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Machinists - Mesothelioma Risks

What do these three places have in common: shipyards, manufacturing plants, and construction sites? If you guessed "machinists," you'd be correct. Machinists are the people who work with metal and other materials to make the parts used in these processes. The generally use tools like lathes and milling machines to create metal parts with exact precision. The parts they make are specialized to the job and can only be produced through these processes.

Another thing these job sites have in common is asbestos, a harmful mineral material that was used for construction and building processes for many decades. It was often added to metal to make it strong, durable, fireproof and heat resistant. However, the asbestos in the metal may have harmed the machinists who worked with it, exposing them to the asbestos and creating lasting effects. Asbestos is the cause of the rare cancer mesothelioma, and thousands of machinists could be at risk for it.

When an object or product containing asbestos is disturbed—such as when a machinist cuts a piece of metal—asbestos fibers can be released. They are packed so tightly, that sometimes as many as six million fibers can be released in just a few seconds. Multiplied over a period of hours, days and years, this can become a problem. Anyone nearby can inhale or ingest these fibers without even realizing it; this happened often throughout the twentieth century, in a number of occupations. Protective safety gear was much less commonly used, because many people were unaware of the health hazards of asbestos.

Asbestos fibers are especially harmful when they enter the body, because they cannot be broken down and are instead lodged in the lining of lungs, a membrane called the mesothelium. Once in the mesothelium, they are there for good, collecting and building up over years and years. The fibers are harsh, and can scratch the membrane, forming scar tissue and causing extensive inflammation that can also impair breathing problems.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that develops very slowing. Its latency period, or the time it takes for the cancer to develop or become known, is upward of 30 and 40 years for many patients. There is rarely a mesothelioma patient under the age of 55. Mesothelioma attacks the membranes and can form tumors in the lungs, abdominal cavity and the heart. In its latest stage, mesothelioma cancer cells can even travel to the lymph nodes, impairing normal body function and making the immune system deteriorate at a rapid pace.

Many people who are diagnosed are in the later stages of the cancer, because it has taken so long for them, and even for their doctor, to find the source of their problems. Many people write off symptoms of mesothelioma as a cold or the flu, or simply as the signs of aging. While they all have similar symptoms, the only real way to know if mesothelioma is present is by doing a biopsy of the affected area, as well as other tests such as an X-ray and CT scan.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that affects only 3,000 people each year. Still, its impact can be felt by many more. It is a devastating result of negligence by big corporations who thought more with their wallets that with their head, and now thousands are paying for it. If you are a former machinist, visit your doctor regularly to make sure you are not developing mesothelioma.

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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