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Mesothelioma and asbestos

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Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire-retardant. EPA and CPSC have banned several asbestos products. Manufacturers have also voluntarily limited uses of asbestos. Today, asbestos is most commonly found in older homes, in pipe and furnace insulation materials, asbestos shingles, millboard, textured paints and other coating materials, and floor tiles.

Four types of asbestos have been used commercially:

  • Chrysotile, or white asbestos;
  • Crocidolite, or blue asbestos;
  • Amosite, which usually has brown fibers;
  • Anthophyllite, which usually has gray fibers.

Chrysotile asbestos, with its curly fibers, is in the serpentine family of minerals. The other types of asbestos, which all have rod-like fibers, are known as amphiboles.

Asbestos fiber masses tend to break easily into a dust composed of tiny particles that can float in the air and stick to clothes. The fibers may be easily inhaled or swallowed and can cause serious health problems.

Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after asbestos-containing materials are disturbed by cutting, sanding or other remodeling activities. Improper attempts to remove these materials can release asbestos fibers into the air in homes, increasing asbestos levels and endangering people living in those homes.

Natural asbestos is found in two varieties: serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos. Approximately 90% of serpentine is the variety chrysotile, while amphibole asbestos includes crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite asbestos, actinole asbestos, and tremolite asbestos.

Asbestos has been observed to cause four health disorders. Asbestosis results in stiffening of the lung, and has resulted in the deaths of many miners. Lung cancer has a higher incidence in miners who also smoke, with the chance of developing cancer roughly proportional to the amount smoked. Asbestos-induced cancer is found only rarely in nonsmokers. Among the various type of asbestos, chrysotile workers have the lowest incidence of cancer.

Mesothelioma involves the development of a fatal tumor. The time between diagnosis and original exposure is commonly 30 years or more. Family members of miners are also at risk. Among the general population, 70-80% of all mesothelioma cases are caused by exposure to asbestos. A staggering 18% of all mortalities in crocidolite workers are the result of mesothelioma. Benign pleural changes also occur to an extent proportional to exposure, but rarely cause functional impairment.

Where Asbestos Hazards May Be Found In The Home?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the following represents areas in the home in which asbestos hazards may be found:

  • Some roofing and siding shingles are made of asbestos cement.
  • Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation.
  • Asbestos may be present in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints. Their use was banned in 1977.
  • Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos.
  • Older products such as stove-top pads may have some asbestos compounds.

Unusually for cancer, we do know what causes the majority of cases of mesothelioma. It is most often linked to exposure to asbestos. We have known of a link between asbestos and lung disease since the beginning of the 18th century. But the link with mesothelioma has only been known since the 1960's. Unfortunately, the number of cases of mesothelioma in the UK each year is expected to rise sharply over the next 20 years because of the heavy use of asbestos in industry in the years following the second world war.

Between 7 and 8 out of every 10 people (70 – 80%) diagnosed with mesothelioma say they have been in contact with asbestos. Your risk is greater if you were exposed to large amounts of it from an early age for a very long period of time. But there are some cases that say they have no history of any heavy exposure to asbestos.

Many people who develop mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure may be eligible for compensation. You should talk to a solicitor about this as early as possible. Your specialist doctor or nurse may be able to give you some information on this from their dealings with other mesothelioma patients. Or some of the mesothelioma organisations in Help and Support should be able to help.

How does asbestos cause mesothelioma?

Asbestos is made up of tiny fibres. You can breathe these fibres in when you come into contact with asbestos. The fibres work their way into the pleura, lining the lung. They irritate the pleura and damage the cells that the pleura are made of. Some of the fibres that have been breathed in can be coughed up and swallowed. This is probably the cause of peritoneal mesothelioma.

If you have been exposed to asbestos, your family may also have been exposed. Asbestos fibres can be carried home on your clothes. Research studies have confirmed that the family of people exposed to asbestos also have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma.

Malignant mesothelioma can develop up to 40 years after the initial asbestos exposure. The incidence of mesothelioma rises with the intensity and duration of asbestos exposure. Cases have been documented of mesothelioma among people with very little asbestos exposure. Many of those who are being diagnosed with mesothelioma today unknowingly experienced asbestos exposure many years ago.

Tradesmen who have a risk of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma include:

  • Building and construction workers
  • Insulators (also known as asbestos workers)
  • Boilermakers who constructed boilers filled with insulation
  • Plumbers, pipe fitters, and steamfitters
  • Plasterers
  • Automobile workers
  • Ship builders and shipyard workers
  • Electricians and mechanics
  • Bricklayers, millwrights, carpenters, etc.
  • Steel workers and refinery and other industrial workers
  • Maintenance workers and laborers
The organizations listed below can provide more information about asbestos exposure. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is responsible for preventing exposure, adverse human health effects, and diminished quality of life associated with exposure to hazardous substances from waste sites, unplanned releases, and other sources of pollution present in the environment. The ATSDR provides information about asbestos and where to find occupational and environmental health clinics. The ATSDR Information Center can be reached at: Organization: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Division of Toxicology Address: Mailstop E-29 1600 Clifton Road, NE. Atlanta, GA 30333 Telephone: 404-498-0110 1-888-422-8737 (1-888-42-ATSDR) E-mail: [email protected] Internet Web site: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the general public's exposure to asbestos in buildings, drinking water, and the environment. The EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Assistance Information Service, or TSCA Hotline, can answer questions about toxic substances, including asbestos. Printed material is available on a number of topics, particularly on controlling asbestos exposure in schools and other buildings. Questions may be directed to: Organization: TSCA Assistance Information Service U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Address: Mailcode 7408 401 M Street, SW. Washington, DC 20460 Telephone: 202-554-1404 TDD: 202-554-0551 E-mail: [email protected] Internet Web site: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is responsible for the regulation of asbestos in consumer products. The CPSC maintains a toll-free information line on the potential hazards of commercial products; the telephone number is 1-800-638-2772. In addition, CPSC provides information about laboratories for asbestos testing, guidelines for repairing and removing asbestos, and general information about asbestos in the home. Publications are available from: Organization: Office of Information and Public Affairs Consumer Product Safety Commission Address: 4330 East-West Highway Bethesda, MD 20814-4408 Telephone: 1-800-638-2772 TTY (for deaf or hard of hearing callers): 1-800-638-8270 E-mail: [email protected] Internet Web site: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is concerned with asbestos contamination of foods, drugs, and cosmetics and will answer questions on these topics. The address is: Organization: Office of Consumer Affairs U.S. Food and Drug Administration Address: HFE-88, Room 16-85 5600 Fishers Lane Rockville, MD 20857 Telephone: 1-888-463-6332 (1-888-INFO-FDA) Internet Web site: Information about asbestos is also available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site at National Cancer Institute: Mesothelioma Web:
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