Exposure to asbestos and asbestos dust is the main cause of mesothelioma. In fact, the risk factors are extremely high with roughly eight out of 10 people diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos although it can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years for asbestos-related diseases to surface. Worse still, once diagnosed, many patients only have a five-year survival rate.
How does it happen? When asbestos fibers are inhaled through exposure to asbestos, they enter the lungs and make their way through the small passages until they reach the pleura, the thin lining on the outside of the lungs. Here, they cause scarring and inflammation which can eventually spread causing malignant pleural mesothelioma and, even with diagnosis and treatment, can result in lung cancer and even death.
Most people who are exposed to asbestos never develop mesothelioma but there are certain professions that are prone to lengthy and extended exposure that have a much greater chance of developing the disease.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a blanket term for a group of thin silicate fibers which are resistant to fire, heat, and electricity and is very effective at absorbing sound. These properties made asbestos a popular material for a lot of products and it was one of the most commonly used materials from the early 1900s through the 1970s.
Because asbestos is so durable and cost-effective, it was found in a wide range of products across many different industries. At one time, it was so prevalent it was found in an exceptional number of goods and products, including:
- Cigarette filters
- Talcum powder
- Roofing felt
- Brake pads
There are six different types of asbestos and these are broken down into two main families based on the shape of their fibers. Serpentine asbestos is the most common and got its name from its curly snake-like fibers. The other kind is amphibole asbestos which consists of thin needle-like fibers. Amphibole asbestos is the more dangerous of the two because the small fibers can really get into the tissue and can cause significant damage in a shorter amount of time.
Hazards of Asbestos
The main reason that asbestos is so hazardous is that it’s made of thin, microscopic fibers that can easily be inhaled. These fibers are so durable that your body can’t break them down or eliminate them so they get stuck to the lung tissue. Over time, these fibers eventually lead to scarring and inflammation which can eventually lead to tumor growth. This process can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years to develop making problems difficult to catch in the early stages.
Who Is Most at Risk from Asbestos Exposure?
Because asbestos was once so prominently used, it’s possible that anyone can face an exposure risk. These passing exposures generally aren’t a cause for concern.
There are several occupations, however, with an exponentially higher risk due to the long-term, regular exposure. They include construction workers, farmers, industrial workers, HVAC technicians, oil refinery workers, and hairdressers who are exposed to various chemicals and materials that contain asbestos. Military veterans are also at high risk as asbestos was commonly used in ships, aircraft, and other vehicles as well as training facilities and barracks.
Is Asbestos Exposure Still a Risk Today?
Although asbestos is no longer actively used in most products, it’s still used in one way or another is certain industries. Most people mistakenly believe that the substance has been banned in the United States but that’s not the case.
Though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempted to ban asbestos completely in 1989, the ban was overturned by the courts. The ruling said that the ban could only apply to new uses of the material. Those products that already had an established historical use of asbestos could continue to use it; however, all products could only contain 1% asbestos.
While the use of asbestos has sharply declined, there are some industries in which it’s still quite prevalent. One common use is in vehicle parts for cars, airplanes, helicopters, and ships including brake pads and clutches. This leaves mechanics susceptible to asbestos exposure even today.
Some constriction materials are also likely to have some amount of asbestos in them, too, though it’s unlikely to affect the people living and working in the structure as long as its properly contained. On the other hand, construction workers who work with these raw materials on a regular basis are at risk for exposure.
How to Cope with Exposure
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos, there are a few things you can do. One-time exposure might be nothing to worry about but if you feel that the exposure was long term and respiratory symptoms are developing, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor right away.
Because the effects of exposure can take so long to develop, it could be decades before any symptoms surface. Give your doctor as much information as possible. After some testing, possibly including a chest X-ray or a CT scan, your doctor will be able to determine if mesothelioma is the cause of any health changes.
When to Contact an Attorney
People diagnosed with mesothelioma usually have a pretty good chance of a substantial settlement. Usually, this is paid by the company that manufactured the product causing the exposure or a victim’s trust fund.
It’s very important to get a lawyer that specializes in mesothelioma cases because they’re not always straightforward. Because so much time passes between exposure and diagnosis, some companies fight back pretty hard and try to prove that the damage was caused by exposure from other employers or lifestyle choices.
Finding the Right Lawyer
It’s important to find an experienced, knowledgeable lawyer who you can work with. By the time the symptoms of mesothelioma develop, such as unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, or lung disease, you may not be feeling very well and will have to rely on your attorney to do a lot of the work for you. For example, if the case goes to trial, you may not feel up to going to court or testifying as you may be going through chemotherapy so you need to know that you can trust your lawyer to do everything within their power to represent you.