In spring of 2007, the estate of a woman in Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against several businesses that she had worked for as a draftsman. The woman had died from mesothelioma she contracted as a result of asbestos exposure. A case in England demonstrates how frightening and pervasive asbestos exposure can be. The plaintiff in the case was a 35-year-old woman who had malignant mesothelioma. Her father had worked as a draftsman in a mine for two years when she was a very small child. She didn’t visit the mine herself, but her father unknowingly brought asbestos fibers home every day on his clothes. The young child inhaled the asbestos and 35 years later had developed the devastating disease.
Draftsmen, or drafters as they are now sometimes called, are the people who draw the designs for just about everything, from auto design, to mine shaft design, to architectural drawings. The draftsman doesn’t necessarily design the thing on which they are working; rather, they are the person who puts a concept on paper so other people can visualize the completed project. For draftsmen working in the mining and construction industries from the 1940s through the 1970s and somewhat beyond, that meant being on work sites that had a lot of asbestos in the air.
Prior to the mid-1970s there was almost no regulation on asbestos despite the fact that as long ago as in ancient Greece scholars had noted that people who worked the most with asbestos had lung problems. Asbestos was a cheap and effective insulator used extensively in the steel working industry, shipbuilding, and construction. Anyone on a site where asbestos or products made with asbestos were being used faced the possibility of breathing contaminated air, and therefore developing an asbestos related disease like asbestosis or pleural plaques, or even an asbestos cancer such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. Unfortunately, the workers didn’t know how dangerous that was even if the government and some of the larger employers did know. As a result, few if any precautions were taken to prevent asbestos from being inhaled, and no warnings were given about taking asbestos home inadvertently on clothing. As a result, not only were the draftsmen exposed, but also, like the 35-year-old mesothelioma victim, their families.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is found in different forms in many locations within the United States. When asbestos is manipulated it has a tendency to slough off tiny fibers and dust that are very light and easily become airborne. When people inhale the asbestos fibers the fibers travel into the lungs and become stuck to the tissue that lines the chest cavity. This causes irritation, and over time scar tissue develops. The scar tissue creates a condition called asbestosis that makes breathing difficult. Asbestos is a carcinogen and can cause lung cancer as well as mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer of the tissue that surrounds the lungs and is the most common form of the disease, although there are several other types of mesothelioma.