Sunday, January 21, 2007

Asbestos Exposure

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Asbestos is a mineral that can occur naturally in the environment, and is also used by man in a range of products. This material was once widely used in many places, but as the dangers of exposure to asbestos began to come to light, this all changed. However, for many people it was too late, as the damage had already been done. This is because asbestos is responsible for a number of side effects, which can cause anything from discomfort to death. Asbestosis and pleural plaques can result from exposure to asbestos, and more notably so can mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that can take many decades to develop but only a matter of months from the onset of symptoms to kill.

Mesothelioma is caused by ingesting or breathing in loose asbestos fibres, which can then cause scarring and ultimately can lead to this cancer. The cancer can affect the lung, chest, or abdominal cavities, but it also has a very long latency period, which means that it could be thirty years or more before the person even realizes that they have contracted the cancer because this is how long it can take to manifest. The onset of symptoms can take up to fifty years or more in some cases, but once the symptoms have manifested the lifespan of the person can be as short as several months.

Between the 1950s and the 1980s, many people – mainly men – worked in industries where they were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis and for long periods of time. This mineral was so widely used because it was cheap and because of its fire resistant properties. Because the effects of the mineral were largely unknown except for in certain circles at the time, workers did not question the lack of protection or concern displayed with regards to working so closely with asbestos.

However, it is thought that many companies and manufacturers were aware of the deadly effects of this mineral from as early as the 1920s. However, their failure to provide oblivious employees with protection against the effects of asbestos resulted in many people contracting this cancer, and only realizing thirty to fifty years down the line just as they were settling down to enjoy their retirement.

Some of the workers mostly likely to come across asbestos on a day to day basis and therefore most at risk included as insulators, plasterers, electricians, mechanics, bricklayers, carpenters, and other tradesmen. This is because these professionals worked closely with materials and products that contained asbestos. Also at risk were the families of these workers, as they could often ingest or breathe in asbestos fibres from the clothes, skin, or hair of the worker, and this could lead to the same effects.

Millions of workers have been exposed to asbestos over the years, and the unlucky ones have discovered several decades later just what an impact their work had on their health. Many of the cases of mesothelioma coming to light today are in men, as it was mainly men that worked with asbestos several decades ago. These workers are now finding out that they have this cancer and other asbestos related disorders, as the symptoms finally manifest.

The dangers of asbestos exposure have now been far more widely recognised. However, millions of people worldwide have been exposed to this mineral. For these people, living life can be like living on borrowed time, and each year, thousands of new cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers are diagnosed.

This figure is likely to increase over the next ten years or so, and many more middle-aged and elderly people could find that they have been harbouring this deadly cancer for the past few decades.

Although it is now known that asbestos exposure is responsible for malignant mesothelioma and other forms of cancer, asbestosis, pleural plaques, and other respiratory and health problems, this mineral can still be found in insulation materials in many places worldwide, and therefore continues to hold its deadly reign over mankind.

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