Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that strikes people who have been exposed to asbestos. It is an extremely aggressive and rare disease, with only about 2,500 people diagnosed with it each year. Most people are unfamiliar with mesothelioma and are surprised to hear that diseases caused by asbestos are still occurring; this is because they are under the impression that asbestos is no longer used and therefore people are no longer at risk. But the reality is that because mesothelioma is a disease that takes decades to make itself known; it does not show up until fifty years after the initial exposure takes place, which means that a good number of those who were exposed to it back when it was widely used in an unregulated way are still at risk for diagnosis. People are also unaware that asbestos is still very present in our environment. Most buildings that were built prior to the 1980s were insulated using asbestos-laden products, and as the buildings age and the asbestos breaks down, the dust presents a danger.
Those at Particular Risk for Mesothelioma
Though asbestos is a danger to anybody that is exposed to it, there are certain professions and occupational exposures that carry a higher risk than others. Asbestos use rose dramatically during the Industrial Revolution, as equipment that utilized very high temperatures began to be used more and required insulation. Among the occupations that is at the highest risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis or lung cancer are those that actually installed the insulation,
Almost all people who worked in industrial occupations between the period leading up to World War II and through to the mid-1980s when asbestos use began to be highly regulated were exposed in one way or another.
- Mill workers who produced textiles were often working with asbestos that was woven into fabrics for protective and insulated gloves and clothing.
- Electricians and people laying line for telephones worked with insulation around their wires.
- Those in the automotive industry, particularly those who manufactured, installed or repaired brakes and clutches worked directly with brake and clutch pads that were made with heat-resistant asbestos, and as the product broke down they were at risk of breathing in the dust and fibers.
- Construction workers at all levels, from engineers to ironworkers, plasterers to project directors, were constantly exposed to materials that utilized asbestos for its strength and heat resistance. Workers recount stories of mixing concrete with asbestos and raising great clouds of asbestos dust, all without the benefit of any protective wear or respiratory equipment.
- Shipyard workers are among the most frequently diagnosed mesothelioma victims; These laborers worked with and around insulation, often installing or spraying it themselves onto surfaces that needed to e made fire and heat resistance for the safety and integrity of the product they were building. Ships commissioned for the U.S. military were required to utilize asbestos in nearly every aspect of their construction.
- Railroad workers were similarly exposed, as the engines generated such high levels of heat and the trains generated so much friction that asbestos was an integral part of their construction and operation.
- First responders, particularly firemen who enter buildings that are damaged by fire, often breathe in asbestos that had been previously hidden within the walls of the structure but that have been exposed by the flames. Making matters worse for the firemen is the fact that their protective gear is often made of fiber that includes asbestos for their own protection.
- Asbestos was utilized heavily in aeronautics and aviation.
- Because asbestos was used to insulate hair dryers in the 1950s, there are reports of hairdressers and beauty salon employees that have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
- Teachers and other workers in municipal buildings where asbestos ceiling tiles and floor tiles were popular choices in the 1950s have fallen prey to the disease.
Veterans and Mesothelioma
In addition to all of these occupations, those who served in the American military between World War II and the Vietnam War are at particular risk for being diagnosed with mesothelioma. The strength and safety benefits that were afforded by using asbestos made the material a mandated part of the construction of nearly every ship, building and piece of equipment that the government ordered, with the use of the product reaching its height in the mid-1970s. It was not until safety concerns mounted and strict regulations and bans were put in place that the government stopped its use and began the process of slowly removing it from the service environment.
Whether you were exposed to asbestos on the job, while in the service, or as a result of your proximity to an asbestos-processing location, having been close to this dangerous material has put you at risk of developing a serious health condition. Make certain that your physician is aware of your exposure history.