Asbestos
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Auto Plant Workers - Mesothelioma Risks

With the amount of heat and friction produced by vehicles and all of their moving parts, it is no wonder that asbestos was added to many of them. During the mid-to-late twentieth century, asbestos was considered a "miracle mineral," and was put into almost every product imaginable. Its unique qualities—heat and flame resistance, durability and flexibility, and poor electric conductivity—made it especially useful and practical for car parts that sustained a lot of work, heat and friction.

The asbestos kept the cars safer, which kept passengers safe as well, and helped to make the cars and its parts last longer. However, this safety was not afforded to those who assembled the cars and these parts. Years of assembly meant years of exposure to asbestos, which was found to be very harmful and cause devastating effects. Asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive cancer.

Asbestos fibers are harmful to us because they are unnatural to the body. If breathed in, especially for long periods of time over many years, the fibers build up and embed themselves in the lining of the lungs, called the mesothelium. They cause inflammation, scar tissue, and fluid build up. This, in turn, leads to breathing problems and chest pains. After many years, the fibers can affect the tissues greatly and cause the malignant mesothelioma tumor to develop.

The latency period—the time it takes to fully develop—for mesothelioma can be as long as 30 years. Many people do not know they were exposed, so when symptoms of mesothelioma arise, they neglect to inform their doctor. And in the occurrence that they do tell a doctor, the doctor may then suspect a common illness, such as pneumonia or a chest cold, and treat the patient for that instead of the real culprit. Because of this, many people go undiagnosed for years.

Mesothelioma may start in the lungs, but it can quickly spread to other parts of the body. Most commonly, mesothelioma is also found on linings of the abdomen and the heart. The cancerous cells can spread through the bloodstream and affect the lymph nodes as well. The lymph nodes are a vital part of our immune system.

It is important to visit your doctor regularly if you were an auto plant worker, as you may have been heavily exposed to asbestos and are therefore at a greater risk for mesothelioma. It is also important to not smoke and to maintain a healthy diet. These factors can help stave off the cancer and keep it at bay. If mesothelioma is detected, you'll be comfortable knowing why it happened, and that it was caught early enough, thus giving you more available and effective treatment options.

Asbestos has been banned in certain industries and highly regulated by the government for almost 30 years, but it can still be found in many auto plants and auto parts. The "Ban Asbestos Act" of 2007 will hopefully curtail the use of asbestos across all industries, keeping people safer and lowering the risk of mesothelioma. More than 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and that number is expected to reach its peak in the next 20 years.

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Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Below are a list of occupations and trades that were at risk for asbestos exposure:

Last Edited: Thu November 14, 2013