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Loom Fixers - Mesothelioma Risks

With the Industrial Revolution came the mass production of all kinds of household goods, including, for the first time, clothing. No longer did families have to spin their own material as textile mills opened up all along rivers, using the current to spin their water wheels and power their gigantic looms. Eventually, with the steam engine, more textile mills were opened for business, and the homespun era ended.

In the late nineteenth century, manufacturers began using asbestos. The fibrous mineral, renowned for its strength, durability, and heat- and fire-resistant properties, was heralded as a wonder-material by producers and consumers alike. Builders used it to insulate homes, industrialists used it to strengthen machines, and shipbuilders used it to prevent deadly on-board fires. Textile makers took notice, and began integrating it into their own products. They used the mineral to make fireproof blankets, gloves, and aprons for welders, among others things.

However, lung disease became more and more prevalent in those who worked directly with the material, and by World War II suspicions arose that asbestos was the cause of the diseases, but corporate directors and the government kept their findings under wraps. Finally, by the 1970s, the public began to learn more about consequences of the deadly fiber. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in, enacting the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule, ending the use of asbestos in America. However, after pressure from big business lobbyists, the ban was overturned in 1991. Asbestos became legal again, this time in trace amounts under strict regulation.

Asbestos is safe when its dormant, as it is in drywall or ceiling tiles. When it is disturbed, however - either during the building process, renovations, or even removal - the friable particles enter the air and become easily respirable. When breathed in, the microscopic fibers, which can be curly in shape or long and needle-like, become lodged in the lungs or the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines the body's major organs. This leads to tissue scarring and the cancer mesothelioma.

Currently, there is no cure for mesothelioma, though scientists are improving treatment methods as they learn more about the rare disease, which is thought to be almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Doctors can, however, give palliative treatments to comfort patients and relieve pain from the symptoms. Surgery is typically the most effective method of treatment, though it is also the most invasive. Because of a long latency period - that is, symptoms of the disease might not present themselves for years or even decades - the growth is usually too widespread to be operable.

Additionally, because diagnosis is delayed, the general health of older patients is not stable enough to support such an invasive measure. However, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also common treatment methods for patients with mesothelioma. These use drugs and high-powered x-rays, respectively, to target and kill cancerous cells. They may be used together, individually, or in conjunction with surgery, depending on the needs and condition of the patient.

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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