Asbestos Exposure Facts
King Law Firm Mesothelioma Lawyer Asbestos Exposure
What exactly is asbestos exposure?
Throughout the Americas and other parts of the world, asbestos occurs naturally as a rocky mineral. Asbestos, in its natural state, is harmless. Asbestos, however, can be crushed and shredded into thin, soft fibers. Asbestos, in its silky, fibrous state, can be deadly.
Mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive malignancy that quickly kills its victims, is caused by asbestos exposure. It can cause irreversible lung damage, several types of cancer, and even death. How does asbestos get into your body? What symptoms should you watch for when exposed to asbestos?
Asbestos is inhaled or swallowed when microscopic airborne fibers of the mineral asbestos are inhaled or swallowed. Crushing or abrading a product containing asbestos can release microscopic asbestos fibers, where they can float in the air and remain for a long time. If someone is anywhere near this place, it increases the chances of exposure to these microscopic asbestos fibers being breathed in or ingested.
What is the danger of asbestos exposure?
There are 80,000 asbestos fibers on one grain of rice, which explains how asbestos is made up of tiny fibers. However, asbestos is stronger than steel pound for pound. Asbestos fibers are so strong that they are deadly. Fibers of asbestos are typically inhaled when they are airborne. The mineral you are inhaling cannot be seen or felt, so you don’t know what you are inhaling. Fibers of asbestos penetrate the lungs’ lining and become stuck. Rather than breaking down the resilient, tough fibrils, the body builds up scar tissue around them, which can eventually restrict breathing and lead to cancer. You can also swallow asbestos fibers. The tiny, spear-tipped fibers penetrate the stomach lining, where they can fester for years before building up enough scar tissue to potentially cause a cancerous tumor.
Exposure to asbestos can cause health problems
When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they become deeply embedded in the cellular walls of the body. Natural defense mechanisms cannot dislodge them. Asbestos fibers embedded in the mesothelium, a sac-like membrane that lines and protects most of our internal organs, can cause cancerous cells to develop. Malignant mesothelioma most often develops around the lungs and abdomen, where this mesothelium can be found.
Asbestos exposure can cause a number of serious health conditions. Mesothelioma is a deadly and aggressive cancer that usually kills its victims within 6-18 months of diagnosis.
Asbestos exposure can cause the following types of cancer:
- Carcinoma of the lung
- Carcinoma of the larynx
- Colorectal cancer
- Pleural mesothelioma
- Peritoneal mesothelioma
- Pericardial mesothelioma
- Testicular mesothelioma
Various other Diseases
Asbestos exposure can cause other diseases, as well as cancer, ranging in severity from mild to life-threatening. Other asbestos-related diseases include:
- Pleural Plaques
- Diffuse Pleural Thickening
- Asbestos-related symptoms and signs
The body’s natural defenses cannot easily break down, destroy or eliminate microscopic asbestos fibers once they are ingested through breathing or swallowing. A person’s lungs and other internal organs can become infected with asbestos disease years after they breathe in or consume asbestos, where its needle-like points can fester for decades without exhibiting any symptoms.
Fibers made of asbestos are strong and virtually indestructible. Scar tissue forms around each fiber because the body can’t get rid of them. The slow process of transforming microscopic fibers into a mass of scar tissue capable of causing a cancerous tumor takes between 10 and 70 years in most cases.
Here are some of the symptoms of asbestos exposure that may occur with each type of asbestos disease:
When working with or around asbestos, only about five to fifteen percent of people will develop uncalcified pleural plaques twenty years after exposure. After thirty years, the number of people who develop calcified (hardened) pleural plaques jumps to about a third to half of all people exposed to asbestos. Even though pleural plaques do not cause lung cancer, some studies have found that people who are diagnosed with pleural plaques are more likely to develop lung cancer and, for this reason, should be screened regularly for changes to their lungs.
Diffuse Pleural Thickening
It is possible that workers’ pleural thickening can begin within a year of exposure to asbestos, although it is usually not observed and diagnosed until about 15 to 30 years later, when calcification occurs and fibrosis becomes more visible on an X-ray. An asbestos-exposed worker’s diagnosis of diffuse pleural thickening is usually made when the worker presents with symptoms of painful breathing or shortness of breath, which can result from a pleural effusion. Pleural thickening can result in serious complications for patients: severe shortness of breath, chest pain and, in rare cases, respiratory failure and death from lung constriction. There is, fortunately, a much lower incidence of diffuse pleural thickening in asbestos-exposed people than pleural plaques.
