Mr. B was a molder in an aerospace plastics factory during the mid-1970s who came in contact with open fiber asbestos at his work place. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2005. At the Durez plastics plant in New York, more than 50 former workers have died from malignant mesothelioma because the company used raw asbestos to strengthen its compounds. Not only was the entire plant contaminated with asbestos dust, so were the areas immediately surrounding the plant. Durez continued to use asbestos in its products until 1978.
Today most molders work with the injection molding process where plastic is heated up before being injected into a pre-made mold. The operators make sure everything is working properly with the machinery and make any necessary adjustments to the controls to achieve the desired results. Other molders work with cold-molded plastics. Prior to 1980 these plastics were generally a mixture of cement and asbestos fiber. During the mixing and molding phases of these plastics, large amounts of asbestos dust could be released into the surrounding room. Although most of the modern machines are enclosed, in the past compounds were mixed in the open creating an atmosphere full of the various chemicals and additives, including asbestos, being put into the plastics.
In addition to workers at the factories being at risk for asbestos-related illness such as asbestosis or mesothelioma, their families were also at risk. The asbestos dust covered everything in the area, including the molder’s hair, clothes, and shoes. It could then fall off in the car where it could become airborne if someone sat on the seat. It could fall off in the home where vacuuming would force the fibers airborne and it could come off in the laundry exposing whoever did the laundry to asbestos. There are many stories of children developing asbestos diseases later in life solely from repeated exposure to their parent’s clothing.
Asbestos is a mineral that is lightweight, chemically inert and totally resistant to fire, as well as being an effective insulator against both electricity and heat. It is also the only mineral that can be woven into cloth. Asbestos fibers break easily, creating asbestos dust that is too small to be seen without a microscope. When the fibers get into the body they become imbedded in the tissue in and around the lungs.
The ancient Greeks knew that asbestos caused problems with the lungs, and studies confirming that it causes respiratory problems were conducted during the 1930s. The public, however, wasn’t aware of the dangers of asbestos or how far the dangers could extend from the workplace. Asbestos is linked with several health problems, most of which have a latency period of 15 years or more. Asbestos causes asbestosis and has been associated with several forms of asbestos cancer including lung cancer. It also causes mesothelioma. In its early stages mesothelioma causes mild shortness of breath during exercise. Few people even recognize it a symptom of a medical problem. The difficulty in breathing gets worse as the disease progresses, and is accompanied by increasing chest pain.
If caught in the early stages, before the mesothelioma has metastasized, in some cases the tumor may be surgically removed. If the cancer has spread, as is usually the case when mesothelioma is diagnosed, surgical removal is less likely to be successful. At later stages doctors use a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to try to retard the growth of the cancer. Although more treatment options are currently being developed, there is no cure for mesothelioma, and few people live more than two years after initial diagnosis.