Veterans Assistance

Mixing Operatives - Mesothelioma Risks

Among the occupational populations that are at a greater-than-normal risk for contracting the asbestos cancer mesothelioma are mixing operatives. Although it may sound like a villain from a James Bond movie, a mixing operative is someone who works with cement, concrete or other construction materials, as well as the machinery required to mix those materials.

Asbestos can enter the picture at many stages of the mixing process. A fibrous mineral with remarkable properties of durability, flexibility, strength and resistance to high temperatures and open flame, asbestos is often incorporated into building materials, such as concrete mixes. Many varieties of concrete mixes have had asbestos added to them. The result is a cement that is stronger and more chemically stable, as well as fireproof and heat-resistant.

Some mixing operatives used their hands to scoop asbestos fibers from bins while mixing the concrete. The packing of the mixes, and of course the mixing process itself when the dry concrete mixes were combined with water, both would have created and dispersed a great deal of asbestos-contaminated dust.

When asbestos particulate is released into the air, it can be inhaled or even swallowed. It can also remain on clothing or shoes, or even cling to workers' hair, and can be therefore inhaled by people who were not physically located on the job site when the dust was raised. There have been cases of secondary exposure to asbestos causing the cancer mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma occurs once the asbestos, with its microscopic and razor-sharp particles, are inside the body. There, they bury themselves into the body's organs and other soft tissues, such as the mesothelium - the membrane that both surrounds and protects the lungs, heart and stomach, and also lines the chest and abdominal cavities. The fibers irritate the mesothelial cells, causing them to become malignant and multiply erratically. The cancer can then spread to the organs themselves, to the lymph nodes, and on throughout the body. Malignant pleural mesothelioma is the most common kind, followed by peritoneal (stomach) and pericardial (heart) mesothelioma. There is an extremely rare form of mesothelioma which affects the lining of the testicles, but fewer than 100 cases of this form have been diagnosed to date.

One of the unfortunate hallmarks of this cancer, however, is that it is not ordinarily diagnosed until very late in its advancement. This makes the possibility of successful treatment less likely. As with many cancers, mesothelioma responds best to treatment when it is caught early, but it is rarely diagnosed until stage III or stage IV. At this point, surgery is not a viable option, and often the only treatments that are available are palliative in nature - they aim to provide the patient with as much pain relief and comfort as possible, but do not really intend to stop the spread of the cancer. In these later stages, the mesothelioma has usually metastasized extensively.

Treatments available include surgery (for stage I patients), chemotherapy and radiation. A process called thoracentesis can also help patients manage their pain by removing some of the excess fluid build-up from the chest cavity. Many mesothelioma patients have also had good results from alternative or holistic therapies such as supplements, massage, acupuncture and aromatherapy. Additionally, there are a number of clinical trials being held to test experimental treatments and pharmaceuticals.


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