The way that mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers develop, is due to long-term exposure to asbestos. Prolonged exposure can lead to serious health issues that have lasting effects. The most common places where you may encounter asbestos is at work if you are in the military or your own home.
Typically these particles will get caught and remain in the respiratory system, or even the digestive tract, which can then cause damage over time. It is difficult for the body to expel asbestos fibers as they are microscopic and can easily become lodged without any way to remove them.
The best way to prevent asbestos-related health issues is to never be exposed at all, but for some, that isn’t possible. The issue with asbestos exposure is that if you have been exposed and are unaware of the exposure, you likely won’t realize right away that you are coming in contact with it at all. Health problems caused by asbestos typically don’t tend to strike the body until years after the initial exposure.
What Does Asbestos Do to the Body?
Through the repeated exposure to asbestos, those microscopic fibers begin to accumulate and damage the soft tissue of internal organs and their linings. They begin to inflame and irritate these linings, causing damage to cells and mutating DNA.
If you’re overweight, a smoker, a heavy drinker, and have other health problems, you are far more likely to develop mesothelioma or other cancers from prolonged exposure to asbestos.
Cancers and Illnesses That Asbestos can Cause
- Mesothelioma: This is a very rare form of cancer that is exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. It can take the form of pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs, or it can take the form of peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the abdominal cavity. Both forms can be aggressive and difficult to treat.
- Lung Cancer: Because asbestos is breathed in, it can easily stick to the outer pleura or even get inside the lung and stick to the inner lining or bronchioles. About four percent of lung cancer cases are caused by asbestos exposure.
- Ovarian Cancer: This is another common cancer that is caused by asbestos. A recent lawsuit was won that connected talc in baby powder, which had traces of asbestos, to the development of ovarian cancer. It was also concluded that occupational exposure has been proven to lead to ovarian cancer.
- Laryngeal Cancer: With the way asbestos is inhaled, it can get trapped in your voice box and end up resulting in cancer of the larynx. Especially if you’re a heavy smoker as well, it can lead to a higher risk of laryngeal cancer as you’ll be doubling the number of carcinogens your larynx is exposed to. Inflammation to the folds of the larynx is caused by the accumulation of these microscopic asbestos particles which cannot be expelled.
- Pleurisy: This is the continued irritation and inflammation of the lining of your lungs. It can cause pain when breathing and is due to the lining not being properly lubricated.
- Asbestosis: With prolonged exposure, your lungs can begin to scar up from the constant inflammation. This can make it difficult to get a full breath as the scar tissue can prevent inflation and deflation of the lungs.
- Diffuse Pleural Thickening: When the scarring of the lungs gets out of hand and becomes excessive, it thickens up the lining of the lungs which affects breathing and leads to chest pains, shortness of breath, and abnormal inflation and deflation of the lungs.
- Atelectasis: Once the scarring becomes excessive, it can also cause the lining of the lungs to fold in on itself which prevents full inflation of the lungs.
- Pleural Plaques: If you’ve been exposed to asbestos, this is one of the most common signs. This is essentially when the lining of the lungs thickens up in a fibrous way, causing issues with getting full breaths and chest pains.
- Pleural Effusion: If you’re beginning to develop a large build-up of fluid around the lungs, this is likely the culprit.
As we learn more about asbestos and what it can do to the body, we are beginning to find evidence that other diseases may be linked to exposure. Some research has even indicated that the bile ducts in the gallbladder, small intestine, and liver, may be vulnerable to the particles getting trapped. This can lead to cancer and other gastrointestinal issues should the problem persist.
The only difficulty surrounding this research is that most of these diseases take decades to develop. Asbestos exposure even continuously shows up in parts of the body over a decade or even several as the particles are small but do a lot of damage once they accumulate in greater numbers.
Most of the time, the telltale sign of exposure is difficulty breathing. Asbestos most often is inhaled, but can also be ingested if it is swallowed down after being breathed in.
How Can You Become Exposed to Asbestos?
Throughout history, working-class people have had to work in dangerous situations to make ends meet. Asbestos is naturally occurring and so it has been used in materials for construction work, automotive repair, and due to its former popularity has been found in insulation and materials in thousands upon thousands of industrial worksites, office buildings, and even homes.
This doesn’t just mean working with those materials that are infested with asbestos, but even working or living in old buildings that were constructed with these materials. While this method of construction has been largely abandoned in modern building products, these materials are still being manufactured and used all over the world.
The most likely workers to be exposed to asbestos are those working in construction, warehouses, factories, automotive plants, and even the Military. It is recommended that those who renovate or work on old houses or buildings, be cautious and invest in a respirator as these particles will become disturbed if you are moving insulation or are sanding and drilling materials that contain asbestos.
It isn’t common to be exposed to asbestos outside in natural environments, but it is possible in some parts of the country. It can also happen if you live near or have a family member who works in a contaminated site. It can even be possible to risk exposure if you’ve been near the site of manmade or natural disasters.
Where Asbestos Lurks
So many products over time have been made with asbestos. Up until the 1980s, most drywall, insulation, paints, and cement were made with asbestos fibers as they are naturally occurring and easy to procure. When these particles and fibers drift from those products they can be carried away in groundwater and other forms to contaminate water supplies.
