How and Why is Asbestos a Health Risk?
What Asbestos Was Used For
During the 20th century, Asbestos was used extensively within the construction industry.
Asbestos was used in more than 3,000 different construction materials many such as:
- Insulation within the walls
- Floor Tiles
- Electrical Work
- Dry Wall
- Pipe Coating
- Textured paint may also contain asbestos
These are just a few examples of some of the products that asbestos might be used for.
Asbestos was once coveted for its versatility, flexibility, and affordability. It is a naturally occurring mineral that can be mixed with most anything to strengthen and fireproof. Unfortunately, it also is toxic, a fact that didn’t become well known until the mid-1970s, and the public outcry about using it began. It becomes dangerous when it’s disturbed and turns brittle over time. Asbestos is everywhere in older construction, turning the remodeling or renovation of homes and businesses into a precarious undertaking. It’s where the biggest danger remains today.
Asbestos products in new construction are limited mostly to roofing materials for heat reduction and certain cement products. The use of asbestos has significantly dropped in recent decades, but the incidence of asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, has remained as steady as ever. More than 50 countries have banned asbestos, but the U.S. only restricts it, making awareness of the dangers more important than ever.
The extensive use of asbestos throughout much of the 20th century will continue to haunt those doing repair and demolition work for decades unless proper precautions are taken.
What Is Mesothelioma?
Microscopic asbestos fibers can be unknowingly inhaled or ingested, then become lodged in the thin membrane surrounding the lungs or the heart. Over time, those fibers cause scarring that can lead to a number of serious health issues, including asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is diagnosed in an estimated 3,000 people annually in the U.S., mostly long after exposure to asbestos. The latency period between exposure and diagnosis can be anywhere from 20-50 years. Because of the latency period and early symptoms mirroring those of less serious problems, an early diagnosis is difficult to get. Mesothelioma is usually not diagnosed until it already has metastasized, making it more difficult to treat. The rarity of the disease makes it critically important to find a specialist to stage and treat it. Most doctors, even oncologists, rarely see it and don’t understand its intricacies. Finding a specialty center is vital.
Although the typical prognosis is 9-18 months to live, recent advancements in medicine have extended survival times significantly. People are now living two-five years plus with mesothelioma. There is no cure, but treatment has come a long way. A multidisciplinary approach that includes a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can extend lives. There are clinical trials with the latest immunotherapy and gene therapy drugs.
Hope has replaced the gloom-and-doom approach of the past.
Just remember, though, that vigilance is imperative. Tradesmen of all kinds remain at risk. Firemen are especially vulnerable when answering calls in older buildings. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and appliance installers also could be at risk.
Tim Povtak is the primary content writer for this article and is also the content writer for the Mesothelioma Center and Asbestos.com, an informational source for mesothelioma patients and families.