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Stationary Engineers - Mesothelioma Risks

Stationary engineers - those who work with boiler and mechanical systems - are among the occupations with the highest instances of contracting mesothelioma, a cancer which has been linked to asbestos exposure. The reason for this is simple: the widespread use of asbestos in large facilities like power plants, oil refineries, factories and industrial plants, and airports, where stationary engineers have worked.

These facilities have a high usage of asbestos because they are prone to extreme temperatures and fires, which asbestos-containing materials and building products can help safeguard against. Any kind of large machinery, such as a boiler, diesel engine, electrical system or generator, requires insulation, and until regulations were put into place in the 1970s, that insulation would almost always have been made out of asbestos.

Composed of long, thin bundles of fibers that are either straight and spiky or soft and wavy, depending on the kind of asbestos, this mineral has a remarkable level of resistance to not only heat and fire, but also corrosion and electricity. Since it is also durable and flexible, it is often used as a component in woven cloth insulation, cement, concrete, pipes, joint compound, drywall, tiles and shingles, and many other building materials. In fact, asbestos remains in over 3,000 consumer products today.

Although generally considered stable when it is intact, asbestos disintegrates into millions of microscopic particles when it is cut or damaged. These particles can be inhaled into the lungs and the mesothelium, a membrane surrounding the lungs, and from there can develop into the rare, extremely fast-replicating cancer mesothelioma.

Stationary engineers who were employed between the 1940s and the 1970s almost certainly worked with asbestos-containing materials and compounds. Since many people were unaware of the risks involved with breathing quantities of asbestos dust on a regular basis, the use of respirators or protective gear was not common. As a result, many stationary engineers may have contracted mesothelioma during their line of work without even realizing they were putting themselves at risk.

Since mesothelioma has an extremely long latency period, it can take a very long time - anywhere from 10 to 50 years - before the patient realizes he or she has the cancer, too. This is one of the most devastating aspects of mesothelioma, since it's usually inoperable by the time it is diagnosed. In its later stages, which is when most cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed, the only real option is to provide pain relief and palliative care to the patient.

Even family members of stationary engineers can be affected directly by this devastating cancer. Asbestos dust can linger on workers' clothing or hair, and they can then take the carcinogen home with them, where their loved ones can breathe it in. There have been documented cases of secondhand exposure to asbestos having caused mesothelioma.

Although asbestos has been tightly regulated since the 1980s, it remains in many buildings and other structures. Whenever it is damaged or has the potential to be easily damaged - a state that is called "friable" -- the asbestos poses a hazard to those who work around it.

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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