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Tool and Die Makers - Mesothelioma Risks

Tool and die makers are metalworkers, whose job is to form the metal into tools and stamps. In order to form these items, the tool and die makers must first heat the metals to extremely high temperatures in order to render it pliable. Because of the high-heat environment and potential for fire in their work environment, many tool and die makers have used asbestos-containing materials in order to protect, insulate and make flameproof their workplaces.

Boilers and forges in the metal shop are frequently covered with insulation that contains asbestos, and since asbestos is the only mineral that can be woven into cloth, it is also used for protective fabrics such as aprons, coveralls, gloves and bench covers.

Although these precautions protect the tool and die makers from burns, they pose another hazard: the asbestos cancer mesothelioma. Mesothelioma occurs nearly exclusively as a result of having been exposed to asbestos. Most exposure takes place occupationally, as asbestos has been so widely used in industrial capacities, shipbuilding, construction, oil refining and similar fields to protect against heat, flame and corrosion. Although there is no level of asbestos exposure that is considered safe, the odds of contracting an asbestos-related disease increases with prolonged or repeated exposure to the carcinogen.

When asbestos's microscopic fibers - which can be either straight and spiky or soft and wavy - become airborne, they can be inhaled or ingested by people on the site who are not outfitted with the proper protective gear. When this occurs, the fibers may lodge themselves into the lungs, or into the mesothelium, which is a protective membranous sheath covering the lungs and lining the inside of the chest cavity. This can lead to mesothelioma, although the disease has an unusually long latency period. It may take anywhere form 10 to 50 years for it to manifest symptoms, and even after the patient has begun to exhibit these symptoms—which can include coughing or wheezing, fatigue, chest pain and breathing difficulties—they may still be misdiagnosed as having another, more common respiratory condition, such as emphysema, pneumonia, bronchitis or asthma.

For these reasons, it's extremely atypical for mesothelioma to be diagnosed early enough that surgery remains a viable option. In cases of Stage I mesothelioma, surgery may be possible, depending on the size and location of the tumor and the general health of the patient. Chemotherapy and radiation may also be given in conjunction with the surgery, either before or after, in order to help shrink the tumor or to get rid of the remaining cancerous cells.

Mesothelioma has usually progressed to Stage III or Stage IV by the time it is correctly diagnosed, and at this point, chemotherapy and radiation may be administered to stop the spread of the disease, but more often they are simply provided as palliative care. Both of these treatments can improve breathing and decrease pain. Another technique, called thoracentesis, can also make it easier for the patient to breathe by removing some of the excess fluid from the pleural cavity (the space between the lungs and the chest wall).

If you have been employed as a tool or die maker, it's imperative that you see your doctor regularly and monitor your health.

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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