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Custodians - Mesothelioma Risks

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that affects the thin lining of the lungs and heart known as the mesothelium. The cancer is very aggressive and almost always fatal within a few months of diagnosis. Ninety percent of the time, it is caused by exposure to asbestos. The other ten percent of cases usually have suspected, but unconfirmed exposure to the material.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral. Its durability, high resistance to heat and electricity, and ability to withstand chemical wear make it an ideal construction material. Since the industrial revolution, it has been installed in homes, schools, factories, and office buildings for insulation. It was even woven into fabrics to make them more fireproof.

Unfortunately, asbestos has been shown to be a very powerful carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). The Environmental Protection Agency has banned the material from most new uses. The tiny asbestos fibers can be easily inhaled or swallowed, and can lodge themselves in the lungs and mesothelium. There, they cause damage to DNA and mutate otherwise normal mesothelial cells into malignant mesothelioma cells. These cells divide uncontrollably, forming a deadly tumor. This tumor can spread to essential organs like the heart and lungs, causing them to cease normal functioning.

Hundreds of thousands of buildings across the United States that were constructed prior to the EPA ban were installed with asbestos. However, it usually does not pose a health risk to inhabitants of a building. Asbestos can only cause mesothelioma if it enters the body, meaning that it has to be broken into tiny parts first. Most asbestos fibers are sequestered in whatever material they are used in. If an asbestos-containing material is broken, deteriorating, or otherwise worked-on - cut, hammered, or drilled - microscopic asbestos fibers can become airborne and can easily be inhaled.

Due to this fact, custodians are at a relatively low risk for asbestos exposure. This is because asbestos does not pose a health risk when it remains undisturbed, and custodians are rarely expected to modify insulation.

However, this does not rule out the possibility of asbestos exposure for custodians. If a custodian is working on an HVAC system or with insulation of some sort, there is a chance that he or she will come in contact with asbestos. A custodian might be told to fix a piece of insulation, or an old asbestos-containing material might simply have fallen into disrepair. This would release asbestos-contaminated dust into the area, putting the custodian at risk.

If you worked or work as a custodian, and you believe that you might have come into contact with asbestos, it is important for you to gather any and all information on the suspected asbestos-containing material. If it did in fact contain asbestos, it is important for you to discuss your health with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to help you get an estimate of how much asbestos you were exposed to and for how long. From that, a risk can be estimated of how likely it may or may not be that you develop mesothelioma. He or she can watch your lung health closely, and begin treatment as soon as any symptoms of the disease arise.

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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