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Sheet Metal Workers at High Risk for Mesothelioma

An expansive study conducted by researchers from the Center for Construction Research and Training, conducted in collaboration with the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Duke University, has revealed that despite the fact that sheet metal workers do not work directly with asbestos, they are at high risk for being diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

The conclusions were reached following a 24-year period of gathering data on over 17,000 sheet metal workers. Between 1986 and 2010 the cause of death among these workers was traced, and it was discovered that the rate of mesothelioma and asbestosis was much higher than would have been expected in the general population. Though sheet metal workers do not work directly with the dangerous carcinogen, the high heat environment in which they work requires that they are in constant proximity to construction materials that were made with asbestos, including industrial equipment, plumbing, HVAC systems, concrete, roofing and siding. Examples of how the workers might have inhaled asbestos include drilling on an asbestos-contaminated surface, or riveting metal onto an asbestos-containing floor or roofing.

Asbestos is a material whose use was largely banned in the United States but which is still present in many environments, either because they were not included in the ban or because they remain intact after having been installed prior to the ban. Asbestos’ use is very popular in high heat environments because it is both strong and resistant to flame and heat. Unfortunately, the material can break down into tiny particles and fibers that are easily inhaled or ingested. Once they enter the body they have been found to cause cell death and subsequent mutations that grow into mesothelioma tumors. Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer that impacts only 3,000 Americans each year, and for which there is no cure.

The study was published in the American journal of Industrial Medicine. Writing for the Center for Construction Research and Training, study author Laura Welch, MD wrote, “Significant excess mortality was seen for mesothelioma and asbestosis.” In addition to mesothelioma and asbestos, the researchers also found that when they corrected the study’s results for smoking, they found that the group was also at higher risk for lung cancer and COPD. The study’s results are yet another indication that even the smallest amount of asbestos exposure jeopardizes health.

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an experienced blog writer, editor, and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of expertise include health, medical research, and law.

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