Veterans Assistance

Construction Workers - Mesothelioma Risks

Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the mesothelium - the thin tissue that lines the lungs, heart, and other internal organs. The disease is very rare but also very aggressive. It often has a very long latency period, and when symptoms are eventually noticed, the disease has usually progressed to its later stages. At that point, it is usually very resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This makes it very difficult to treat, and usually results in a poor prognosis - patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma rarely live an entire year past their diagnosis.

Asbestos is the term given to a variety of naturally occurring, fibrous minerals. Due to their tensile strength, high resistance to heat and electricity, and ability to withstand chemical wear, they were considered an ideal construction material. For decades, asbestos was therefore used for insulation around pipes, water boilers, and furnaces. It was also used in tiles and shingles, and as insulation for homes, office buildings, and schools.

Unfortunately, asbestos was found to be a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). The material can break into tiny fibers that can easily be inhaled or swallowed. Once in the airway, these fibers can lodge themselves in the lungs and mesothelium. There, they mutate the DNA of normal mesothelial cells, and change them into malignant mesothelioma cells. These cells grow uncontrollably, eventually developing into a deadly tumor.

About one quarter of all deaths due to asbestos-related diseases can be attributed to construction workers. This is because of the sheer prevalence of asbestos-containing materials in construction sites.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, legislation was passed restricting the use of asbestos in construction materials. Asbestos insulation, tiles, and fireproofing was scaled back dramatically. Unfortunately, this did not make construction workers completely safe. Many companies used loopholes in the laws to continue using existing stockpiles of asbestos-containing materials. Also, some other materials that were used for insulation - namely, vermiculite - were eventually found to be contaminated with asbestos.

Any construction worker that was employed before the bans on asbestos-containing materials went into effect was probably exposed to a relatively high level of asbestos. Even if no symptoms of lung disease have occurred, they are likely to be at a high risk of contracting mesothelioma. Additionally, since hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings had asbestos installed at some point, a whole new generation of construction workers might be at risk for the disease. If renovations or repairs are being performed on a structure that contains asbestos, and proper abatement procedures aren't followed, workers on the construction site will be in danger of asbestos exposure.

If you were a construction worker and you think that you may have been exposed to asbestos, it is important that you discuss your health with your doctor. He or she can keep a close watch on your health, and will be able to catch the disease early if it shows any signs of being present. As with any cancer, early diagnosis is key for a good prognosis.


Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

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

Last Edited: Sun July 26, 2020