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Tinsmiths - Mesothelioma Risks

Much of the tin we used today is created in an automated process with very little human touch. This was not the case throughout much of the past, when being a tinsmith was a highly specialized occupation. They pounded the tin into moldable forms for use in products from lunch boxes to plumbing pipes, and combined it with other metals and materials to make stronger building tools. One of the materials combined with tin was asbestos, a strong, durable mineral found naturally throughout the world, with high resistance to heat, fire, and electricity. Asbestos was a common building material as well, but was also used in insulation and thousands of household products. It was considered a miracle material by manufacturers who used it to keep their machines from overheating, and shipbuilders who insulated pipes and boilers to prevent on-board fires. The United States Navy even mandated its use for a time.

However, workers soon complained of trouble breathing and respiratory illnesses. When corporations discovered the carcinogenic nature of asbestos, they suppressed the information and kept it from the workforce instead of offering safety precautions and maximizing health standards. By the 1970s, however, workers who suffered from mesothelioma, a cancer almost exclusively caused by asbestos, began suing their employers. Through documents made public in these suits, it was discovered that not only did corporations - and the U.S. government - know about the dangers of asbestos, they tried to hide it. By 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency passed the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out rule, seeking to end the use of asbestos; the rule was then overturned in 1991. Asbestos again became legal for manufacturers, though in much smaller amounts, and under strict government regulation.

Tinsmiths faced increased risks of developing mesothelioma because the materials they worked with contained large amounts of the deadly substance. And while asbestos is not dangerous when undisturbed, it is hazardous to those who work directly with it. That's because microscopic asbestos fibers become respirable when disrupted, and unprotected workers can unknowingly breathe in the tiny particles. Once inhaled, they become lodged in the mesothelium, which lines the chest cavity and protecting the lungs and allowing them to expand and contract to facilitate breathing.

Those who have been exposed to asbestos for prolonged periods of time often feel fatigued, shortness of breath, and may begin coughing up blood. Because mesothelioma has a long latency period - that is, symptoms may take years or even decades to develop - diagnosis is often delayed. And because the symptoms are similar to many other diseases, misdiagnosis is common. Patients are often subjected to numerous tests to determine their affliction, and the stage it is in. With most patients, the disease is found while it is in the latter stages. With no cure, doctors perform palliative care, usually in the for of chemotherapy or radiation therapy with the goal of comforting the patient and relieving painful symptoms. Because diagnosis is often made so late, patients are expected to survive 12 to 18 months after the discovery of the disease.

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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