Mesothelioma and the Asbestos Time Bomb

Michael Jozefiak

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The one-time friend turned killer that was once such an indispensible, yet unnoticed, part of our daily lives for so many centuries, is now a feared enemy. It is Asbestos (from the Greek for ‘inextinguishable') and is the reason for thousands of global compensation claims by mesothelioma lawyers against employers, manufacturers and processors of asbestos-related products. Many asbestos workers, and those unwitingly exposed to asbestos, have been given a mesothelioma diagnosis for which there is no cure, maybe just a little temporary relief, until the inevitable distressing death a few months or years after diagnosis.

Mesothelioma is a time bomb because it can be that less than a day's exposure to asbestos dust is enough to produce mesothelioma, some 30-40 years later, when mesothelioma symptoms are first noticed. Though most mesothelioma victims are men, because mainly they worked in those industries, sometimes their wives and family too are innocent sufferers from this disease, inhaling the asbestos dust shaken from their husband's/fathers’ clothing, or hair, at the end of the working day.

Whether the fault lies with manufacturers & employers (assuming they knew of the dangers) or the employees (did everyone diligently use respirator equipment and protective clothing, if it was supplied?), is something for the mesothelioma lawyers, insurance companies and courts to thrash out.
Meanwhile, asbestosis & mesothelioma victims are dying a painful and inexorable death, before their cases can even come to court or a settlement is reached. As there is no cure for mesothelioma or asbestosis, all that can be done is to make the sufferer's plight as comfortable as possible, before death finally brings mercyful relief. Although various governments have introduced, albeit belatedly, anti-asbestos legislation, sufferers find that in some cases the time limit for claiming compensation is unrealistically short, given the long time (30-40 years) before mesothelioma symptoms are first noticed. Many victims are dying before they get a court verdict, or even before they get to court. Unlike its Greek derivation, Mesothelioma and asbestosis victims are not inextinguishable.

What is Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer in the fluid-filled sac between the Mesothelium lining the lungs, or abdominal cavity or heart, and the body. In a healthy person, the mesothelium secretes a fluid which lubricates these organs, allowing them to expand, contract and easily slide over neighbouring tissues. Fluid in excess of that required for lubrication is removed through the blood & lymph system. In a person with Mesothelioma, the asbestos fibres penetrate the organ, into the fluid sac, producing cancerous cells which attack other cells, thickening the fluid, causing pain, and difficulty with breathing. Peritoneal Mesothelioma and, less commonly, Pericardial Mesothelioma, are not as common as the pleural type, but just as deadly.

The Causes of Pleural Mesothelioma
Pleural Mesothelioma, the most common form of mesiothelioma, is caused, according to all known evidence, exclusively by inhalation of asbestos fibres. These fibres are very thin & sharp enough to penetrate the lining of the lung, entering the plural sac, thereby damaging the mesothelium cells. Often, cancerous growth results, as described above. Other factors also come into play, including the changes induced in macrophages by their ingestion of asbestos particles. The asbestos seems to stimulate the macrophage to produce free radicals, which then affect DNA to induce cancerous cell behaviour. The chances of a person in an asbestos-related environment developing lung cancer, are said to be about 50 times increased if that person smokes, though there is no evidence to show that smoking itself causes mesothelioma. Ironically, one brand of cigarettes in the 1950's used asbestos in the filter tips.

There are other factors too that can play a part, such as heredity, general health and diet. Although not too much has been clincially proven about these factors, as with all diseases, the better the person's health the better their chances of not catching a disease.

The History of Asbestos. It is probably not generally known that asbestos has been around since 4000 BC, when it was used in lamp wicks and candles. Interestingly, it was also used in the cloth wrapping of Egyptian mummies. Maybe this is the real origin of ‘The Curse of The Mummy’ stories; grave robbers, and maybe Egyptologists, could expect to get their just desserts! Clothing made from asbestos was highly prized in ancient times to wrap the bodies of Kings, so that their ashes would not mix with the earth or other contaminants during cremation, and it is said the Romans simply threw their asbestos napkins into a fire to cleanse and purify them.

Asbestos, a type of silica, is mined from three main types of metamorphic rock:- Chrysotile (white asbestos), Amosite (brown asbestos) and Crocodilite (blue asbestos). Other asbestos bearing rocks such as Tremolite, Anthophyllite and Actinolite are not in such common use but could still be found in some construction work, talcum powders and vermiculite. During the Middle Ages there does not appear to be much evidence of asbestos use; they probably had other problems, like recurring plagues and crusades, to contend with.

The fact that asbestos workers developed respiratory illnesses, and died young, was known as far back as Roman times when Pliny the Elder commented that asbestos workers seemed to have many health problems, advising against buying asbestos-workings slaves as they “died young". Obviously, there were no mesothelioma lawyers around then! The deleterious effects of asbestos, in modern industrial times, have been recorded as far back as the start of the 18th Century but little notice was paid by factory owners & Governments to the plight of asbestos workers - labour was cheap and life even cheaper; nothing should stand in the way of the sacred cows of Industrial Progress and the profits of industrialists and politicians.

That it took until the 1970s before more stricter legislation to restrict its use and safeguarded workers was drawn up, is scandalous. A charitable reason for this inertia may be that asbestos had become so widely used in almost every aspect of our everyday lives, delivering such tremendous benefits, that there was such a reluctance to finally admit that something so useful could also be so deadly. People who have expounded the virtues, and made a lot of money out of, asbestos are hardly likely to suddenly throw up their hands and admit to being wrong. The alternative, less charitable, explanation can only be that greed and profit were more important than employees’ health.
Deja vu!

There are many ex-asbestos industry workers who are living time bombs, not knowing if the deadly fibres have affected their health. As employers & governments have reluctantly been forced to legislate to compensate workers with Mesothelioma, there needs to be greater awareness of sufferers plight.


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