CHARLESTON – West Virginia University has agreed to pay for up to 20 years of medical testing for current and former employees who say they inhaled asbestos at the Morgantown campus.

The school will cover the cost of chest X-rays, lung exams and other tests as regularly as once a year for the 5,600 people covering in the settlement of a 2000 medical monitoring class-action lawsuit.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman agreed to the terms after none of the plaintiffs in the suit showed at a Thursday hearing to object. The final cost of the settlement hasn't been determined, but WVU offered to pay $1 million for tests and attorney fees when the agreement was proposed in November.

The agreement splits the plaintiffs into three groups for testing.

One group is maintenance and construction workers that worked in certain buildings for a certain amount of time. They will be tested every three to five years. Another group includes workers who still are removing asbestos from campus building, and they will be tested as often as once a year. The third group includes faculty, administrators and staff, and they will be tested only after an expert ruled they are at risk.

All of the plaintiffs will have a chest X-ray if they haven't had one in the last two years.

The settlement calls for 20 years of testing, but WVU can end that after 12 years is the exams find no significant signs of asbestos-related medical problems in the plaintiffs.

The group of employees sued the school after WVU cleaned asbestos from the Coliseum during the 1999-2000 basketball season.

Asbestos is a strong and incombustible fiber widely used in the past for fireproofing and insulation. The small fibers are easily inhaled or swallowed, causing a number of serious diseases including asbestosis, a chronic disease of the lungs that makes breathing more and more difficult; cancer; and mesothelioma, a cancer specific to asbestos exposure of the membranes that line the chest and abdomen.

West Virginia is one of a handful of states in which many lawsuits have been filed claiming the evidence of the dangerous health effects of asbestos have been hidden by insurance and other industry officials for more than 70 years.

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