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Bricklayers - Mesothelioma Risks

There is only one known and proven cause of the cancer mesothelioma, and that is asbestos exposure. There are other substances that are suspected of causing the disease, yet none of them have withstood rigorous scientific study. These studies are made difficult by the fact that mesothelioma is such a rare disease. It is therefore difficult to collect large sample sizes to study it and its causes. One thing is clear, however, and that is that asbestos exposure is by far the most common cause of mesothelioma, including any other possible causes. In fact, it appears that almost ninety percent of all cases of mesothelioma can be traced back to asbestos exposure. Many of the cases in the other ten percent have suspected, but unconfirmed exposure to the deadly material.

When an asbestos-containing material is crushed or disturbed, it will often release asbestos fibers into the air. Once airborne, these microscopic fibers can be easily inhaled or swallowed. They enter the airway and lodge themselves in the deepest parts of the lungs. From there, they can make their way to the mesothelium - the thin tissue that lines the lungs, heart and abdominal cavity. The fibers damage the mesothelial tissue and mutate its cells into malignant mesothelioma cells. These cells then grow uncontrollably and form a fatal tumor.


The most common way to be exposed to asbestos is through the workplace. Many occupations carry a risk of asbestos exposure, by either working with or around asbestos-containing materials. Unfortunately, many times this exposure can not be avoided, and the only thing to do is take proper precautions to prevent the inhalation of the deadly material.

Bricklayers before the 1980s fall into the category of people whose careers put them at risk of asbestos exposure. Blast furnaces and kilns are usually heated to extremely high temperatures - anywhere from 2000 to 3200 degrees Fahrenheit. Normal bricks and mortar can not withstand these conditions. This is because bricks absorb heat, but they don't expand evenly, so when one part gets very hot very quickly and another part doesn't, a break can form. This is similar to how hot glass that is cooled too quickly or ice cubes that are thrown into hot water. Mortar is a porous substance, so when the air in its tiny pockets expands dramatically due to the high temperatures, it would explode like a popped balloon.

Asbestos, a material with a very high resistance, was therefore commonly incorporated into bricks for furnaces. These bricks, known as "fire bricks" could withstand extraordinarily high temperatures without breaking or cracking. Special asbestos-containing mortar was also used in these high-temperature situations.

Unfortunately, the creation and handling of fire bricks and this type of mortar has exposed a lot of workers to the dangers of mesothelioma. Even though these asbestos-containing construction materials are no longer used, bricklayers of the previous generation may still be at risk of developing mesothelioma. The disease often takes many decades to progress. The human body has a difficult time removing the asbestos fibers, so once in the lungs, they often remain there for a lifetime, causing the damage that can lead to mesothelioma.

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