Asbestosis has been linked to all forms of the mineral asbestos. Asbestos exposure usually occurs more than twenty years before symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, manifest themselves. When the lungs are scarred by fibrosis, there can also be significant pain from respiratory muscle fatigue.
Carcinoma of the Lung
Lung cancer symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic coughing, chest pain, fatigue and weight loss. These symptoms usually occur at an advanced stage of the disease. Tumor growth around the lungs is often first detected by an X-ray.
Carcinoma of the Larynx
The symptoms of potential throat cancer include persistent sore throats, chronic coughs, enlarged lymph nodes, ear pain, constant phlegm production, difficulties speaking or swallowing. A chest X-ray, barium swallow, and imaging tests provide useful information about the extent and location of cancer, but a biopsy of the tumor is always required to confirm a diagnosis.
Asbestos fibers are believed by most scientists to cause colon cancer when they are exhaled and then swallowed after being cleared from the lungs. As the immune system’s defense mechanisms build up scar tissue around these fibers, these fibers eventually penetrate the gastrointestinal mucosa and can lead to tumor formation. Symptoms of colon cancer can include rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, extreme fatigue and weakness, prolonged gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, changes in bowel habits, the feeling that the bowels are not emptying completely, or no symptoms at all.
Even though there are different types of mesothelioma tumors and different types of mesothelioma cells, all forms of mesothelioma share their main cause, which is exposure to asbestos.
Malignant mesotheliomas most commonly occur in the pleura, which accounts for about 75 percent of all cases. Pleural mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs, called the pleura.
Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdomen, also known as the peritoneum. In about twenty percent of cases, this is the second most common form of mesothelioma. Unlike other mesotheliomas, peritoneal mesothelioma spreads quickly from the abdomen to other parts of the body.
One of the rarest types of mesothelioma is pericardial mesothelioma. The pericardium, lining the heart, is affected by this type of cancer. Pericardial mesothelioma affects about 1 in 100 mesothelioma patients.
The tunica vaginalis, or lining of the testicles, is where mesothelioma develops. This is the rarest of all mesothelioma cancers, making misdiagnosis quite common.
The symptoms of mesothelioma include coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath because of fluid buildup in the lining of the lungs, or distention, abdominal pain and digestive issues because a tumor presses on organs in the abdomen. A patient with mesothelioma may also suffer from emotional distress, such as fear, anger, anxiety, and depression, as well as hopelessness and despair.
Where Can Asbestos Exposure Occur?
Since asbestos fibers are not brittle or airborne, you are unlikely to be exposed to asbestos in the natural environment, such as while hiking. Toxic fibers can be inhaled or ingested only when asbestos ore is broken up, or fragmented. Asbestos can be deadly in its fibrous state.
Asbestos in the workplace
Manufacturers began adding asbestos to all sorts of industrial and consumer goods before, during and after World War II due to the growing popularity of asbestos-containing products. Workers in factories that produced asbestos products were exposed to large amounts of asbestos dust on a daily basis.
Here are some industries that manufactured asbestos products. The following workplaces might put you at an elevated risk for asbestosis if you worked there in the 1960s or 1970s:
- Floor tile mills
- Ceiling tile mills
- Asbestos textile mills
- Brake shoe factories
- Wire and cable manufacturers
- Gasket and packing manufacturers
- Boiler and turbine manufacturers
- Insulation manufacturers
- Roof tile and asphalt shingle factories
- Roofing felt and paper manufacturers
- Plastic cement and roof coating manufacturers
- Textured paint, plaster and stucco manufacturers
- Cement pipe manufacturers
- Pump and valve manufacturers
- Millboard manufacturers
- Drilling mud manufacturers
- Furnace manufacturers
- Cement siding manufacturers
- Fireproofing manufacturers
Additionally, workers in many trades were exposed to asbestos throughout the 1900s either because they used products containing asbestos themselves or because they worked near those who did. Below are some of the trades likely to have been exposed to dust from asbestos-containing materials:
- Insulators Pipefitters
- Shipfitters Boilermakers
- Crane operators inside manufacturing plants
- Sheetrock finishers
- Automotive mechanics
- Steel mill workers
- Steam plant workers
- Oilfield workers
- Electricians Floor- and ceiling-tile installers
- Roofers Homebuilders
Asbestos in consumer products
Consumers could purchase asbestos-containing products from almost any catalog company, home goods seller, auto parts retailer, or hardware store during the 1950s to 1970s. Throughout the United States, asbestos was found in products such as brake linings, clutch facings, ironing board pads, oven mitts, roof-flashing sealant, and wall-patching compound.
