You have probably heard about the mass torts against manufacturing companies that extensively used asbestos in their production. The issues may seem vague and irrelevant to you, thus you may not notice the current asbestos-related noise. However, these asbestos controversies are very real and are more than relevant to you. Asbestos contamination is not limited to the factories and communities immediately around them. At this very moment, you and your family may be living in an asbestos-contaminated home.
Asbestos is a mineral composed of minute fibers that are discernible only through the use of a microscope. Asbestos is a very popular building material because it is naturally resistant to heat and fire. It is also naturally resistant to most chemicals. As such, asbestos has found its way to almost all building materials known to man.
Applications and Uses of Asbestos
Asbestos was widely used in shipbuilding activities. Boilers, which are subject to extreme temperatures, were improved and insulated through the use of asbestos. The same was done for hot water and steam pipes. The construction industry discovered that addition of asbestos strengthened concretes. As such, asbestos was used to make roads, concrete walls, and concrete roof shingles and sidings.
The manufacturers of building materials enhanced vinyl floorings, tiles and fireproofing products with the addition of asbestos. The automotive industry used asbestos in their gaskets, clutch facings and brake linings. The makers of appliances used asbestos to insulate the doors of ovens and furnaces. The manufacturers of electrical products utilized asbestos in insulating their electrical wires and switchboards.
These are just some of the current applications of asbestos. Asbestos is also found in gardening materials, paints, adhesives, heat-resistant table pads and mats, and crayons. Asbestos consistently and unerringly found its way to every type of product we use today.
Asbestos, by its very nature, carries a grave health hazard. Its fibers are very easily inhaled. These microscopic fibers find their way to the lungs and to some other cavities (when it is inhaled, coughed up and subsequently swallowed) and wreak havoc.
Mesothelioma is the cancer of the mesothelial cells caused by asbestos. The mesothelial cells make up the inner lining of the lungs and other cavities. Mesothelioma is a fatal disease that generally has a very poor prognosis. The fact that this cancer lays dormant for years before making its presence felt makes it very deadly. A person could go through 10-15 years of his life without knowing that he has mesothelioma. The symptoms exhibited do not necessarily alert the physician to test for mesothelioma.
Lung cancer is another risk associated with asbestos inhalation. In this case, instead of affecting the inner membrane of the lungs,asbestos causes the formation of cancerous lung cells. The same difficulties with the diagnosis of mesothelioma are inherent in lung cancer.
Asbestosis is another asbestos-induced disease and it is a direct effect of asbestos fiber accumulation in the lungs. The lungs react to the asbestos fiber and the human body tries to neutralize them. The result is scar and fibrous tissue which blocks oxygen passage.
How to Avoid the Mesothelioma Risks
If you want to avoid the health hazards that asbestos presents, the first thing you have to do is avoid working in asbestos-contaminated environments. Factories that use asbestos in their production of insulation sheets and such should be avoided at all costs.
Your home is another place you can try to free yourself of asbestos. If you are going to build a house, steer clear of building materials that have asbestos components. You must also try to avoid buying appliances and other home accessories and furnishings that make use of asbestos. This should not be so hard to do since the government has already banned new uses of asbestos. The companies who previously used asbestos in construction are trying to avoid litigation by reforming their production methods and processes to exclude asbestos.
For those who already own a home, you can try to minimize asbestos-related hazards by asking for professional help when repairing or replacing materials that may have asbestos. You must not abrade, drill, scrape, strip flooring and walls and other parts of your house which may contain asbestos since doing any of these may damage the material and release asbestos into the air.
Asbestos Can Cause Cancer
High levels of exposure to asbestos can cause cancer. Asbestos readily disintegrates into individual dust-like fibers that can be easily inhaled. Gross amounts of inhalation, which is what usually happens to people who regularly work with and use asbestos by nature of their occupation, can result to accumulation of asbestos fibers in the lungs, resulting in asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Asbestosis is not a type of cancer. This chronic medical condition is typified by scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, the lungs get irritated. The human body reacts by attacking the fibers, which leads to scarring of air sacs and airways. Since asbestosis makes passage of oxygen difficult, it is characterized by coughing and shortness of breath.
Gross accumulation of asbestos fibers in the lung can result to lung cell cancer. There are two main types of asbestos-induced lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These two types can be both fatal and differ mainly in the size of the cancerous cells.
Most asbestos-related lung cancer begins at the bronchial lining but it can also begin in the trachea, the air sacs, and the offshoots of the bronchi known as bronchioles. It is difficult to ascertain its presence especially in the early stages since there are no apparent symptoms. When they do become apparent, initial symptoms include unremitting cough, hoarseness of voice, loss of weight, pain in the chest, and bloody phlegm or spit. The very general nature of these symptoms makes diagnosing asbestos induced lung cancer difficult.
While lung cancer may be caused by other stimulants, mesothelioma is mainly caused by asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma refers to the development of cancerous mesothelial cells. These cells make up the serous membrane which lines the inside of the lungs, the abdominal cavity, the chest cavity, and the cavity surrounding the heart. Asbestos exposure causes the mutation of the mesothelial cells which results to their unrestricted reproduction. More and more cancerous cells are produced and these form clumps or tumors. When the tumor is benign, it is contained so it can be excised and cancer does not spread. However, the tumor may be malignant. In this case, the cancer can spread to the surrounding tissue or some cancerous mesothelial cells can break away from the tumor, resulting in the spread of mesothelioma to other organs.
Mesothelioma symptoms and diagnosis
This disease develops very slowly and therefore most people diagnosed with mesothelioma are in their late fifties or older. Early stage symptoms include but are not limited to, pain in the area where mesothelioma has developed, muscle weakness, sensory numbness, shortness of breath, fatigue, difficulty in swallowing, sore throat, excessive sweating, weight loss, persistent coughing, bloody sputum, swelling and inflammation of face and arms, and body masses. Some of these symptoms may not be present and they can occur in any number of combinations.
Because these symptoms are common among other ailments, it takes months before mesothelioma is diagnosed. It is advised that people who have had repeated exposure to asbestos consult a physician when any combination of these symptoms become apparent.