Death from Asbestos — The Story of Mesothelioma
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer of mesothelial tissue of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), heart (pericardial mesothelioma), abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma), and sometimes in the lining of the male testicles (testicular mesothelioma). Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos.
10,000 people a year die from asbestos-caused diseases in the United States
This includes one out of every 125 American men who die over the age of 50 According to the Environmental Working Group Action Fund.
My grandfather died in 1978 from exposure to asbestos. He worked in the shipyards during World War II. Asbestos was used for insulation around the engine rooms of the ships. Asbestos is able to withstand high temperatures and corrosion and is relatively abundant from natural sources. Fourteen out every one thousand shipyard workers have died from asbestos-related cancer. That’s about 61,000 additional WWII deaths from mesothelioma. For comparison, about 289,800 Americans died in combat during WWII. The Navy knew about the health risks of asbestos as is documented in Navy publications as early as 1922. If the Navy enforced it’s industrial hygiene standards, my grandfather may have lived an additional 20 years. My grandmother, his wife, lived to the age of 95. She spent the 1980s, 90s, and 2000’s living alone due to Navy negligence. Today, the decommission and demolition of older ships results in a risk of mesothelioma from exposure to the same asbestos that killed thousands while they were being built.
Is Asbestos Killing You in Your Workplace?
Other occupations at risk for exposure to asbestos are the aerospace industry, the automotive industry, the building construction industry. marine industry, military, railroad industry, and the various manufacturing industries. According to a September 2004 of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, asbestos is still a hazard for 1.3 million US workers in the construction industry. If you are unsure, always wear a protective wear a breathing mask approved for asbestos and wash-up thoroughly.
The risk to asbestos exposure comes from any building or vehicle that is old or manufacturing environment where there is a lot of dust and airborne debris. Asbestos crumbles and becomes airborne. It enters the lunges as we breathe. Most of the time, symptoms do not appear until decades later. Many products are in use today that contain asbestos. Most of these are materials used in heat and acoustic insulation, fire proofing, and roofing and flooring.
Find an Accredited Laboratory to Test for Asbestos in Your Home
The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) maintains a listing of accredited asbestos laboratories under the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP). You may call NIST at (301) 975-4016.
- NVLAP Accredited Laboratories for the Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) Test Method
- NVLAP Accredited Laboratories for the Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) Test Method
The Use of Asbestos is still Legal in the United States
I thought that asbestos had been made illegal to use. I was mistaken. Asbestos is still being used today. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no general ban on the use of asbestos. Asbestos was identified as a hazardous air pollutant in the Clean Air Act of 1970, generally reducing its use in public contracts.
Alternatives to Asbestos
Asbestos alternatives included polyurethane foam, flour fillers, cellulose fiber, thermoset plastic flour and amorphous silica fabrics. According to ToxicLinks.org, “There is no single product in day-to-day use at work or at home that needs to be made from or contain deadly asbestos .” While there are numerous materials substituted for asbestos, these materials often exhibit the same fatal characteristic which are breathable substances that pollute the body and scar the lungs in the same manner as asbestos. The areas in which asbestos is extensively used pose different challenges. This is the main reason switching to asbestos alternatives has been relatively slow.
“For example, ceramics, long used on spacecraft re-entry shields, have been very successful when applied to automotive brake pads. However, when required to cover a large area—such as a fireproof door on a sea-going vessel—the use of ceramics is quite impractical, and expensive. Steel wool and fibers are other alternatives that have been successfully employed in brake pads and other applications. Today’s fire suits, employed by firefighters and professional racing drivers, are now made with aluminized glass fiber fabric.”