5 Occupations Most Affected by Mesothelioma

Here are five occupations largely affected by mesothelioma--a disease that develops 20 to 40 years after exposure to a toxic substance known as asbestos.

Mesothelioma is a disease that develops 20 to 40 years after exposure to a toxic substance known as asbestos. This mineral was a readily available material and used by many companies up until the 1980s.

However, many industries continued using this substance for much of the 20th century despite knowledge of the dangers it posed to their employees. Unfortunately, most workers were unaware of the effects asbestos exposure would have on their bodies decades later.

Today, despite regulations, commercial use of asbestos is not banned in the United States. Additionally, there are many instances of “legacy asbestos,” where workers today interact with buildings and other structures that were built with untenable asbestos.

Here are five occupations largely affected by mesothelioma.

1. Railroad Workers

Workers interacted with asbestos on a daily basis as it was used for insulation, specifically for railroad equipment and locomotive parts. Boilers, engines, pipes and electrical panels were covered with this toxic substance. This use left repairmen, train operators, conductors or yardmasters in danger of inhaling asbestos fibers for prolonged periods of time.

After the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limited the use of asbestos-made products, some railroad companies continued to use asbestos and hid the dangers from their employees. Many companies have filed for bankruptcy and had to establish trust funds to pay for their negligence. Workers diagnosed with mesothelioma today can file a  mesothelioma claim and receive compensation from a variety of asbestos trust funds.

2. Shipbuilders
Large commercial and naval vessels were built with asbestos because of its fire-retardant and insulating properties. The United States Navy, specifically, used this substance to build many of their ships until the latter half of the 20th century. Asbestos was mostly used to increase durability in materials like gaskets, insulation and some filters. Shipbuilders also used asbestos to insulate the pipes in these vessels. Boats built for recreational use also may have included this toxic substance. Asbestos was used in electrical wire insulation, caulking and sealants. Shipbuilders were at risk for inhaling these fibers when the substance loosened, or broke apart, and became airborne.

3. Factory Workers

Factories produced thousands of products made with asbestos during the 20th century. Production machines and conveyors belts were made with parts containing this toxic substance. When these machines were worn down from constant use, asbestos particles could enter the air. People who worked inside these factories were exposed to high concentrations of asbestos dust on a daily basis.

Small workspaces and very little ventilation contributed to poor working conditions. Although conditions have improved throughout the years, factory workers today still face the threat of asbestos exposure.

4. Construction Workers

Besides the obvious physical hazards associated with construction, asbestos exposure was a hidden danger for decades. Carpenters, painters, roofers and general laborers were all construction trades at high risk of exposure. This substance was added to drywall, shingles, spackling, tiles and concrete mixtures. When people installed, removed or replaced these materials, fibers would be released into the air and inhaled by nearby workers.

The government still permits the use of asbestos products as long as they meet certain federal guidelines. Today, the demolition of homes built before 1970 poses the risk of releasing fibers into the air. Therefore, anyone who works in demolition or remodeling of older homes is at risk of exposure.

5. Miners
Asbestos, which is a mineral found underground, was mined in the United States for many years. Chrysotile asbestos, which is often linked to occupational exposure and mesothelioma, was mined in the U.S. up until 2002. This year is when the last chrysotile asbestos mine was shut down. Miners often were exposed to the tiny particles as it was being extracted and processed into raw materials.

Depending on the mining technique, workers could have contacted asbestos dust. Underground mining was especially risky due to poor ventilation, which made inhalation of loose particles unavoidable.

1. Past exposure to asbestos among active railroad workers. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3674028  Accessed: 12/09/19
2. Kara Franke & Dennis Paustenbach (2011) Government and Navy knowledge regarding health hazards of asbestos: A state of the science evaluation (1900 to 1970), Inhalation Toxicology, 23:sup3, 1-20, DOI: 10.3109/08958378.2011.643417 Retrieved: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.3109/08958378.2011.643417 Accessed: 12/09/19
3.U.S. Geological Survey. (2005). Reported Historic Asbestos Mines, Historic Asbestos Prospects, and Natural Asbestos Occurrences in the Eastern United States. Retrieved from: https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2005/1189/pdf/Plate.pdf Accessed: 12/10/19
4. Asbestos: mining exposure, health effects and policy implications. The National Center for Biotechnology Information.Retrieved: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2323486/ Accessed: 12/10/19

5. Asbestos Toxicity Who Is at Risk of Exposure to Asbestos? Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Retrieved: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=29&po=7 Accessed: 12/10/19

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