In spite of the EPA’s inability to get asbestos outlawed in the United States, a number of products containing asbestos have been banned here under a variety of Federal injunctions, including corrugated paper, rollboard, and flooring felt. Under the Clean Air Act of 1973, asbestos pipe covering, asbestos block insulation, and all asbestos sprays, such as fireproofing, were banned.
Asbestos was banned in 1977 by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The Environmental Protection Agency banned sprayable asbestos in 1978. But many consumer products that contain asbestos fiber are still not banned in the United States. This includes corrugated cement sheets, flat cement sheets, clothing, roofing felt, vinyl floor tile, cement shingles, cement pipe, millboard, roof coatings, automatic transmission components, clutch facings, gaskets, and friction materials such as disk brake pads and drum brake linings.
Asbestos in the home
There is a good chance that if you live in a house or apartment that was built between 1940 and 1980, one or more of the interior products in your home contain asbestos, a mineral now known to cause lung diseases and an aggressive, deadly cancer known as mesothelioma. Through the 1900s, asbestos was used in a wide array of building products because it was inexpensive, strong, durable, sound deadening and insulating, and resistant to fire, corrosion, and wood-destroying pests. Asbestos was commonly used in the construction of floors, ceilings, walls, exterior siding, and roofs. If you are renovating or repairing an older home, you should be aware of the potential asbestos risk.
Asbestos in the military
The United States military embraced asbestos products early on for their fireproof, corrosion-proof, and soundproof qualities. U.S. military personnel, wanting to protect themselves from fires in enclosed areas, have been the nation’s largest consumers of asbestos-containing products since the late 1930s. Here is a breakdown of how each branch of the U.S. military used asbestos components:
Many of the Navy’s ships and vehicles, including those still in use today, were constructed with asbestos during World War II and after. In munitions holds, boiler rooms, sleeping quarters, and mess halls, asbestos insulation was used. From the electric boards in the radar towers and radio rooms to the centrifuges in the sick bay laboratories, from the shipboard armaments to the kitchen ovens where the daily loaf of bread was baked, asbestos fibers were used in many shipboard components.
Despite asbestos’ inexpensive and fire-resistant properties, the United States Army placed a high value on asbestos insulation as its largest branch. In addition to cement boards, plaster and paint, floor tiles and ceiling tiles, these lightweight, durable fibers were used in the construction of military bases on American soil and abroad.
Asbestos products were widely used by the armed forces by the time the Air Force was designated as an independent branch of the United States military in 1947. In America, asbestos fibers were used in the construction of aircraft bases and radar stations because of their tensile strength, light weight, fire resistance, and sound and heat insulation characteristics.
A lightweight, flexible, strong and heat and chemical resistant material was required during the construction of forward bases during the mid-1900s. In addition to the buildings built, asbestos fibers were also incorporated into armored vehicles, aircraft, and sea-going vessels that transported Marines into battle.
During the normal discharge of their duties, members of the Coast Guard were exposed to asbestos. More than a thousand USCG stations are spread across 48 states and 26 foreign countries and are responsible for enforcing maritime laws, protecting coastlines and ports, enforcing drugs and border enforcement, and performing water rescues, most of which contain asbestos building and insulating materials.
Asbestos Exposure in the Household
As early as 1960, there were reports of household exposure to asbestos. A case-controlled study conducted in London in 1965 showed cases of mesothelioma among patients whose relatives had worked with asbestos, even though the patients themselves had not. Research conducted in North America on women between 1978 and 1980 further documented the phenomenon of asbestos contamination carried home from work by family members.
Asbestos fibrils, so thin that they can penetrate internal organs once inhaled or ingested, would be brought home by workers employed at construction, factory, and industrial jobs throughout the 1900s, when their spouses and other family members would collect the soiled clothes to wash. Most female mesothelioma patients report shaking out their husbands’ dusty work clothes before washing them, causing clouds of asbestos-laden dust to rise into the air, whether it occurred outside, on a porch, or in a laundry room or basement.
