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Heavy Equipment Mechanics - Mesothelioma Risks

After 1980, the word "asbestos" became somewhat of a four-letter word. The asbestos scare sent the entire United States into a frenzy, especially the construction, manufacturing and shipping industries. The reason was that news came out that exposure to asbestos was the cause of a deadly cancer called mesothelioma. Although the material had been used for almost 100 years in many of these industries, its dangers had been kept secret by the asbestos manufacturers. Now, millions of people have been put at risk for mesothelioma, and many do not even know it. One of the largest groups of workers at risk are heavy equipment mechanics, who repaired cars and trucks laced with asbestos materials.

Many of the materials handled by heavy equipment mechanics contained asbestos. The qualities of asbestos—heat resistance, durability and flexibility—made it an ideal material for heavy equipment parts, such as gaskets, clutches, brake pads, and more. Some of these mechanics may have done welding on the job, which is another job at risk for asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. A mechanic was often exposed by just doing his or her job, and was most likely unaware of the dangers at hand. When any of these materials are disturbed—which happened whenever a heavy equipment mechanic was working on them—asbestos fibers were released into the air. The mechanic could easily inhale or ingest these fibers, which become trapped in the lining of the lungs called the mesothelium. Although there are no outward signs, the fibers slowly scar the tissues and cause irritation and inflammation in the chest. This can cause chest pains and breathing problems, especially as fluid may begin to build up, another result of asbestos fibers present in the mesothelium.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and it is this factor that ultimately leads to the development of mesothelioma. Not every person who is exposed to asbestos will develop the cancer, but they are at a much higher risk for that and other asbestos related diseases. More than 3,000 people a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, and that number is expected to rise over the next few years due to the latency period of mesothelioma reaching its height. Mesothelioma may not develop until years after exposure, which is another reason why it is so risky. More often than not, mesothelioma is not diagnosed until it has progressed to much more dangerous stages, when treatments are not as effective and the patient's health is already very poor.

Surprisingly, individuals without actual hands-on exposure to asbestos at the workplace, or who have had very limited exposure to asbestos, have unfortunately developed mesothelioma. Ultimately, it comes down to proximity to the material, as well as the length of time the person was exposed. Many people were exposed almost daily over a period of many years, allowing the fibers to build up over time. Heavy equipment mechanics, as well as anyone who may suspect they were exposed to asbestos on the job, should meet with a doctor to undergo routine exams in order to make sure mesothelioma or an asbestos disease has not developed. If it has, chances are that it will be caught early on, which gives the patient a much better prognosis and life expectancy.


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