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Pipefitters - Mesothelioma Risks

Without pipefitters, where would we be? Well, to begin with, we wouldn't be able to go to the bathroom in our houses or offices. And getting a gulp from that drinking fountain at the tennis courts? Not so much. Shower in the morning? Only if it's raining out! That's because pipefitters are in charge of installing pipes in the buildings we live and work in. While a plumber may be able to take care of small-scale installation jobs, teams of pipefitters are required for larger buildings. And they don't just lay hot water pipes; pipefitters are in charge of installing and maintaining systems of pipes that carry water or chemicals, electrical wiring, or ventilation to control building temperature. Additionally, they take care of all insulation required to protect the pipes and the building.

It is in the insulating process that pipefitters run into one of their most dangerous tasks. That's because most insulation during the twentieth century was made from an asbestos-containing substance. Asbestos was considered a wonder-material because it was strong, durable, and resistant to heat, fire, and electricity. Essentially, it's a perfect insulator. However, the more it was used, the more workers began to complain of difficulty breathing and other respiratory problems. Researchers made a connection between asbestos and pleural diseases, but the corporations that relied on asbestos for their products did little to help their workers.

Instead, they - and the government - kept this information to themselves. The general public didn't become aware of the connection until the 1970s, when thousands of workers began suing their employers for negligence. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule, banning the use of asbestos in the United States. In 1991, however, this rule was overturned, and asbestos became legal once again. Asbestos companies began manufacturing their products like they used to, this time under heavier government regulation.

While asbestos is safe when it's undisturbed - as it is in walls or finished products - it becomes respirable when disrupted - as it is when being installed or sprayed on pipes as insulation, or repaired or removed without proper care. When asbestos fibers, which can be curly shaped or long and needle-like, are breathed in, they become lodged in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines the lungs, and cause respiratory problems like a buildup of fluid in the chest cavity and difficulty breathing. Workers can also develop mesothelioma, a cancer caused almost exclusively by this kind of exposure to asbestos.

With a long latency period - that is, the amount of time for symptoms of the disease to become apparent, which can take years or even decades - diagnosis usually comes late, leaving victims a matter of months to live. At this stage, doctors can offer palliative care to comfort the patient and relieve the pain of symptoms. Surgery is generally the most effective means of removing a tumor, but due to the mesothelioma tumor's proximity to the lungs and the general health of the patient - specifically their age and ability to handle invasive procedures, being that most patients are older by the time the disease is diagnosed - surgery is not often an option. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also common methods of treatment, using drugs and powerful X-rays, respectively, to combat cancerous cells.

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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