Mixing operatives could be employed running mixers for any number of things including rubber, chemicals, and soils. The men and women, who operated mixers, making asbestos cement and insulation, are the ones who unknowingly put their lives and the lives of their families on the line every day they went to work. Mr. C is an example of one of these workers who lost his life because of his job. During the 1950s, he worked as a mixer operator for a company in Missouri. His job included measuring out materials from overhead bins and mixing them according to a set recipe. He also hand-scooped raw asbestos fibers and added them to the mixture. After it was mixed it was dumped into bags. During this process clouds of dust including enormous quantities of asbestos were released into the air. Mr. C later developed mesothelioma and died.
Asbestos product manufacturers, even after they knew asbestos was dangerous, reassured the public, saying the products were only dangerous if the asbestos-containing product was damaged in some way that would release the asbestos fibers. This disregards the dangers the people who made those products faced when they were mixing asbestos fibers into the various compounds that use asbestos for its strengthening properties or as an insulator.
Asbestos is resistant to fire, chemically inert, and provides efficient insulation against electricity and heat. The ancient Greeks and Romans used asbestos for clothing and tablecloths that they could clean by throwing them in the fire. Asbestos linings were frequently put into suits of armor worn by knights during the Middle Ages (2). During its peak use in the United States, between World War II and the mid-1970s, asbestos was used in about 3,000 different products.
Asbestos fibers separate easily, and when they are disturbed, they slough off tiny fibers of asbestos dust. This dust is too small to be seen without a microscope, but clumps together so at times people will see dust coming off an asbestos product. These clumps, which look like just specks of dust, actually contain thousands of asbestos fibers. When the asbestos dust separates from the main fiber it easily floats on the air. Any person in the area can then unknowingly breathe in the dust. When asbestos enters the human body it gets imbedded in the lungs, or in the membrane that surrounds the lungs and lines the chest cavity.
Asbestos is also a carcinogen that causes mesothelioma and other asbestos cancers. Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer of the membrane that surrounds the lungs, but there are also other forms that may cause cancer in the lining of the stomach, heart, and / or testicles. Mesothelioma, like other asbestos-related diseases, has a lengthy latency period of 15 or more years after initial asbestos exposure. The first symptom of mesothelioma is mild shortness of breath during exercise. Over time the problem becomes worse until the mesothelioma sufferer experiences severe chest pain and can’t get a full breath of air even at rest.
If malignant mesothelioma is caught early, doctors can attempt to remove the tumor and surrounding tissue before the cancer metastasizes. Unfortunately, most people do not catch the disease in the early stages. By the time most people seek medical care the cancer has already spread throughout the body. At this point, doctors have the person complete chemotherapy and radiation treatment, sometimes in conjunction with surgery, to try to slow the growth of the cancer. There is no cure for mesothelioma, and although there are now drugs specifically designed to fight mesothelioma, the mortality rate is still very high. Few people live more than two years after being first diagnosed with mesothelioma.