A man who worked as a home remodeler, fireman and locomotive engineer, and who also served his country in the United States Marines, has been diagnosed with the fatal cancer known as mesothelioma.
Robert Kennedy, of Ohio, served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, from 1943 until 1945. Afterwards, he worked as a locomotive engineer and fireman until 1979, and as a home remodeler from 1952 until 1980. Any or all of these jobs could have exposed him to asbestos, the insulating and fireproofing material which causes mesothelioma. Asbestos was used extensively in military applications, especially during the World War II era, and in civilian applications beginning in the 1930s and lasting until the 1980s, when its ill effects on human health began to become public knowledge. Acoustic ceiling tiles, boiler and steam pipe insulation, electrical wiring, gaskets, furnaces, automotive and locomotive brakes, cement, siding and roofing were just a few of the items that would have contained asbestos.
When the asbestos-containing material becomes weakened—whether through being cut or damaged, or simply through wear and tear—it becomes friable, or able to flake off into a fine dust. This dust contains microscopic, but sharp, fibers that will embed themselves into the body’s soft tissues, particularly a protective membrane called the mesothelium. Once there, these fibers cannot be expelled by the body, and they may eventually lead to mesothelioma and other serious illnesses.
Striking roughly 2,500 people in the U.S. each year, mesothelioma is a rare but serious disease. It is incurable, and most patients do not live much longer than a few months after diagnosis. Because it has a long incubation period, many former asbestos workers—including military veterans—may be living with the disease without even being aware of it. Anyone who may have been exposed to this carcinogen should alert their doctor and make sure to heed any unusual respiratory symptoms, such as persistent coughing or prolonged shortness of breath. Like many cancers, mesothelioma may be more effectively treated if it is caught early.