A Fort Morgan, Colorado resident who spent his career at the Great Western Sugar plant, has died from the occupational cancer known as mesothelioma. Delbert Griffith, 71, is likely to have contracted the cancer while he was employed at Great Western Sugar Co., now known as Western Sugar Co., from 1963 to 2002.
Mesothelioma is usually considered an occupational disease because it is almost always caused by exposure to the insulating material asbestos. Asbestos was widely used in plants, factories, mills, metalworking shops, construction sites, mechanics’ garages and shipyards as a non-flammable, non-corrosive additive to many different products. It use peaked between the 1930s and 1970s, so anyone who worked a blue-collar job during that time was most likely exposed to asbestos to some degree.
Asbestos exposure can also be secondhand; there have been many documented cases of spouses or children of blue-collar workers who have contracted asbestos-related diseases because they washed the contaminated clothing or the worker, or simply because of their close daily proximity to them. Asbestos dust is fine and can easily adhere to clothing, car upholstery or hair.
Additionally, it can linger in the air for a long time, and can also be water-borne. When asbestos dust is inhaled, its microscopic fibers embed themselves in the mesothelium—a membrane which protects the lungs by producing a special fluid that allows them to move. The cells of the mesothelium eventually begin to divide erratically, and thus a tumor is born.
Although mesothelioma may not become symptomatic or be accurately diagnosed for up to fifty years after the exposure to asbestos began, once it is diagnosed it tends to kill its patients quickly. Few people diagnosed with this variety of cancer live much longer than 18 months after diagnosis. Approximately 3,000 people are newly diagnosed with the asbestos cancer every year in the United States, with that number expected to rise in the coming decade.