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Iron Workers - Mesothelioma Risks

The threats posed by asbestos were most prevalent to iron workers throughout the twentieth century. Building the skyscrapers, ships, and bridges of this country, they were exposed to the deadly mineral every day. Thought to be a wonder-material, asbestos is strong, durable, and heat- and flame-resistant. It was used in building materials, insulators, fireproofing tools, and thousands of household items because of these properties.

However, as more became known about the substance, the problems that plagued workers of the industrial revolution - difficulty breathing, lung diseases, and the cancer mesothelioma - became linked with its use. For decades, this information was kept under wraps, both by the corporations that built America's infrastructure and by the government, which mandated the use of asbestos in ships and buildings.

It wasn't until the 1970s that the general public began hearing about these dangers, and it was already too late: thousands of workers had already contracted mesothelioma. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule, which effectively ended the use of asbestos in the United States. However, in 1991, it was overturned, and asbestos use became legal again, though this time under strict regulations only.

Iron workers were exposed to asbestos when using certain materials to augment iron structures. Asbestos-containing insulation was sprayed onto structural beams, pipes, and other materials to prevent fires and regulate temperature. Asbestos was also woven into fiberboards and used in foam to provide building insulation. Without the proper safety gear - and many of those who now have mesothelioma never had the proper safety gear - exposure to asbestos was most dangerous.

Asbestos is not always harmful. When in a stable condition, it is generally benign. However, when the friable fibers are disturbed - as they are in building, renovation and repair projects, and even removal - they are respirable. Once inhaled, the fibers become lodged in the mesothelium, a protective lining of the chest cavity that allows the lungs to expand and contract and enables breathing. This causes the formation of tissue scarring and malignant cells that replace healthy ones. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma or another asbestos disease include shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, fatigue, coughing up blood, and chest pain.

With a long latency period - that is, symptoms may take years or even decades to develop - doctors typically are unable to diagnose mesothelioma until it has advanced to the latter stages of the disease. And while scientists have not yet found a cure, palliative treatments are available to relieve pain and comfort the patient. In some cases, doctors can surgically remove the tumor. However, because of the growth's location relative to the lungs, and the general health of the patient, this is often a difficult procedure. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are common methods of treatment. They target the cancer cells directly, in order to stop the tumor from spreading and control the growth. Other, alternative treatments are also becoming more widespread as doctors and researchers learn more about the disease and what can be done to treat it.

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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