One of the real tragedies associated with America’s reign as an industrial powerhouse has been the exposure of millions of workers to asbestos. The microscopic fibers released by deteriorating or damaged asbestos products resulted in an asbestos related disease for hundreds of thousands of people. Asbestosis, mesothelioma, and asbestos lung cancer all are caused by asbestos fibers inadvertently inhaled or ingested by an unsuspecting individual. The overwhelming number of those instances occurred on the job, for generations of workers. The pages following this one provide information on several of the issues surrounding mesothelioma cancer, the most lethal of all asbestos diseases.
History of Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Asbestos in its natural state is a mineral composed of tough, resilient fibers. It provides excellent insulation and has high fire retardant properties. It was introduced in industrial products late in the nineteenth century, and mostly abandoned as a product component by 1978. In the intervening years thousands of tons of asbestos were mined and thousands of industrial products developed with asbestos as a component. The combination of insulating qualities and fire resistance made asbestos ideal for nautical use; from early in the 1930s until late in the 1970s every Navy ship launched had tons of asbestos insulation and fire protection products on board.
On shore the use of asbestos products grew with every passing year. Steel mills, auto plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, textile mills and dozens of other manufacturing concerns used asbestos products. Wherever there was heat used on the production line there was likely asbestos insulation or protective clothing in use. All brake shoes and brake pads were made from an asbestos compound, as were the seals for pumps and valves. Asbestos was used in cement, sealants, flooring, roofing, siding, wallboard, and many other construction products. Asbestos use peaked in 1973, with 700,000 tons of it put to use in the United States.
Most asbestos products in the United States have been off the market since 1978. However because of the extraordinary latency period with asbestos diseases many people who worked around those products are getting sick today. Mesothelioma has an average latency period of over 40 years between the first asbestos exposure and diagnosis. Currently there are about 3,000 new cases of malignant mesothelioma diagnosed in the U.S. annually.
Workers are still being exposed to asbestos products, in buildings that are being remodeled or torn down, in cement that is being dug up, with brake shoes and pump packing, valve seals, or old gaskets. People that buy old homes and remodel them on a do-it-yourself basis are at risk for asbestos exposure from old floor covering, roofing, or ceiling tiles. There are far fewer instances of asbestos exposure on the job today and contractors are careful about asbestos abatement but the dangers are still there.
Mesothelioma Legal Rights
Asbestos related personal injury suits are the single largest tort in U.S. history with over 800,000 cases filed against asbestos producers and asbestos product manufacturers. If you or a family member has mesothelioma you may be eligible for compensation.
Asbestos and Libby Health, University of Montana
A Brief History of Asbestos and Associated Health Risks, EnvironmentalChemistry.com, Roberta Barbalace, 2004