Today Rachel Lynch from the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance will share with us about a deadly fiber that most people don’t know enough about.
What DIYers don’t know about asbestos just might kill them. Tiny particles of asbestos, a naturally occurring fibrous material used in construction in the 1970s, can enter a person’s lungs and cause Mesothelioma. This rare form of cancer only comes from contact with asbestos.
Shockingly, although we’ve known for years that asbestos causes cancer, other countries import this toxin into our country on a regular basis.
What is Asbestos?
At first, no one knew about the side effects of asbestos. Its cheap and strong qualities seemed to provide the perfect tool for myriad construction applications. After all, it has the ability to resist heat, fire and electricity.
The material can be found in wallpaper, cement, insulation, floor/ceiling tiles, pipes, furnaces, and broilers among other building materials. In addition, the toxin was used frequently in the military and ship building. Unfortunately, when inhaled, it can cause cancer.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. There are four different types of mesothelioma—pleural, peritoneal, pericardial and testicular. Pleural mesothelioma occurs in the lungs and is the most common form of the disease. Pleural mesothelioma accounts for 70 to 80 percent of all diagnosed mesothelioma cases.
Each type of the disease presents itself with varying symptoms. Due to the variation, it is extremely difficult for patients to get an accurate and timely diagnosis. Unfortunately, all too often patients receive an accurate mesothelioma diagnosis only after the cancer has progressed into the third or fourth stage. Most patients are first misdiagnosed with a more common respiratory illness such as the flu or pneumonia. To make matters worse, mesothelioma has a long latency period—it typically does not manifest until 20 to 40 years after asbestos exposure occurs.
Most often those diagnosed with mesothelioma have only 12 to 21 months to live. Prognosis can improve with early diagnosis. As previously stated, though, most cases are not confirmed until the third or fourth stage when it is too late for treatment. At that point, palliative care is the only option.
How Does Asbestos Exposure Occur?
Three distinct waves of asbestos exposure have occurred in the United States. The first wave of exposure impacted those handling asbestos in their occupations—mainly men working in mining, military personnel, and tradesmen. The second wave of exposure impacted the workers’ families. Those who worked with asbestos brought home the asbestos fibers on their clothing—unknowingly exposing their families when particles fell all their clothing and family members inhaled them.
The third—and current wave—of asbestos exposure has a close connection to the DIY craze. Many homes and schools have asbestos in them. The material is relatively harmless when left alone. However, when Do-it-Yourselfers dig into a project, they often disturb the material and release asbestos dust into the air. Anyone nearby could inhale the fibers and end up with mesothelioma
If you have an older home, consult an asbestos professional to have your home inspected before beginning any remodeling projects.
International Use of Asbestos
While asbestos use in the United States has tapered off, there are parts of the world where the asbestos trade thrives.
Although the last asbestos mine in the United States shut down in 2002, manufacturers in the United States still wanted to use the cheap and resistant material. With the United States no longer mining and manufacturing our own asbestos and asbestos products, the nation’s imports provide a major driving force in the growth in the international asbestos trade.
Other countries have imported more than 8 million pounds of asbestos into the United States since 2006. The majority of that—more than 7.6 million pounds of asbestos—arrived at the ports of New Orleans and Houston. Other ports receiving shipments of asbestos and asbestos products include Newark, Long Beach and Los Angeles. From those ports the toxic material travels out to 29 different states by either truck or rail. So, while the ban on mining asbestos protects U.S. miners from occupational asbestos exposure, the toxin still makes its way to all corners of the country and continues to put Americans in great danger.
Why is Asbestos still legal?
After reading all this you might be wondering—If we know that asbestos contains a cancer-causing toxin why do we still use it? I can assure you it’s not for lack of trying.
Beginning in the 1970s, when researchers discovered that asbestos causes cancer, the Environmental Protection Agency began attempting to ban the carcinogenic material. Unfortunately, they didn’t find success.
Almost 40 years later, the Senate unanimously passed the Ban Asbestos in America Act. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives squashed the bill and it never made it to the President.
“It’s reprehensible that Congress has allowed the man-made asbestos crisis to continue,” says Linda Reinstein, president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), which represents asbestos victims. “Each year, up to 15,000 Americans die from preventable mesothelioma and other asbestos-caused diseases and imports still continue.“
Until researchers discover a cure for Mesothelioma, prevention and raising awareness provide the best recourses for early treatment. If you or a loved one believe they have experienced asbestos exposure, visit a medical professional.
By raising awareness of Mesothelioma, people may realize they have been exposed to it and seek help before symptoms arise. A simple mention that you may have been exposed to asbestos could enable early detection, significantly increasing your chances of survival.
Rachel Lynch is the Press and Media Coordinator for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, a leading authority in providing information about asbestos exposure and its link to mesothelioma.
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