Detroit – A group of teenagers who just wanted to help out their community had their health put at risk last month when they were accidentally exposed to the harmful material asbestos, a material which can lead to the deadly cancer mesothelioma.
The teens were hired by Michigan billionaire Manuel “Matty” Maroun to assist in the cleanup of the Michigan Central Train Station, a local landmark that was built in the early 1900s but has been out of use since 1988. Because it was built so early in the century, asbestos was used throughout the building. Exposure to asbestos, especially asbestos that is old and deteriorating, can lead to the rare cancer mesothelioma.
The teens, all participants in Detroit’s “Summer in the City” program, helped haul away bricks of concrete and debris, and also swept the floors of the building, which is what ultimately led to concerns over the presence of asbestos and the health of the teens. When asbestos fibers are in the air, they are likely to be breathed in by anyone in the surrounding area. Asbestos fibers can easily lodge themselves inside the body, into the membrane lining of the vital organs, called the mesothelium. Long term exposure, and even a few short instances of exposure, can lead to buildup of these fibers, and lead to the development of mesothelioma cancer.
One of the biggest concerns being raised over the Detroit teens is how much asbestos they could have been exposed to, and how health officials will proceed with any treatment. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, which means it can take years to develop in the body and show outward signs that something is wrong. Often, patients with mesothelioma will go for 30 or 40 years until the cancer starts to develop.
There is no cure for the disease; however, researchers have taken big steps into finding better methods of treatment and detection.