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Furnace Men, Smelter Men and Pourers - Mesothelioma Risks

Furnace men, pourers and smelter men work with metal and metal ores, which must be heated to very high temperatures. Manufacturing processes such as welding and smelting take place, therefore, in extremely hot environments, and the people who work in these environments require extensive protection from the heat and open flame. That's where asbestos comes in.

Asbestos is the catch-all term for a group of organic minerals which have some remarkable properties. Asbestos is extremely resistant to heat and fire. It is also flexible and can be woven into cloth, making it ideal for such products as aprons, gloves, pants, hats and hoods, which are worn by those involved int the smelting industry. Asbestos can also be mixed with materials such as cement. Its durability and flameproof nature made asbestos - and the thousands of commercial and industrial products in which it was used - virtually indispensable to smelters and furnace men. Not only would they have worn the protective gear made from asbestos, but their workplace itself would have had many items of asbestos-containing equipment, such as furnace doors, gaskets, and ducts.

The health hazards of asbestos, however, have made these workers much more vulnerable to certain diseases, including a very rare form of cancer called mesothelioma. The connection between asbestos and mesothelioma is well-documented, even though a very long time - up to 50 years, in some cases - can elapse between the time a person is first exposed to asbestos and the time that mesothelioma is diagnosed.

Mesothelioma develops when microscopic asbestos fibers are released into the air and then inhaled; the fibers can penetrate the lungs or the lungs' outer lining, which is called the mesothelium. Some of the symptoms of mesothelioma include wheezing or hacking, persistent cough or bloody cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, and labored breathing. Because these are also symptoms of other diseases and illnesses, like bronchitis, emphysema and even influenza, many times mesothelioma is misdiagnosed.

One of the tragedies of mesothelioma is that by the time symptoms begin to manifest themselves, and the diagnosis is made, the cancer has usually advanced to a very late stage. As with most cancers, mesothelioma is easier to treat if it's diagnosed early, in Stage I, but this rarely happens. Surgery is only an option for certain patients, whose mesothelioma has not progressed or spread throughout the body. Once the cancer has metastasized, however, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a procedure called thoracentesis may still be utilized to relieve symptoms and make the patient more comfortable.

In thoracentesis, the doctor will insert a thin needle, usually attached to a catheter, into the patient's chest cavity. The needle is used to remove excess pleural fluid, which can make breathing difficult and painful if it is not removed.

If you are a current or retired furnace worker, smelting worker or pourer, you should be sure to let your doctor know about the possible exposure to asbestos you may have experienced. Report any symptoms of mesothelioma immediately.

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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