Survivors Book

Structural Metal Craftsmen - Mesothelioma Risks

Structural metal craftsmen do a number of jobs during the construction process. They can make the parts they need out of steel and iron by manipulating it through stretching, cutting, bending and pressing it with the help of modern machines. After making the parts, structural metal craftsmen may install and assemble the parts to build roofs, siding, HVAC systems, building structures, and much more. In the 1940s through the late 1970s, much of this metal was sprayed or made with a special insulation material that contained asbestos.

Asbestos was added to make the metals stronger, heat and fire resistant, soundproof, and able to withstand more pressure. It was not only added to metals, but insulation as well. During this time, it was almost impossible to enter a job site that did not contain asbestos in some capacity. Unfortunately, asbestos had more dangers than it did advantages. It wasn't until the 1970s that a link was found between asbestos and a rare cancer called mesothelioma, in addition to a number of other respiratory problems and diseases.

For structural metal craftsmen, this meant years of constant exposure to the harmful material, often without any safety protection. When materials containing asbestos are disturbed—such as when a craftsman would work with and shape the metal—fibers can be released, numbering in the millions each time. The fibers are often mistaken for dust and brushed off, where they can linger in the air for hours. When these fibers are breathed in, they become settled in the lungs, impairing breathing and lung function. The most common place for asbestos fibers to settle is in the mesothelium, a lining surrounding the vital organs.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen, which is a toxic substance aiding in the development of cancer. Mesothelioma is a unique cancer that affects the mesothelium lining, and can spread to other parts of the body as well. Mesothelioma usually starts near the lungs, but can sometimes also occur in the abdominal cavity as well as in the mesothelium of the heart. The cancerous tumor impairs breathing functions, putting extra pressure on the organs as it grows larger.

Another aspect that has puzzled researchers for years is the latency period of the cancer, or amount of time it stays dormant in the body. Mesothelioma can take decades to start developing, which is why most patients are in their 50s, 60s and 70s when diagnosed.

At these ages, many people write off the signs of mesothelioma as symptoms of a common flu, or signs of aging. They may also not be aware of their earlier asbestos exposure; if a doctor is unaware of this as well, he or she can overlook the symptoms as well. Mesothelioma is diagnosed more than 3,000 times a year, and the numbers grow each year. For many of these people, it is already too late. Former and current structural metal craftsmen should be aware of the risks they face—almost 300 percent more risk for mesothelioma than the average person—and educate themselves about the symptoms that can be felt. In doing this, mesothelioma can be caught earlier, which means a better prognosis of the patient and their family.


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