There are several factors that play a role in the onset of mesothelioma, but none are more prominent than exposure to asbestos. Asbestos has been cited as the primary cause in over 90% of diagnoses, and, in the other 10% of cases, patients asbestos exposures, after thorough investigation, just cannot be pinpointed. may have just misremembered whether they came in contact with asbestos or not.
In any event, asbestos exposure is the cause of mesothelioma. Over the course of many decades, asbestos exposure has been linked to mesothelioma in countless studies. There are other mesothelioma risk factors, but most of them are just contributory in nature. They cannot cause the disease in and of themselves.
Not everyone who comes into contact with asbestos is going to incur a mesothelioma diagnosis. In fact, mesothelioma is relatively rare with only 2,000 to 3,000 new cases reported in the United States each year.
Exposure to asbestos can cause or contribute to a variety of other ailments like lung cancer, laryngeal cancer, ovarian cancer, asbestosis, and others. Some individuals who were exposed to asbestos may never develop any of these diseases. But, for those who do, it can be a trying time.
When it comes to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure is the only accepted cause.. But what exactly is asbestos and how does it work within the body?
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally in various parts of the world. It is composed of magnesium-silicate mineral fibers that have been used in commercial products for well over a century. Its function as a heat- and fire-resistant material made it ideal for insulation and other products that required fireproofing.
There are six different types of asbestos:
- Chrysotile – The most common form of asbestos that can easily be woven into fibers. It can be found in products like drywall, fire blankets, roofing products, brake pads, caulking materials, and numerous others.
- Crocidolite – Generally considered the most dangerous form of asbestos, crocidolite can be found in roofing tiles, insulation boards, and other insulation casings.
- Amosite – This type is similar to crocidolite and is often referred to as “brown asbestos.” It was originally mined for in South Africa.
- Tremolite – Rarely used in industrial products but can be found in some building materials
- Actinolite – Similar to tremolite in that it is not often used but can be found in building materials
- Anthophyllite – Same as tremolite and actinolite
These six types are categorized into two classes: amphibole and serpentine. The only member of the serpentine class is chrysotile asbestos.
All types of asbestos are mesothelioma risks although some can pose a slightly greater risk than others. Crocidolite and amosite are the most likely to embed themselves in tissue and stay for long periods of time, which is why they provide a higher risk for the onset of the disease.
The most common way to be exposed to asbestos is through inhalation. Asbestos particles remain airborne for hours after being disturbed and this, of course, increases the chances that they will be inhaled.
Long-term exposure to large amounts of asbestos can cause some of those microscopic fibers to lodge themselves in the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) or abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma).
When in the body, asbestos fibers can disrupt natural cell division and cause inflammation. Over time, this alters DNA and may induce the formation of tumors. This doesn’t happen overnight, however. Mesothelioma symptoms usually only begin to appear decades after an individual’s first exposure to asbestos.
It can take as little as 10 years for the symptoms to begin appearing, but this is rare.
Who is At Risk of Being Exposed to Asbestos?
We know the major risk factor and cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure, but who is most at risk?
In general, blue-collar workers in a variety of industries are the most vulnerable to asbestos exposure. This is largely because their jobsites tend to contain large quantities of the substance (or they did at one time).
While asbestos can still be found in products on jobsites today, it was at one time much more prevalent. The links between asbestos and mesothelioma were really discovered in the 1960s.
In 1972, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began regulating the use of asbestos in the workplace. Since then, the amount of asbestos found in the workplace has dropped dramatically.
Still, exposure to asbestos at any time could produce a mesothelioma diagnosis much later on in life. So, exposure in the 1970s could still prove to be dire 50 years later. But, which workers were and are most at risk?
Some common occupations include:
- Industrial workers of all kinds
- Power plant employees
- Oil refinery workers
- Chemical plant workers
- Construction workers
- Shipyard workers
All of these fields at one point or another contained high quantities of asbestos. Some employees worked directly with products that contained asbestos and others just worked with equipment that may have used the substance in some way.
