Most of the mesothelioma cancer patients got infected because of an asbestos exposure that they were once in contact with. Asbestos was highly used in manufacturing industries to make a wide variety of products ranging from vehicle breaks, insulation for pipes, floor tiles, and other building materials. This is because asbestos is resistant to heat and doesn’t corrode easily thus gives the products durability. However, since the rates of mesothelioma cancer patients were on the high, it was banned and more eco-friendly products replaced asbestos. This may be advantageous to the new generation but the damage has already been done to those who worked in the era of asbestos.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring minerals found in rocks and soil. Its main components are fibers which include; amosite, tremolite, chrysotile, anthophyllite, actinolite, and crocidolite. Most people come into contact with asbestos while at work, especially in building construction sites, ship repairs and automotive construction industries. The 6 different mineral fibers in asbestos are odorless, tasteless which makes it easier to inhale without being detected. In addition to that, they are so small, that they cannot be seen with the naked eye.
Asbestos exposure is inevitable as the asbestos material is everywhere you are. This doesn’t make it any easier to avoid it at all cost. However, asbestos only causes serious health issues when it accumulates to high levels in your system.
Types of asbestos
The various minerals found in asbestos are classified into two common groups, each with special character traits differentiating them from the other group. They include:
These are asbestos with long and curly fibers. Serpentine asbestos is made up of only one mineral fiber known as chrysotile, also referred to as white asbestos. It was the most widely used form of asbestos in both industrial and commercial applications. It is flexible, fireproof and is highly resistant to heat. These three properties about chrysotile made it a favorite in the manufacturing industry where it was used to make a wide variety of products, some of which are still a health hazard to the human race to date.
This group contains the other five minerals i.e. amosite, tremolite, anthophyllite, actinolite, and crocidolite (blue asbestos). These minerals are brittle and have straight needle-shaped fibers. These properties make them more hazardous and toxic than the serpentine asbestos thus pose a higher risk of asbestos exposure related diseases. The same properties also make them unfit for commercial use and for use in manufacturing industries.
What are the effects of asbestos exposure?
When you inhale asbestos, because of their toxicity, one often develops some terminal illnesses which are hard to beat. Asbestos exposure has been linked to the deadly mesothelioma cancer which attacks linings of various organs such as the abdomen, heart, and lungs. It can also lead to stomach, colon, rectal, esophageal and lung cancer and asbestosis, which is a chronic lung disease characterized by severe fibrosis formed by asbestos accumulation. All these diseases don’t have a cure so it means you have to live with them for the rest of your life, however, they can be kept under control by regular visits to the doctor and prescribed medications. The most common symptoms an asbestos-exposed person exhibits include;
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing and hoarseness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry coughs and blood in sputum
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain or discomfort especially around the chest area
- Abdominal pains (in case of abdomen related illnesses)
- Weight loss
Your chances of developing symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses depend on how long you have been exposed, the much asbestos that prevails in your body and the chemical makeup of the asbestos you were exposed to.
How does asbestos exposure cause mesothelioma cancer?
Asbestos finds its way into the human body through various means which include inhaling and swallowing, which often lead to different types of mesothelioma cancer. Other means of exposure include touching and secondary exposure – where you acquire it from someone already exposed. When you inhale asbestos fiber, they travel through the digestive tract and into the chest cavity. The more exposed you are, the more the fibers accumulate in the chest and form a tumor which later on develops into pleural mesothelioma. For swallowed asbestos fibers, they travel to the abdomen via digestive tract where they accumulate, leading to peritoneal cancer.
How to detect asbestos-related diseases
If you once worked in a factory that involved extensive use of asbestos or lives nearby an area where asbestos is naturally occurring, you should constantly have yourself checked for asbestos exposure-related illnesses. There are several ways in which you can be physically examined for the diseases. They include:
- An x-ray screening
- Lung function tests
- A biopsy for lungs, heart, and abdomen
- A bronchoscopy, which involves external examination of fluids that have been produced in affected organs.
As much as these procedures may help in identifying the presence of asbestos fiber, they don’t explain the amounts of asbestos present. Asbestos fiber can also be traced in urine, stool, and mucus.
Important facts to know about asbestos exposure
- Asbestos-related illnesses can take a long period of time to manifest themselves. It is not a rare scenario to find someone who quit working from an asbestos industry ten or twenty years ago getting sick in the present.
- Smoking cigarettes increase the chances of developing asbestos-related illnesses as it irritates the lungs. it has been related to increased risk of lung cancer but not mesothelioma
- Asbestos contains carcinogenic properties which are the reason why it causes various types of cancers such as lung cancer, colon cancer and mesothelioma among other types.
- People likely to suffer from asbestos exposure diseases include; electricians, miners, railroad workers, automotive mechanics, construction professionals, boiler operators and their family members due to secondary exposure.
- The high numbers of mesothelioma cancer patients have been attributed to by exposure to asbestos. The most prominent mesothelioma cancer is pleural mesothelioma which affects the lining of the lungs.
What has been done to curb asbestos exposure?
To reduce the cases of people suffering from illnesses related to exposure to asbestos, various rules, and regulations pertaining to the use of asbestos for industrial and commercial applications. There are also regulations put forward on the acceptable levels of asbestos in the air, especially in workplaces to minimize the chances of asbestos exposure diseases. However, to effectively curb the risks of being exposed to asbestos, it requires a collaborative effort from everyone. Workers need to:
- Inquire about any use of asbestos at their workplace. This helps keep you alert in areas where there are asbestos material and you can take better of yourself when handling asbestos.
- If working under areas with asbestos material, they need not disturb the materials to avoid exposure. In addition to that, they should wear protective materials every time they come into contact with an area that contains asbestos.
- It is never an intention to spread asbestos to family members. Therefore to ensure you don’t carry any asbestos fiber home, always carry an extra pair of clothes to work and leave those you were working with at your workplace.
- Properly dispose of any asbestos waste to avoid contaminating the air. There are certain laws that have been set on how to dispose of asbestos, therefore to avoid any further complications, ensure to follow the rules.
- Avoid engaging in practices that will disturb asbestos fiber and don’t vacuum or sweep of asbestos fiber that may have fallen.
In place of the employer or manager of an industry, it is only fair that you protect your employees from being exposed to asbestos, if any and minimize risks of them acquiring asbestos exposure related ailments. You can do this by:
- Making them aware of the presence of asbestos material and where it is located. To enhance this, you could invest in posters which you can put up in the contaminated areas.
- You should constantly perform air inspection and keep records on the amounts of asbestos at the place of work.
- Incorporate appropriate measures to keep the asbestos level in your factory or industry low. Also, ensure to provide your workers with protective gear to use when accessing areas with asbestos.
- Offer your workers medical screening to ensure that no one has been infected with asbestos-related illnesses. If any, then preventive measures can be taken and they can control the intensity of the effects.
- In the case of the high asbestos level at work, then you should provide the workers with the necessary equipment for respiratory protection.
Asbestos exposure has done a lot of damage to the lives of many individuals and families alike. People have got infected with deadly diseases including mesothelioma and as much nothing can turn to reverse that, the future can be made better by embracing various measures to offer protection to those working in areas contaminated with asbestos.