Inhalation of Asbestos Fibers: Who are Really the Ones at Risk?

Statistical data show that from 1999 to 2010 more than 29,000 people in the US died of mesothelioma, a rare form of deadly cancer that affects the mesothelium, the thin cell wall that protects the body’s internal organs. Due to its 20 – 40 years latency period, many of those diagnosed with this illness are already above the age 50, while the cancer itself is more likely at stage 3 or 4, making the survival rate usually lasting only up to two years.

Inhalation of tiny, sharp Asbestos fiber dusts is the only known cause of mesothelioma. These fiber dusts stick and scar the lungs, and then spread to, and likewise damage, the other organs of the body, making the affected person’s health deteriorate until he or she becomes too weak to battle the disease.

The toxicity of asbestos was discovered during the time of Pliny the Younger, a lawyer and a magistrate from ancient Rome; this was around 100 A.D. It was during the19th century, however, when records of numerous asbestos-related deaths became more widespread, especially from the late 1800s up until the 1970s, when people in asbestos-mining towns or those whose work directly exposed them to asbestos, suffered early deaths as their lungs were scarred by asbestos fibers.

The fatal occurrences only clearly prove how widespread mining and the use of asbestos was in many different types of industries. In the US, most particularly in the shipping industry, more than four million workers (including US Navy personnel) were exposed to thousands of tons of asbestos due to their task of building US battleships (during World War II).

Besides asbestos miners, Navy personnel and shipyard workers, there were so many others whose work exposed them to asbestos, such as workers in construction sites, manufacturing plants, railroads, power plants, chemical plants and mills; there were also those whose work involved manufacturing of asbestos-containing products, and demolition, remodeling, or repair of old houses and buildings.

According to the website of Williams and Kherkher, many houses and commercial buildings, like medical centers, offices, malls, and hotels which were built before the 1970s have insulation materials and other equipment and products that contain, or may have contained, asbestos.

The most commonly identified products which contain asbestos include: roofing shingles, textured paint, stove-top pads, floors and walls that surround wood-burning stoves and furnaces, vinyl floor tiles, hot water and steam pipes, door gaskets, oil and coal furnaces, joint compounds used on walls and ceilings, ironing board covers, fireproof gloves, hairdryers, automobile brake pads and linings, and so many others. So long as the asbestos contained in these products are left untouched, then the mineral would be harmless. However, if the product containing asbestos gets disturbed through drilling, repair, damage or deterioration, or if the whole house or building were demolished, then asbestos fibers would definitely be released into the air, becoming a cancer-causing threat to anyone who inhales them.

Asbestos continues to be used in the US despite its already having been banned in 55 countries. With companies continuously exposing workers to, and manufacturing things that contain, this toxic substance there will always be someone to be diagnosed with mesothelioma years after having been exposed to it.


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