Undetected Carcinogens: Understanding Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used in a variety of building materials and products for decades. It is fire-resistant, durable, and has excellent insulating properties, which is why it was so commonly used in construction, shipbuilding, and other industries. Unfortunately, it is also a known carcinogen that can cause a range of serious diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and heart. It is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos and has a very poor prognosis. According to the American Cancer Society, only about 20% of people diagnosed with mesothelioma survive for five years or more.

While asbestos has been banned in many countries, including the European Union, it is still legal to use in the United States, with some restrictions. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only a handful of asbestos products are banned under the Toxic Substances Control Act. These include corrugate, specialty, commercial paper, rollboard, and flooring felt. Other uses of asbestos, such as in brake linings and certain types of insulation, are still legal (www.epa.gov/asbestos/epa-actions-protect-public-exposure-asbestos).

This means that even though many people are aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure, they may still be unknowingly exposed to the mineral on a regular basis. For example, people who live or work in older buildings may be exposed to asbestos through the building’s insulation, floor tiles, or ceiling tiles. Even minor home renovations or repairs can disturb asbestos-containing materials and release fibers into the air.

The Case of Mesothelioma in Women

While mesothelioma is most commonly diagnosed in men who work in at-risk industries such as construction or shipbuilding, the number of women dying from the disease has been on the rise. According to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the number of annual deaths of women caused by mesothelioma has increased from 489 in 1999 to 614 in 2020. This is concerning because mesothelioma can lie dormant for decades before symptoms appear, which means that many women who are being diagnosed now were likely exposed to asbestos years ago (www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7119a1.htm?s_cid=mm7119a1_w).

Interestingly, the study found that the women who are dying from mesothelioma are not working in at-risk industries themselves. Instead, they are most likely being exposed to asbestos through second-hand exposure, such as by living with someone who works in an at-risk industry or through exposure to asbestos-containing materials in older buildings.

The study also identified three occupations held by women that had a higher than average number of mesothelioma deaths: homemakers, elementary and middle school teachers, and registered nurses. This suggests that women in these occupations may be at a higher risk of exposure to asbestos than previously thought.

Of the three occupations analyzed in the CDC study, homemakers had the highest number of mesothelioma deaths. This may be because asbestos fibers can linger in clothing or hair, which puts family members, particularly women, at risk for second-hand exposure. Additionally, homemakers often handle tasks such as home renovation and repair, which can disturb asbestos fibers that were used in building materials. Therefore, it is important for individuals who do any type of home renovation or repair work to be aware of the potential risks associated with asbestos and take proper precautions, such as wearing protective clothing and equipment and properly disposing of any asbestos-containing materials.

Elementary and middle school teachers also had a high number of mesothelioma deaths. This may be because many schools were built during a time when asbestos was commonly used in building materials such as ceiling tiles, floor tiles, and insulation. When these materials deteriorate or are disturbed, asbestos fibers can be released into the air, putting teachers and students at risk for exposure. It is important for school districts to properly manage and maintain their buildings to minimize the risk of asbestos exposure.

Registered nurses also had a high number of mesothelioma deaths, likely due to exposure to asbestos-containing materials used in hospitals, such as insulation, ceiling tiles, and flooring. It is important for healthcare facilities to be aware of the potential risks associated with asbestos and to take proper precautions to protect their staff and patients.

The Law Offices of David L. Hood and co-counsel have been fighting for the rights of injured mesothelioma victims (and their families) across South Carolina for over 25 years.

Mesothelioma Deaths Up in Women

Reducing Your Risk of Asbestos Exposure

While it can be difficult to know if you have been exposed to asbestos, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. These include:

  • Avoiding areas where asbestos may be present, such as old building sites or unpaved roads
  • Using asbestos-free soil for gardening or playing outside
  • Wetting down surfaces before cleaning or dusting to minimize the release of fibers
  • Using a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner to trap asbestos fibers
  • Washing rugs and mopping non-carpeted floors regularly
  • Removing shoes before entering the home to prevent tracking in dirt and dust

In addition to taking precautions to reduce exposure, it is important for individuals who may have been exposed to asbestos to be aware of the signs and symptoms of mesothelioma. These may include chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and fatigue. If you have any concerns about potential asbestos exposure or have experienced any of these symptoms, it is important to talk to your doctor and get evaluated.

Overall, the increasing number of mesothelioma deaths among women highlights the importance of understanding the risks associated with asbestos exposure and taking proper precautions to reduce exposure. This includes being aware of the potential sources of asbestos, taking precautions to reduce exposure, and seeking medical evaluation if you have any concerns about potential exposure. By taking these steps, we can work towards reducing the number of mesothelioma deaths and protecting the health of all individuals.

Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors, not Credihealth and the editor(s). 

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