Mesothelioma: An illness caused by asbestos exposure

From the 1940s through 1970s, many blue-collar American workers earned their livings in careers that exposed them to asbestos. This list commonly included construction workers, machine operators, pipefitters, boilermakers, trade laborers and mechanics.

Decades later, many have become sick with asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma, a type of cancer in the lining of the chest cavity that usually proves fatal.

Asbestos found in homes, industries

Asbestos is a fire-retardant material and thermal and acoustic insulator often used in home construction and other industries. In the home and workplace, it can found in insulation around boilers, furnaces and pipes as well as household materials such as vinyl floor tiles, linoleum, roofing material and plaster.

When asbestos gets damaged, it can become airborne and its fibers easily inhaled. This is how many American workers became ill and were diagnosed with mesothelioma and other illnesses such as lung cancer and asbestosis. Symptoms include a dry cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, fever, fatigue and pain in the chest or abdomen.

The average age that a person is diagnosed with mesothelioma is 73. The median life expectancy of a person with this disease is from 12 to 21 months, and there is no known cure.

A number of at-risk occupations

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health notes that more than 75 occupational groups have exposed workers to asbestos. Here is a list of the occupations most at-risk for being exposed to asbestos. They include:

  • Construction workers: Many construction products contained asbestos before the 1980s. The most at risk within this group are demolition crews and home renovators.
  • Firefighters: Fires damage asbestos products, causing the fibers to go airborne. Asbestos also was used for protective firefighter clothing, helmets and boots.
  • Industrial workers: This group includes mechanics, trade laborers, chemical workers and machine operators, and has often been exposed to asbestos paper, textiles, gaskets, insulation and fireproofing.
  • Power plant workers: A study noted that asbestos was present in the sputum (mixture of saliva and mucus) samples of 33 percent of power plant workers.
  • Shipyard workers: An estimated 30 percent of mesothelioma lawsuits get filed by veterans and shipyard workers.

You just didn’t know that the work you performed years ago would expose you to such illnesses, and the symptoms would only arrive decades later. It doesn’t seem fair, but now your family must deal with the situation. You can hope that other families may learn from your story.

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