Survivors Book

Textile Operatives - Mesothelioma Risks

The end of the homespun era was brought on by the Industrial Revolution, a time when machines and assembly lines began creating goods that had been handmade for hundreds of years. Clothes, guns, carriages, and shoes were just a few of the products made available in great quantity and low prices. As technology evolved, more goods were made in greater quantities, and cheaper.

Technology also led to the use of new and varying materials, including asbestos, a mineral found naturally throughout the Earth. Its use varied greatly, from a building material to an insulator to a component of thousands of household goods, stemming from its unique combination of strength, durability, and resistance to heat, fire, and electricity. It was used to make fireproof blankets, aprons, and gloves. And it was used to keep all kinds of machines from overheating, from toasters to giant turbines. In textile mills and factories, asbestos was used to keep looms and machines from overheating and breaking down.

From the outset of industrial asbestos use, workers began complaining of breathing difficulties and lung illnesses. It was later discovered that the cause of these symptoms was asbestos. However, instead of moving to protect workers, companies and even the United States government - who, for a time, mandated the use of asbestos in naval ships - kept quiet. Decades later, when the public became aware of the dangers posed by the now-widespread material, lawsuits began targeting employers, charging gross negligence on their part. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule, ending manufacturers' use of asbestos in their products. However, the rule was overturned in 1991, allowing the use of asbestos in trace amounts, under much heavier regulation.

When disturbed, as it is in the jarring use of a loom or other machine, microscopic asbestos particles, which can be wavy in shape or long and needle-like, become respirable. Once inhaled, they lodge themselves in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines the lungs. This membrane facilitates breathing by allowing the lungs to expand and contract. After prolonged exposure to asbestos, the chest cavity can fill with fluid, making breathing difficult, and develop mesothelioma.

Scientists have not yet found a cure for mesothelioma. Surgery is effective for removing tumors, but the location of the growth relative to the lungs, as well as the general health of the patient can make that a difficult procedure. Because mesothelioma has a long latency period - symptoms can take years or even decades to appear - diagnosis is usually made after the disease has reached advanced stages, when patients' bodies can no longer handle such an invasive procedure. The symptoms - shortness of breath, fatigue, coughing up blood, chest pains, and difficulty breathing - are also common symptoms of other pleural diseases, which also makes diagnosis tough. Other common treatment methods include chemotherapy and radiation therapy, generally given palliatively, to comfort patients and relieve painful symptoms.


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