Industrial plants were historically huge asbestos producers that put each and every person who worked in a plant at risk for asbestos-related diseases. A study done in Italy, released early in 2007, showed that, in addition, people who lived within ten kilometers were also at risk for asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma. Industrial plant workers have had lots of opportunities to be exposed to asbestos because during the height of its usage, asbestos was used in over 3000 products. Everything from roofing materials to hairdryers, brick mortar to ironing boards, were manufactured with asbestos components.
A lot of the products manufactured in the United States between World War II and the early 1980s contained asbestos. Some of the manufacturing businesses, especially those involving sheet metal and asbestos insulation manufacturing, released huge amounts of asbestos fibers. Industrial plant employees working for these companies faced large amounts of exposure, and potentially took a lot of asbestos dust home on their clothing. This asbestos could fall off in the industrial plant worker’s car or in his home, exposing his family to asbestos as well as the worker.
Since the late 1970s, regulations have been put in place to minimize worker’s exposure to asbestos. Many factories have been retrofitted to remove asbestos, and equipment in other factories has been replaced with new technology that can better contain asbestos. Removing asbestos hazards is necessary to prevent the danger from continuing far into the future, but any remodel or retrofitting job can release asbestos fibers that were previously contained. As soon as it is disturbed, the asbestos can become airborne where any person in the vicinity can inhale the asbestos fiber dust. Since this is the environment that industrial plant workers enter on a daily basis, there is a continued risk for asbestos exposure.
Asbestos is a mineral that is lightweight, chemically inert and totally resistant to fire, as well as being an effective insulator against both electricity and heat. It is also the only mineral that can be woven into cloth. Asbestos fibers break easily, creating asbestos dust that is too small to be seen without a microscope. When the fibers get into the body they can become imbedded in the tissue in and around the lungs.
The ancient Greeks knew that asbestos caused problems with the lungs, and studies confirming that it causes respiratory problems were conducted during the 1930s. The public, however, wasn’t aware of the dangers of asbestos or how far the dangers could extend from the workplace. Asbestos is linked with several health problems, most of which have a latency period of 15 years or more. Asbestos causes asbestosis and has been associated with several forms of asbestos cancer including lung cancer. It also causes mesothelioma. Malignant mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the membrane that surrounds the lungs and lines the chest cavity in its most common form (Pleural mesothelioma) or other organs including the heart and stomach, in more rare forms. In its early stages mesothelioma causes mild shortness of breath during exercise. Few people even recognize it a symptom of a medical problem. The difficulty in breathing gets worse as the disease progresses and is accompanied by increasing chest pain.
If caught in the earliest stages, before the mesothelioma has metastasized, the cancer may be surgically removed. If the cancer has spread, as is usually the case when mesothelioma is diagnosed, surgical removal is less likely to be successful. At later stages doctors use a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to try to slow the growth of the cancer. Although more treatment options are being developed all the time, there is still no cure for mesothelioma, and few people live more than two years after initial diagnosis.