Telephone repairmen are subject to potential asbestos exposure as a result of asbestos insulators used on telephone lines. Although telephone linemen do not have the high, continuous exposure to asbestos that people in some other professions may have, they are intermittently exposed. A study in France looked at the asbestos-related health risks of telephone repairmen. The study found that although telephone repairmen are not exposed to large amounts of asbestos, they do also come in contact with asbestos when cutting through drywall and insulation that may contain asbestos. The study also confirmed that people who are exposed to more asbestos are more likely to have asbestos-related disease than people with lower exposures. Important to note, the research also found more asbestos cancers than the previous studies would have suggested in people with lower amounts of asbestos exposure. Ultimately the researchers concluded that even intermittent asbestos exposure should be avoided.
Asbestos was used in over 3000 products in the United States during the height of its popularity. It was used so extensively because it is lightweight, is chemically inert and entirely resistant to fire, and effectively insulates against both electricity and heat. These properties have made it popular for centuries. There are records of the Greeks using asbestos cloth for clothing and for napkins and tablecloths that could be cleaned by throwing them in the fire. Asbestos mining and production started in the United States in the early 1900s and was used more and more up until about 1970.
Despite its popularity the dangers of asbestos were not hidden. The Greeks knew that slaves who worked with asbestos had lung problems and tended to die early. Studies were done in the United States and Great Britain in the early 1900s. There was even some legislation regarding asbestos by the 1930s, but the government and industry chose to ignore those regulations.
The danger from asbestos comes any time the fibers are disturbed. Asbestos causes a number of different illnesses, but the most serious among them is malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the membrane that surrounds the lungs and lines the chest and abdominal cavity in its most common form, pleural mesothelioma, but it can also affect the heart, stomach, and testicles in other, more rare, forms.
Mesothelioma has an extended latency period of 15 to 40 years before the disease begins to manifest itself. The first symptom of this asbestos cancer, shortness of breath during exercise, is usually ignored or not noticed by people who have it. As the disease progresses the difficulty in breathing becomes more pronounced and is associated with increasingly severe chest pain. If it is caught before it metastasizes, the tumor can sometimes be surgically removed. If the cancer has already spread, however, surgery is less effective. At that point doctors rely on a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, sometimes in conjunction with surgery, to try to slow the cancer’s growth. Mesothelioma is very resistant to most anti-cancer drugs, however, and there is no cure. Few people live more than two years after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.