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Insulators - Mesothelioma Risks

One of the most effective uses of asbestos, when it was a popular building material, was its ability to insulate. With an extreme resistance to heat and fire, as well as unparalleled strength, durability, and inability to conduct electricity, it was perfect for use in pipe and wall insulation. A specialty within the construction industry, insulators were once referred to as "asbestos workers" because of the amount of asbestos used in insulation.

Asbestos, a fibrous mineral, was used throughout the twentieth century in building materials and household goods alike. The hazardous results of exposure to asbestos - the ones that cause lung ailments, cancer, and mesothelioma - were not originally known to workers, though many corporations and even the government had knowledge of them. Instead, insulators worked with materials that often included up to fifty percent friable asbestos.

Asbestos-containing insulation came in many different forms, each of them dangerous to those who installed it. Asbestos was used in foam to fit walls and around pipes, sprayed from aerosol cans, woven into fiberboard sheets, or loosely poured into crevices in the wall. Often, this work was done without any protective equipment. When any was used at all, it was minimal.

In the late 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency passed the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule, which called for the end of asbestos use in the United States. However, it was overturned in 1991, when lobbyists of the asbestos industry pushed for the ability to continue making their products. Asbestos once again became legal, but highly regulated. Today, it is still used in trace amounts in thousands of products.

Asbestos is dangerous when breathed in. Fibers, which can be curly in shape or long and needle-like, become lodged in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines the body's major organs. One of its primary functions concerning the lungs is to reduce friction in the chest cavity, allowing the lungs to expand and contract easily, essentially enabling respiration. When asbestos is inhaled, fluid builds up in the chest cavity, making breathing difficult and resulting in tissue scarring. Malignant cells form where healthy ones once thrived, causing the cancer mesothelioma. And because mesothelioma has a long latency period, which is to say that its symptoms do not become apparent for years or even decades after exposure takes place, doctors may not be able to diagnose it until its reached late stages.

Scientists have not yet discovered a cure for mesothelioma. Palliative treatment, however, is available to comfort patients and reduce the effects of painful symptoms. Surgery is one of the most effective techniques, but due to the spread of the growth, as well as the location of the mesothelioma in relation to the lungs, it is often a difficult procedure. Other common treatments are chemotherapy and radiation therapy, both of which target cancer cells with drugs or powerful x-rays, respectively. As scientists learn more about the disease, they are learning how new treatment methods may be more effective. Many cancer centers throughout the country offer clinical trials to research alternative treatments that are being developed. This allows patients to take advantage of cutting edge technology while providing researchers with actual case studies to learn more.

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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