for that click based on the bid. It is common for competitors to get into bidding wars, thus driving up the costs of high-value keywords and shrinking the marketing margin for converted clients.

The legal field has some of the most expensive keywords in the industry. The basic term “legal” has an average cost of nearly $6.50 per click. Google recently re- leased a case study in which they compared the cost of English keywords to Spanish keywords, and found that Spanish keywords were up to 70% less expensive. The Spanish-speaking marketplace is largely being ignored by advertisers, which means that there is a fantastic opportunity to dominate Spanish ad space for a fraction of the cost of English ads. 

If we combine that information with the fact that a disproportionate amount of agricultural and construction workers who are exposed to harsh chemicals in the workplace speak Spanish, it becomes clear that there is a huge community of victims potentially unaware of the legal recompense they are entitled to. This is a perfect storm for class action and mass tort firms. 

Once a firm has decided on implementing a Spanish-language strategy, it is important to do it the right way. Spanish marketing is not as simple as copying and pasting English advertisements and website copy into Google Translate. Machine translation cannot pick up the cultural nuances or expressions that occur naturally in language. The key to successful Spanish-language marketing (particularly via Spanish-language Google Ads), is to build content to reflect exactly what the marketplace is searching for with the help of a native Spanish-speaking team. A machine translation may not match the exact search term a Spanish speaker is using, and if the terms do not match, ads will not be served. It is advisable to work with bilingual experts to ensure that all Spanish-language marketing produced is culturally effective and grammatically sound.

By making Spanish-language marketing a bigger part of the overall outreach strategy, law firms will be providing an invaluable service to a huge community of victims that often go overlooked in the legal field. In addition, these firms that do adopt Spanish-language campaigns will secure strong business from the Spanish-speaking community for years to come in the process of holding irresponsible and negligent corporations accountable. The firms that create campaigns in Spanish sooner rather than later will undoubtedly see rapid growth, and set themselves up to become trusted leaders and protectors of the Spanish-speaking community.

Citations available on request 

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