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White paper explores risks that could become 'the next asbestos'


When the last asbestos-related claim is finally paid, commercial policyholders, insurers and reinsurers will have paid out tens of billions of dollars.

While there have been several liability exposures that have caused concerns during the past 30 years, none so far has generated the same concern as the asbestos crisis.

The latest white paper from Business Insurance, “The Next Asbestos: Five Emerging Risks that Could Shift the Liability Landscape,” examines mass tort exposures that may have the potential to cause major difficulties for commercial policyholders and their insurers.

Emerging, unknown

•Nanoscale materials from carbon to silver are being used in a huge number of consumer and industrial products, yet the health and environmental effects of those materials still are largely unknown.

•Scientists are developing genetically modified plants and animals, and have started to synthesize completely new organisms with custom-assembled DNA. While the potential application of these advances could help bolster food supplies, fuels and pharmaceuticals, insurers worry that the unintended consequences of these creations could be catastrophic.

•Climate change already has sparked lawsuits that have reached the Supreme Court. Whichever way the high court rules, legal experts expect continuing litigation over who is responsible for the financial cost of changes in weather patterns.

•Workers' overexposure to radio frequency waves from rooftop wireless transmitters often has been ignored. Yet as many as 250,000 workers a year may be working dangerously close to the transmitters. Already a state supreme court has upheld a disability award to worker accidentally exposed radio frequency radiation.

The environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing in drilling for natural gas could trigger its own litigation explosion. Noncontroversial for six decades, hydrofracking now is causing major environmental concerns as the demand for energy increases.

To read more about these exposures and the effects they could have on insurers and policyholders, visit