Asbestos has been used for centuries as an insulator and fire retardant because of its resistance to heat and fire. It is a mineral that has a long flaky or fibrous form. When asbestos is being worked with, dust and fibers break off easily and can become airborne leaving anyone in the area likely to inhale them. Asbestos irritates the lungs and causes several potentially deadly medical conditions, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Although anyone who works around the asbestos industry faces asbestos exposure and the related problems, the people with the greatest risk are laborers who handle the day-to-day work. Laborers are frequently less informed of the potential dangers of asbestos than people in management type positions, and more importantly have less ability to control their work environment to prevent, or at least minimize, the dangers of asbestos on the job site.
Surprisingly, asbestos exposure is a potential hazard in a lot of industries that most people would never think might involve the use of asbestos. The shipbuilding industry has long used asbestos as a fire retardant. Laborers doing the insulating work as well as other laborers working in the same vicinity would have potential exposure risks. The same is true for boilermakers and pipe fitters. Until the early 1980’s many welding rods had an asbestos coating. There has been at least one instance of a welder getting malignant mesothelioma from asbestos exposure due to welding rods.
Another job sector that puts laborers at risk is the construction industry. In the past laborers have installed asbestos insulation and today laborers often work on buildings that had or have asbestos insulation, ceiling tiles, or floor tiles. Unless the asbestos has been properly remediated or remodeled, destruction on these buildings can release new asbestos fibers into the environment leading to new exposure from old asbestos. Regulations are in place to protect workers in this industry, but not all employers follow the regulations. A report came out during the summer of 2007 about an asbestos remediation training school that not only taught its students improper methods for handling asbestos, but also assisted its students in cheating on state certification exams.
Even workers involved in road construction may have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos. Prior to 1998, and possibly even after that time, roads in California could have up to 5% asbestos in the gravel that lines the road, and the gravel that forms the base of the road. Other jobs potentially involving asbestos are mechanics and brake technicians. Germany banned the use of asbestos years ago, but American mechanics face asbestos exposure from brake pads that are still made with asbestos. The overall numbers of Americans who face asbestos exposure are daunting. According to OSHA, 1.3 million laborers in the United States face on the job exposure to asbestos.
All of these people risk asbestos related disease. The worst of these diseases is malignant mesothelioma, an asbestos cancer of the lining in the chest cavity and lungs, in its most common form (Pleural Mesothelioma), and other internal organs in more rare forms. More than half the people diagnosed with mesothelioma die within one year. In the early stages, malignant mesothelioma produces few symptoms, and is rarely detected until it has progressed into a more serious cancer. Caught early, the best treatment is surgical removal of the tumor. If the cancer has metastasized, however, surgery may not be possible. In those cases chemotherapy and radiation may be used to slow down the progression of the disease, and to treat the symptoms that show up in later stages. These symptoms include a persistent cough, weight-loss, and shortness of breath as well as pain.