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Sheet Metal Workers - Mesothelioma Risks

Sheet metal workers have a varied skill set, and may work with anything from siding, roofing and gutters, to heating, venting and air conditioning systems. They may also help construct and install industrial equipment. Sheet metal workers install, assemble, repair and maintain these systems and structures. In the past, it would have been extremely common for sheet metal workers to work with and around asbestos-containing materials during the construction or installation process.

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, has long been recognized for its valuable properties in any capacity where heat resistance or fireproofing is needed. Asbestos is also resistant to corrosion and electricity, which makes it even more useful in factories, on board ships, in automobiles and trains, and in oil refineries. Sheet metal workers may be employed at any of these sites, and may therefore come into contact with asbestos throughout their career.

Asbestos may once have been considered a "miracle mineral," but its so-called miraculous features are outweighed by the toxins it can release into the air when it is disturbed or broken. A carcinogen, asbestos is composed of thousands or even millions of microscopic fibers which can be inhaled, thereafter burrowing their way into the lungs and the protective covering of the lungs which is called the mesothelium. Once there, they become malignant and cause mesothelioma, a rare yet severe cancer which affects this covering and which is almost always linked to previous, usually occupational, asbestos exposure.

Sheet metal workers may have a particularly high level of risk for asbestos exposure, simply because of the force with which they manipulate the sheet metal and other materials with which they work. Welding, riveting, solder, cutting, drilling and bolting the customized parts can release clouds of the dangerous asbestos cement or other asbestos-containing materials into the air - and all too often, the space in which a sheet metal worker performs these duties is a cramped and poorly ventilated one. This means that the likelihood of inhaling asbestos fibers is even greater.

Mesothelioma is an unusual cancer because it can take between 10 and 50 years to become symptomatic. Even then, its symptoms - wheezing or coughing, chest pain, fatigue and breathing difficulties - may be so vague, and so closely resemble the symptoms of other respiratory diseases, that the mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed. When it finally is correctly diagnosed, the cancer has usually progressed beyond the point at which surgery is a viable option.

Thoracentesis is a procedure which is often used to alleviate mesothelioma patients' breathing, and to reduce their pain. Thoracentesis removes excess pleural fluid from between the lungs and the chest wall, by means of a thin needle attached to a catheter. Surgery and chemotherapy, either alone or in combination, can also be used to stop the spread of the cancer in early stage mesothelioma cases, and to reduce pain and help patients breathe better in mid- to later stage cases.

Anyone who has occupational exposure to asbestos, including sheet metal workers, should contact their doctor to discuss this exposure and the options available for mesothelioma treatment. Even family members of former or current sheet metal workers should learn about this deadly disease, which can even be contracted by secondhand exposure.

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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