Cabinetmakers at one time occasionally used asbestos-containing products to line the newly made cabinets. This use is outdated, and hasn’t been common since the 1970s. The asbestos was also usually present in very small quantities and of a form that was not highly friable, or likely to flake off and become airborne. That does not mean that cabinetmakers did not get exposed to asbestos in the past, and it doesn’t mean that cabinetmakers are immune from asbestos exposure even today.
Up until the government started imposing regulations on asbestos in the mid-1970s, asbestos was found in many of the products used in both home and commercial construction. ceiling tiles, floor tiles, insulation, cement, and adhesives are just a few of the many places asbestos could be found. Cabinetmakers who visited job sites where these products were being used would have been exposed to asbestos fibers that broke off and floated on the ambient air. Levels of asbestos in the air could get quite high, if, for example, asbestos spray insulation was being applied in the room next to where a cabinetmaker was installing new cabinets, or if flooring or ceiling tiles were being cut and installed nearby.
Cabinetmakers face asbestos exposure today when they take part in remodeling jobs. Although asbestos is rarely used in modern construction, any retrofitting of older buildings raises a risk that old asbestos could be disturbed. Removing old cabinets from an older home can bring back into the air asbestos that had been contained for many years. Asbestos is a flaky mineral that has excellent fire-retardant and heat-resistant properties. From the early part of the 1900s up until the early 1990s, asbestos and asbestos-containing products were readily available.
Even today asbestos products are manufactured in some places in the world including in the United States. When asbestos is handled, small amounts slough off and since asbestos is very light, the dust and small fibers float easily in the air. A person who inhales contaminated air sucks the asbestos dust into the lungs where it becomes imbedded in the tissue that lines the chest cavity and that protects the lungs. When the asbestos touches the tissue it causes an irritation that over time develops into scar tissue.
Asbestos causes many health problems with the lungs as a result of this scar tissue, and is also the cause of mesothelioma, a cancer of the mesothelium. Symptoms of mesothelioma don’t show up for several decades after the person is exposed to the asbestos. Additionally, the first symptoms of mesothelioma are usually mild and nonspecific, consisting of shortness of breath while exercising. Eventually the symptoms get more substantial and can include extreme difficulty in breathing even while at rest and pain in the chest. By the time the symptoms get bad enough that a person goes to the doctor, mesothelioma is usually in an advanced stage. Malignant mesothelioma is usually found during chest X-rays and confirmed with a biopsy of the tumor.
When caught in the earliest stages, surgery can sometimes effectively remove the cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body. If the asbestos cancer has spread, surgery is not as effective, although it may be done to ease symptoms and to slow the cancer’s progression. For mesothelioma in later stages, doctors rely on chemotherapy and radiation to try to shrink the tumors, slow their progression, and keep symptoms to a minimum. Unfortunately, even though there have been significant advances in medical technology in dealing with cancer in general and mesothelioma specifically over the past few years, there is not yet a cure.