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Asbestos: Past risk or future threat?

Asbestos: Past risk or future threat?

Most people never think or worry about asbestos. Once deemed a miracle fiber, the substance’s use was largely eradicated after OSHA came into existence. What many don’t realize is the lasting effects of the carcinogen.

At one time before the dangers were realized, asbestos appeared in a variety of manufactured items, from insulation to clothing. Exposure occurred from the products, in factories and from their loved ones’ work clothes. Use finally declined in the 1970s, but many countries (including the United States) haven’t implemented a ban, making it a worldwide threat.

It serves as the largest cause of work-related deaths in the United Kingdom. Residents in Australia are forced to abandon their asbestos-filled homes for demolition. Companies in India exploit the poor villages by using asbestos products to build homes. Asbestos kills more than 3,000 Americans each year.

Even if the use if highly regulated, the past production of asbestos can linger in homes and businesses, potentially infecting all who inhabit the buildings. Those who experienced exposure before the deadly effects were known wait decades to see if they’ll receive the deadly diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer with one known cause – asbestos exposure. By the time symptoms begin, it’s progressed to a late stage cancer with limited treatment options and no cure. After diagnosis, its victims rarely live longer than a year.

In places like Libby, Montana, the entire town is threatened by mining of the past. Discovered in 1916, the asbestos mine would come to serve many purposes in Libby, including fulfilling a variety of purposes around town, in homes and on playgrounds. Since the mine closed in 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control have intervened, leading cleanups and education while studying the lasting effects on residents.

In addition to common asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma and asbestosis, other diseases are more prevalent in the Libby area. Studies found higher rates of rheumatoid arthritis, systemic sclerosis and lupus, plus a new autoimmune disease unique to the residents.

When discovered today, asbestos can cause major delays to renovation and construction projects. Special contractors must be hired to properly remove the fibers before the crew continues. If a team ignores the risks and proceeds, legal action is taken with punishments including fines and jail time.

Earlier this summer, a $490 million highway project was temporarily shut down when asbestos was found on the rock face. The planned detour from Las Vegas to Arizona was intended to relieve traffic and took 10 years to plan. As soon as the asbestos was identified, the project had to be modified for the safety of those involved.

The threat of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases is far from over. If you’re at risk, it’s important to know your options. For information about clinical trials, recent articles and dealing with mesothelioma, visit http://www.mesotheliomacenter.org.

Footnotes

McCrea, D. (2014). Asbestos proves to be a microscopic road block near Boulder City. Las Vegas Sun. [Link]

The Huffington Post UK. (2014). More than 3,000 students in Wales slept in asbestos university bedrooms last year. [Link]