Mesothelioma Asbestos - Mesothelioma Is Caused by Asbestos Exposure
Exposure to asbestos can lead to a number of deadly conditions, most notably a form of cancer called mesothelioma, or "mesothelioma asbestos." (Mesothelioma asbestos is technically not a correct term, but is often used for research among patients who have contracted this disease because asbestos exposure is the only known cause of malignant mesothelioma.) Asbestos exposure can also cause a different, non-cancerous form of lung disease called asbestosis.
Asbestos has been mined, processed and used to manufacture goods for at least 2,000 years. However, the more recent heavy use of asbestos, from the late 1880s to the 1960s, caused laborers to be exposed to it in such quantities that cases of asbestosis and mesothelioma from asbestos exposure became widespread.
Thousands of people have died of mesothelioma and asbestosis since the 1930s, and medical specialists expect this epidemic to continue for the next 20 years. The lag time between initial asbestos exposure and the onset of these deadly diseases is typically 30 to 40 years and has been as long as 60 years.
Inhalation of asbestos dust is the primary means by which asbestos exposure leads to mesothelioma asbestos. The asbestos fibers are so tiny that they are able to bypass the natural filtration system of the human lungs. Once inside the most sensitive areas of the lungs, these fibers become embedded in the lung tissue. The durability and tensile strength of asbestos fibers made asbestos an attractive substance for the production of fire retardants and construction components. However, these same characteristics allow the fibers to stay embedded in lung tissue for many years without being destroyed by the body's natural defense mechanisms. This can lead to mesothelioma in the lung tissue, or pleural mesothelioma. Asbestosis also occurs due to the embedding of asbestos fibers in the lungs.
The most common type of mesothelioma asbestos, pleural mesothelioma has affected a wide range of laborers exposed to asbestos. Laborers in the Navy shipyards during and after World War II received heavy doses of asbestos exposure because they used asbestos to insulate piping, boiler rooms and other areas of high heat. In many cases the air was filled with asbestos dust, and without proper respiration systems, these workers inhaled the asbestos particles day after day.
Those who mined asbestos were exposed to heavy doses during the mining process. In mining towns such as Libby, Montana, asbestos dust filled the air of the mines and processing facilities, as well as the town square. This asbestos exposure led many laborers and townspeople to develop "asbestos lung cancer" (a layman’s term for mesothelioma).
Construction workers who installed asbestos insulation were also exposed. Asbestos was widely used in car brake linings; therefore, laborers involved in the automotive manufacturing process were placed in work environments where asbestos fibers were inhaled, potentially leading to pleural mesothelioma. Tragically, the life expectancy for pleural mesothelioma is usually very short.
Pericardial and peritoneal mesothelioma are also thought to be caused by asbestos exposure. Pericardial mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the heart and peritoneal mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the abdomen. How the asbestos fibers become imbedded in the lining of these other organs is not well understood. For those laborers who contracted these diseases, food could have become contaminated due to asbestos exposure, leading to asbestos fibers invading the abdominal lining. Asbestos fibers also may have made their way into the blood stream, either through food or inhalation, due to asbestos exposure. Once in the blood stream, these fibers could become lodged virtually anywhere in the body.
The use of asbestos has for the most part been halted, and the potential for exposure to asbestos has fallen dramatically. However, a number of older buildings still include insulation and floor/ceiling tiles that contain asbestos. Great care should be taken to limit asbestos exposure during demolition work in older buildings. Respirators should be used to filter the air, and the demolition areas should be sealed so that asbestos dust is not released from the demolition area.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established extensive guidelines to protect construction workers involved in the demolition of buildings containing asbestos.
It is also common for floor tile in older homes to contain asbestos. When remodeling, it is recommended that these asbestos floor coverings not be disturbed and the new floor coverings be placed on top of the older ones. For homeowners, several websites provide information outlining removal procedures that limit asbestos exposure. By taking the proper precautions, workers and homeowners can avoid deadly exposure to asbestos and prevent future cases of mesothelioma asbestos.
[Page updated August 2009]