It was not uncommon for asbestos insulation materials to be used as a way to avoid equipment overheating. Many older industrial plants were also not well ventilated which meant that asbestos fibers could be trapped in the air for hours on end.
Firefighters deal with a much different type of asbestos exposure. When they enter or get near a burning building, they are often inhaling a cocktail of toxic smoke and particulate matter.
Airborne asbestos is usually at a much higher concentration when it has been burned. Thus, it’s more likely for firefighters to inhale large amounts of the substance in the line of duty.
In addition to direct occupational exposure, there may be some instances in which secondhand exposure could occur. Secondhand exposure usually happens when someone who regularly works with or around asbestos brings the substance home on their clothes inadvertently. Many cases of mesothelioma have been attributed to women washing their husband’s work clothes. Shaking out clothes that contain asbestos is a dangerous way to make the fibers airborne.
Secondhand exposure can also occur if an individual lives near a facility or other location that produces large amounts of asbestos. Factories, industrial plants, power plants, and mines can all have ambient asbestos in the nearby atmosphere. While asbestos is more diffuse outside of those self-contained locations, the substance can still prove to be dangerous.
In an occupational setting, men are more at risk of asbestos exposure because they more commonly hold jobs in blue collar industries. Because of this, men make up the largest contingent of mesothelioma sufferers later in life, accounting for about 75% of all diagnoses.
Susceptibility to Mesothelioma
There are several mesothelioma risk factors that only certain people may be susceptible to. For instance, age is a major risk factor for mesothelioma. As a person gets older, the development of any disease in general becomes more and more likely. Over 90% of all mesothelioma cases are diagnosed when the patient is over 55 years of age.
Obviously, the longer someone is exposed to asbestos, the more susceptible they will be to developing mesothelioma. Working 30 years in a factory that is riddled with asbestos will increase your chances of developing diseases like mesothelioma later on. But, even smaller amounts of asbestos exposure can lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis. It really depends on the individual person and their own biology.
How to Avoid Mesothelioma Risk Factors Today
The number one way to avoid a diagnosis of mesothelioma is to simply avoid asbestos. We know that asbestos is the cause of mesothelioma in almost every case. Unfortunately, products that contain asbestos have yet to be fully banned in the United States. Under the current administration, the Environmental Protection Agency is also no longer assessing potential risks caused by asbestos.
As mentioned above, it’s not uncommon for building materials that contain asbestos to be found in older homes, offices, schools, and other edifices. As long as the asbestos is not disturbed in any way, people who occupy those buildings should be safe. Before any sort of renovation, remodel, or demolition is done, however, the owner of the building should have it checked for asbestos. No amount of asbestos exposure is safe.
If you work in a job that may contain asbestos, it is vital to protect yourself and your family from contamination.
Some steps you can take include:
- Washing clothes onsite or at least not at home
- Showering after your shift before coming home
- Wearing a respirator that is rated for asbestos
- Reporting your employer to OSHA for possible asbestos violations
Per OSHA regulations, only a minimal amount of asbestos can be allowed on any jobsite. If higher amounts are present, they must provide all the tools to help you reduce exposure. If you believe that your employer is in violation of any of these asbestos regulations, then it is important to report them to OSHA. This can help make your workplace safe while also protecting you and your family’s health.
It may be a long time before asbestos is completely eradicated from every aspect of life. So, it’s always important to protect yourself from all mesothelioma risks. If you work for a company who maintains negligent business practices as it relates to asbestos, then it’s important to know you rights.
Even if you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma for exposure in the past, there are legal steps one can take in order to be compensated for that asbestos-related negligence. While it may not be much of consolation, it does provide some form of justice and monetary compensation for your suffering. In any event, the best way to avoid any risk factors for mesothelioma is to prevent asbestos exposure as much as you can.