There are other ways in which asbestos can be secondhand exposed. Exposed to asbestos pollution from nearby asbestos-product manufacturing facilities or asbestos mines, or from nearby construction work involving asbestos, and also from using asbestos-containing products at home, such as when remodeling. One of the most tragic ways in which women and children have been exposed to mesothelioma is from the laundry of contaminated clothing.
What Level of Asbestos Exposure is Considered Dangerous?
The rocky mineral asbestos becomes dangerous only when it is crushed or broken into tiny pieces, allowing the fibers to become airborne. When asbestos is fibrous, it is called friable asbestos, which is deadly. Asbestos fibers in the air can be inhaled or ingested. When you are diagnosed with asbestos disease, you must have been exposed to asbestos fibers. How much asbestos exposure is required to cause asbestosis?
No amount of asbestos is safe to inhale, and every form of asbestos can cause lung disease. It is amazing that even a single exposure to asbestos can cause microscopic asbestos fibers to fester in the lining of the lungs and other organs of those whose bodies are predisposed to asbestos disease. As a result, scar tissue builds up around the embedding fibers for decades, with the potential to manifest itself as pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer, larynx cancer, colon cancer, and several types of mesothelioma.
Exposure to asbestos can cause asbestosis even if it is very brief or minimal. Women whose husbands or children brought asbestos dust into their homes on their clothing can develop asbestos cancer years later, even when they themselves never worked with asbestos products.
“Dose-response diseases” such as asbestos cancer and mesothelioma occur as a result of exposure to asbestos. Asbestos exposure increases a person’s risk of developing the disease.
The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease increases proportionately to the length of time spent in industries that used asbestos on a daily basis. Over 207 industries and 274 occupations in the United States were studied between 1999 and 2007. Eleven industries and seventeen occupations were identified as having “significantly elevated” levels of malignant mesothelioma diagnoses among workers.
Asbestos exposure on the job occurred most frequently during the last century in the following industries:
- Building construction trades
- Ship and boatbuilding and repair
- Oil drilling and refining
- Industrial chemical manufacturing
- Paper and wood pulp manufacturing
During the last century, asbestos disease was diagnosed in large numbers in the following professions:
- Insulators Construction workers
- Carpenters Painters Sheetrock finishers
- Chemical plant workers
- Oil refinery workers
- Metal and steel mill workers
- Paper mill workers
- Drilling rig workers
- Refractory workers
Experiencing Asbestos Exposure? Here’s what you need to do
Each year in the United States, an estimated 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma, according to the American Cancer Society. As an employee of an asbestos-using industry, you have a slight chance of contracting mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease. There is a lot to consider after receiving such a devastating diagnosis. Maybe you know you have been exposed to asbestos through your longtime job, or maybe you don’t know.
You have dozens of critical decisions to make about your future once you have your diagnosis. Is surgery in your future? What about chemotherapy? Radiotherapy? How can you maintain your quality of life moving forward? What actions and support can you put in place to do so? If you need to undergo expensive or experimental treatments, how will you pay for them?
Medical experts recommend that you monitor your health carefully if you have worked in an industry that manufactures, sells, or utilizes asbestos products. Patients who develop symptoms of asbestosis, such as shortness of breath or pain with breathing, should consult a physician. If someone with asbestosis coughs up blood, loses weight without trying, has chest pain, develops a sudden fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or develops unfamiliar, unexplained symptoms, they should see a doctor right away.
There is no cure for asbestos diseases, but some of their symptoms can be controlled. Most doctors think the difference between some patients’ health deteriorating and others’ remaining the same may be due to varying levels of exposure to asbestos. It is recommended for smokers with asbestosis to quit smoking, especially those who smoke more than one pack a day. Smokers with asbestosis are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer.
During treatment, patients are encouraged to breathe easier, prevent colds and other respiratory infections, and control complications associated with advanced disease. Bronchial secretions can be reduced by ultrasonic humidifiers, cool-mist humidifiers, and cough control. Regular exercise is beneficial for keeping the lungs healthy. However, patients are encouraged to resume their regular activities as soon as possible, even if temporary bed rest is recommended. The chest should also be X-rayed periodically at regular checkups.