If you work in an automobile factory or automotive repair, several car parts are still contaminated with asbestos today. Thinks like your spark plugs, brakes, and even your air conditioning can be made with asbestos materials. This has led automotive repairmen to be landed in the hospital with chest pains and trouble breathing after years of working on all sorts of vehicles.
Jobs Where Asbestos is a Risk
It took time for the government to regulate asbestos use in materials, and even then the regulations don’t do as much to keep workers safe as it is years too late to start now. So much has already been made with asbestos and even the Military exposed soldiers to gear and vessels that were contaminated.
Jobs, where exposure is most common, are:
- Power Plants
- Chemical Plants
- Construction or Restoration Sites
This is where asbestos is common or naturally occurring. In places like Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico where there are mining shafts, natural disasters, and the processing of asbestos for use, it is common to see cases rise. In Nevada and Arizona especially there has been a rise in cases due to the carcinogenic fibers being blown around by dust storms from one place to the next.
Where occupational exposure has fallen in numbers, environmental exposure has risen. It is important to be aware of your surroundings and know when to steer clear of exposure points.
Nearby Job Site Risks
Construction sites, shipyards, and different warehouses and plants are of course common locations to find high percentages of asbestos, but these sites can also be a menace to neighboring communities. The asbestos fibers that are present on these job sites can often be carried from them into neighborhoods and other nearby areas.
These sites can send particles blown through on the wind, or even have them travel through floodwaters and drainage systems which can end up contaminating water supplies. The rates of second-hand or environmental exposure are far higher than you’d expect when tallied against occupational exposure. Occupational exposure rates are still marginally higher, but it shows that environments close to these job sites do suffer from similar issues with asbestos.
Secondary exposure is more common to affect the spouses and children of those working in these job sites. The particles will come in on clothes, the seats of cars, in their hair even, and can be ingested or inhaled by the worker’s family without knowing. The rates are considerably lower than those who are working directly with materials or who are close to naturally occurring asbestos sites, but the rates are still viable.
9/11 Terror Attacks
In 2001 when the world trade center was attacked, the explosion of the planes through the buildings released tons upon tons of asbestos into the air. This was from both the planes themselves and the buildings as they both were rife with insulation and other materials that were composed of asbestos. This made the air in New York City incredibly toxic as the particles floated through the air for days, posing a risk to civilians and those who were sent in to clean up the mess.
It was said that these workers suffered from heightened respiratory problems and had difficulty with lung functioning in the years after the attack. Researchers have made sure to keep tabs on those who worked in the ruins of the world trade center while also keeping an eye on those who live in the environment surrounding it.
Reports should be coming in in a few years of the exact effects working in the ruins of the world trade center has had on the bodies of these rescuers and those who live nearby to the site.
Asbestos Materials and Waste Removal
If you work in an environment where you are coming in contact with asbestos materials, you must be disposing of these materials properly. They cannot simply be thrown away as you would with other trash, they need to be disposed of properly where the particles won’t be able to spread.
It is important for any workplace, or renovation project to check in on these laws and use them to dispose of any materials that linger. There is a high risk of exposure to airborne asbestos particles if materials are simply left without being dealt with.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Family
Workers are required to use protective equipment when they are working with or near asbestos materials. With the influx of lawsuits against certain companies, most employers have learned from the lesson and are preferring to take preventative measures than risk the consequences that come from exposing their workers.
This is mostly due to federal and state pressures to highlight the importance of protecting against asbestos exposure. If you are working with these materials you should be wearing a respirator, protective clothing so it cannot get into other parts of your body, and make sure to clean things off before returning home.
You’ll want to change out of them and put those clothes in a secure place to be dealt with. Once changed, you’ll want to shower off to ensure any particles on your skin or in your hair are washed off before you change into your new clothes to go home.
While this may seem like a lot of steps to potentially prevent bringing asbestos home with you, it will save you in the long run. It is better to be inconvenienced now by thorough directions and procedures than to end up sick later. Practicing safety in your work environment and taking preventative measures before returning home is not only common courtesy, but are the most important things you can remember to save you from potential hurts later on.
If you are worried that your workplace environment is unsafe or is not protecting you against potential asbestos risks, you should contact your Occupational Safety and Health Organization. Organizations like these make it their mission to stop the spread of asbestos and can give your work outward pressures so they protect you and your coworkers from potential risks.
If you’re worried that you might be showing signs of illness due to asbestos exposure, you should contact your doctor right away. Not only will they be able to confirm or assuage your worries, but they can also help steer you in the right direction for possibly getting compensated for your struggles.
Who Can Help?
If you were exposed to asbestos at your occupation and your workplace was negligent and didn’t adequately protect you against the hazards, you may be entitled to compensation. There are several attorneys out there who specialize in mesothelioma and asbestos-related cancer litigation. They make it their mission to put patients first and get those who are struggling with these diseases exactly what they need.
They can help get you paid for treatment, other medical expenses, travel expenses, and more. Don’t hesitate to work with a doctor and a mesothelioma lawyer to better focus on your treatment and get what you deserve from a negligent company.