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Operating Engineers - Mesothelioma Risks

Asbestos diseases are unfortunately a common occurrence among those who work in the construction field. Used most commonly as an insulator, asbestos was once widely used because of its strength, durability, and resistance to heat, fire, and electricity. Because of this, it was used in building materials, machinery, and thousands of household goods. However, the fibrous material, found natural in minerals throughout the world, has another trait that long went unnoticed: it is a carcinogen, a primary cause of a number of different respiratory ailments, including the cancer mesothelioma.

Being exposed to materials that contain asbestos for prolonged periods of time can increase an individual's risk of developing mesothelioma. Many workers throughout the twentieth century were unaware of these risks, though their bosses at the corporations that relied on asbestos to make their products and even the government, which for a time mandated the use of asbestos in naval ships, were aware. Lawsuits filed against these corporations exposed the fact that most corporations learned of the dangers of asbestos years before they told their workers, and years before they took any steps to minimize those dangers.

Those workers were exposed to the deadly fiber for years without even knowing it. Finally, in 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule, which called for a complete ban on asbestos in the United States. However, it was overturned in 1991 after lobbyists for asbestos companies argued that it was overreaching. Today, asbestos is again legal in trace amounts, under strict regulation.

Asbestos is relatively stable when it remains undisturbed. However, when it is disrupted, its microscopic particles become airborne, and respirable. This occurs when asbestos is being used as a building material, asbestos-containing materials are renovated or repaired, or even when those materials are removed from a building. For operating engineers who use machines to perform any of these duties, the risk of inhaling the particles is great.

The reasoning for this is twofold. For starters, asbestos used to insulate machines and keep them from overheating is often jarred by constantly moving components of the very machines they're operating. Secondly, operators of large machines, like bulldozers and backhoes, often use those machines to take down or destroy buildings. If asbestos abatement isn't done properly beforehand, asbestos can be released into the air during dismantling. There are thousands of similar ways operating engineers can be exposed to asbestos, depending on the nature of the work they are doing.

When asbestos particles are inhaled, they can become lodged in the mesothelium, the protective membrane that lines the lungs, allowing the to expand and contract, allowing breathing. When this occurs, breathing is made more difficult and malignant cells replace healthy ones. Because mesothelioma has a long latency period, which means symptoms can take years or even decades to develop after the original exposure, diagnosis of the disease is usually impossible until it has advanced to latter stages. While scientists have not yet discovered a cure, they are able to offer palliative treatment to comfort the patient and relieve painful symptoms.


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