By Chris Humphrey
In early April, U.S. Surgeon General,Dr.
Regina Benjamin urged Americans to learn
about the dangers of asbestos exposure
during National Asbestos Awareness Week.
Once hailed a miracle fiber due because
it is heat resistant and virtually indestructible,
asbestos is actually a deadly fiber
that wreaks havoc on the body’s respiratory
system and internal organs many years after
the fibers are inhaled.
Each year thousands of men and women
are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease
such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, or
asbestosis as a result of their unnecessary
exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing
products, which were prevalently
used in the U.S. until approximately 1989
when the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) passed a final bill banning most
asbestos containing products.
Despite the ban, asbestos containing products are still found in our environment and they pose a real and potentially deadly hazard. Asbestos was used in literally thousands of products throughout much of the twentieth century. Many of those items, particularly building products, are still in homes, offices, and factories across the country.
Workers in specific industries can still encounter asbestos as well, including those who work in shipyards, power plants, chemical plants, or in the railroad and automotive industry.
Asbestosis is the scaring of lung tissue which results from the inhalation and retention of of asbestos fibers. The most dangerous fibers are too small to be seen with the naked eye. When these fibers are inhaled into the lungs, they lodge in lung tissue. The body is not able to remove the fibers from the lungs, or break them down into a less harmful form, which causes chronic irritation in lung tissue.
The primary symptom associated with asbestosis is the slow onset of shortness of breath, especially during periods of exertion, and symptoms generally do not surface until decades after asbestos exposure. A diagnosis of asbestosis is confirmed by abnormal chest x-rays which reveal pulmonary fibrosis – a scaring of the lung tissue. There is no cure for asbestosis and treatment is generally limited to supplemental oxygen. In severe cases, lung surgery may be required to remove secretions from the lungs caused by the presence of the deadly asbestos fibers.
More than 50 percent of people affected with asbestosis develop pleural plaques (a hardening of the lung tissue) in the space between the chest wall and lungs which makes breathing extremely difficult and painful. The development of pleural plaques is often a pre-curser to mesothelioma, a rare terminal cancer that is caused by asbestos exposure.
Signs and symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath, due to a buildup of fluid between the lung and the chest wall, chest wall pain, and unexplained weight loss. Pleural mesothelioma originates in the pleura (the lining of the lung) but can quickly spread to the outer chest wall, abdomen, and heart.
Pleural mesothelioma is typically fatal within one year of diagnosis. However, understanding and recognizing key risk factors, like asbestos exposure, will typically lead to early detection of the cancer. Those who are fortunate to receive an early diagnosis are likely to be more eligible for life-sustaining treatments such as surgical resection of the cancer coupled with chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
The Capital Region’s long industrial history places it in the high risk category for asbestos exposure and asbestos related disease. In Albany County alone, there are over 100 known job sites where a variety of tradesmen were exposed to asbestos. Those workers also unwittingly exposed their families to asbestos by carrying home the deadly dust on their work clothes and bodies.
In addition to industrial workers, there is also a large veteran population in the Capital Region which increases the incidence of mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer in the area. Sadly, on-third of all individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma are veterans that were exposed to the hazards of asbestos while honorably serving our Country.
Individuals who have already been exposed to asbestos, but have not developed an asbestos-related disease, should diligently monitor their health on a regular basis and speak with their doctors about receiving chest x-rays and taking pulmonary function tests which measure how well the lungs are functioning. Additionally, the FDA recently approved a simple blood test (Mesomark) which can detect the onset of mesothelioma before symptoms appear.
If you or your family member has an asbestos-related disease, you should get in touch with an experienced asbestos attorney right away to determine if you have a case. Chris Humphrey is principal of Humphrey Law LLC in Saratoga Springs, a 10- year Navy veteran and serves as counsel to Levy, Phillips & Konigsberg, LLP (www. lpklaw.com), a nationally-acclaimed asbestos litigation law firm. He can be reached at email@example.com or 871-1627.
Photo Courtesy of Humphrey Law LLC