How Asbestos is a Silent Assassin

July 1, 2018
Asbestos is a Silent Assassin

Asbestos has long been known as a silent killer. Efforts to reduce its impact in the United States began as early as the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. Since then, we have discovered that the substance can cause a variety of cancers including, lung, ovarian, and, most notably, mesothelioma. The “latency period,” or the time it takes for cells to become cancerous, is long, potentially spanning several decades. But, that doesn’t mean asbestos is any less pernicious.

The carcinogenic effects of asbestos have been well-documented since at least 1993. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the National Toxicology Program all list asbestos as a Group 1 carcinogen. Prolonged inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers is the number one cause of mesothelioma later in life. Both lung and ovarian cancer can also be caused by asbestos exposure.

Because asbestos was more common in workplaces between 1940 and 1980, older folks tend to bear the brunt of its related diseases. Asbestos was once extremely common in industries and occupations like:

  • Mining
  • Construction
  • Firefighting
  • Shipbuilding
  • Automotive work

Still, younger individuals continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma. Mesothelioma patients who are 45 years old or younger survive over a year after diagnosis in only 55% of cases. Those odds are severely diminished as you get older. Only peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining of organs in the abdominal cavity, has seen improved survival rates over time. Pleural mesothelioma, the most common type of the disease that grows in the lining of the lungs, has seen mortality rates remain consistent for over a decade.

Unfortunately, detecting mesothelioma is notoriously difficult. It can offer appear to be a less concerning disease or even a minor hiccup that behavioral changes can fix. Because of this, mesothelioma is often diagnosed in the later (more terminal) stages of the disease. In only 10 to 20% of cases is surgery suggested by doctors. If other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy are ineffective, medical professional will likely prescribe only palliative care.

Legality of Asbestos

As it stands, asbestos is still technically legal in the United States as long as it is imported from other countries. A massive 340 million metric tons of the substance were imported to the U.S. in 2016. Most other developed nations have banned the substance outright. In fact, it is prohibited in 55 countries throughout the world. The EPA tried to ban the material in 1989, but courts overruled that attempt in 1991.

Asbestos can still be found in a variety of products and locations. This is especially true for houses built prior to 1980 when asbestos was more prevalent. Pre-1980 building material that might contain asbestos include:

  • Ceilings
  • Roof shingles
  • Insulation
  • Floor tiles
  • Piping

Even more alarming is that many consumer products are still allowed to have asbestos in them. These include crayons, hair dryers, baby powder, adhesives, and a variety of other products.

In 2010, the United States House of Representatives declared September 26, “Mesothelioma Awareness Day.” This is a small step toward getting the public to understand the dangers of the disease and its origins in asbestos exposure. We have great hope that the U.S. will eventually ban asbestos completely, but, until then, it’s important to be vigilant about risk factors and always support research into treatment for the disease.

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, call or email us for a free consultation.