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Textile Mill Workers - Mesothelioma Risks

As a rock, asbestos is actually very solid. It is unique, however, because it can be broken up into fibers that peel off—a very odd property for such a solid material. When asbestos was discovered, it was hailed as one of the best materials ever. Asbestos was used for construction, ship building, insulation and electrical tools, and textiles. Asbestos is heat and flame resistant, making it perfect for industries that have high levels of heat and pressure within their buildings. It was also used in homes and consumer products such as hair dryers and clothing. Asbestos fibers can be short and sharp and also long, wavy and silky. It was this latter form of the mineral that was added to the textile making process. Little was known about asbestos, but when the truth came out, it worried everybody. Asbestos is actually a very harmful fiber that can cause mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.

For textile mill workers, the asbestos added to the fabrics put them at risk every day for exposure. Protective masks were often not provided, because the risks and dangers were not yet known. When asbestos containing materials are disturbed, the fibers can easily be released—sometimes by the millions—into the surrounding area.

During the textile manufacturing process, this happened on a daily basis. The textile mill workers could easily breath in the fibers without knowing, and this prolonged exposure is especially dangerous. Once inside the body, the fibers penetrate into the lungs and surrounding tissues, called the mesothelium. They can also travel to other parts of the body, including the abdominal cavity, the heart and the brain. The fibers irritate the tissues and membranes, causing inflammation and even scar tissue.

It is still unclear exactly how asbestos leads to mesothelioma, but doctor and researchers agree that there is a toxic substance within asbestos that can alter the function of cells, which leads to overproduction and the resulting cancer. A mesothelioma tumor can grow to be very large, impairing breathing function and other body functions. It can put extreme pressure on the vital organs, and spread quickly once it is fully developed. Mesothelioma takes years to develop; patients who are diagnosed are rarely under the age of 55, because of the long latency period.

However, when mesothelioma does start to develop, it does so slowly and quietly. The patient may not even be aware or recognize any symptoms until the cancer has progressed significantly. Unfortunately, this happens far too often. The majority of mesothelioma patients are diagnosed in Stage III or IV, the most advanced stages, when treatment is least effective and life expectancy is short.

Former textile mill workers are encouraged to visit with their primary care physician, or a respiratory specialist, to undergo tests and screenings for mesothelioma. Textile mill workers are among those with the highest risk for the cancer, due to their constant and prolonged exposure. In fact, some people can have a risk as great as 300 percent more than the average person. More than 3,000 people each year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, and the number only continues to rise. The more educated people can become about mesothelioma, the less they will become victim of this terrible cancer.

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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