Mesothelioma Awareness Day 2018 takes place on September 26th
In recent years, the stigma surrounding asbestos within mainstream media has skewed the perception of how dangerous exposure can actually be. While this toxin has been phased out of consumer products, toxic airborne fibres can resurface through the millions of older and hazardous products, homes and urban infrastructures around the world. Understanding that asbestos is not an immediate danger is important, however, raising awareness on how it can become lethal is critical to helping anyone affected by exposure detect an asbestos-related disease as early as possible.
The Truth About Asbestos
The truth is that we are always exposed to low levels of asbestos, as this group of fibrous minerals occur naturally within soil and rocks. Once this mineral was found to have long-lasting properties such as electrical and thermal resistance, workers began to mine and manufacture asbestos for use in building materials, automotive parts, household appliances, electrical and industrial equipment.
This reality has forced us to acknowledge that asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are lying dormant throughout older homes and buildings, where fibres could become loose and airborne today. There is heightened concern over the renovation, demolition, and repair of older buildings because once ACMs are damaged, fibres can be accidentally ingested. When these fibres are inhaled or swallowed, they can become lodged in the lungs and result in an asbestos-related illness such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and the deadly mesothelioma cancer.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma has proven to be a difficult cancer to treat because of its rare and aggressive nature. This cancer is directly linked to asbestos exposure and attacks the mesothelial cells that cover the lining of internal organs. As a result, mesothelioma can occur in the lining of the heart and stomach, however, it is most commonly diagnosed in the lining of the lungs.
The most shocking aspect of this condition is that most patients were exposed early on in their lives, however, symptoms usually take between 20-50 years to surface. This long latency period has led researchers to predict that the number of people diagnosed with mesothelioma will peak in 2020. There is currently no cure, which is why preventative education and early detection are the best ways we can combat asbestos exposure and protect those at risk.
The Impact in Ireland
Asbestos is now recognised as a primary source of occupational exposure and the cases of pleural mesothelioma are continuing to rise throughout Ireland. Although it has been phased out of the consumer market, there are countless contaminated products leftover within old houses, buildings, and job sites. Construction workers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and demolition teams are all considered to be at high-risk and should notify their doctor so they they can monitor their lungs for signs of exposure. Not only are the workers themselves at risk but if they are unknowingly exposed, they may return home with contaminated gear and clothing, which can result in secondhand exposure for those they come into contact with.
Furthermore, research has found men to be diagnosed five times more than women due to occupational exposure among male dominated fields. Workers need not to panic, as your employer should have proper training and safety practices in place, however, if you are suspicious you should not hesitate to voice your concern. This is important because symptoms are nonspecific, meaning they can imitate much more common conditions such as COPD or asthma and lead to a late diagnosis.
Fortunately, Ireland has outlawed the use of asbestos, however, there are still many countries around the world that continue to use, manufacture, and sell asbestos-containing products.
This can be especially frustrating for patients who live in countries that have failed to ban this lethal mineral, leaving them feeling betrayed not only by their bodies, but by the safety of their own environment. In hopes of reducing the number of people diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, we encourage anyone that has been in a hazardous circumstance to talk to their physician in order to detect this rare disease before it progresses.