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Painters - Mesothelioma Risks

Exposure to asbestos is prevalent in many occupations, making the workplace dangerous for hundreds of thousands of Americans just by stepping in the door every morning. Painters face that same risk, working in areas where they may be exposed to dangerous asbestos particles on the job. Because of the nature of their work, they're exposed to asbestos both in many of the places the work, but also by some of the materials they work with.

Asbestos was considered a wonder-material throughout the 20th century, a multi-purpose building material that was coveted for its strength, durability, and resistance to heat, fire, and electricity. It was used to insulate pipes and machinery, woven together into fiber boards to create flame-retardant drywall, and added to household products like toasters to prevent fires. For painters, danger didn't just lurk in the walls. Asbestos was used in sealants and putties used to maintain walls before painting, as well as in some of the materials used to create textures. Some paints also contained the deadly material.

The use of asbestos throughout the twentieth century was widespread, being employed in by most industries from manufacturing to shipbuilding. For a time, the United States government even mandated its use on naval ships to prevent on-board fires. As workers began to complain of difficulty breathing and lung ailments, doctors began linking these symptoms with asbestos. However, it would be decades before the general public became aware of the connection. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency finally enacted the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule, rendering the use of asbestos illegal. However, it was overturned in 1991, and asbestos became legal again, this time in trace amounts under strict government regulation.

When microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled, they become lodged in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines the lungs. This lining, which allows the lungs to expand and contract, thereby enabling breathing, begins to fill with fluid, causing respiratory problems. Tissue scarring can also occur, leading to the development of further asbestos diseases.

Because of a long latency period, which means that symptoms of asbestos don't appear until years or even decades after the exposure, diagnosing asbestos diseases is difficult. The most deadly of them, the cancer mesothelioma, is usually not detected until it has reached advanced stages. As no cure has yet been discovered for mesothelioma, doctors can only give palliative treatments designed to comfort patients and relieve painful symptoms.

Surgery is the most effective method of tumor removal, but because of the location relative to the lungs, as well as the general health of the patient by the time diagnosis is made, this is often a difficult procedure. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also common methods of treatment, targeting cancerous cells and killing them with drugs and powerful x-rays, respectively. As researchers learn more about this elusive disease, alternative methods of treatment are being developed to offer doctors the greatest advantage for ending the spread of the malignant cells. This alternative therapy, usually in experimental form, is available to patients at cancer centers, where research is conducted to find out what is effective and what isn't.


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