This week marks Mesothelioma Awareness Day Sept. 26
IONIA COUNTY — A mineral once commonly used in the construction industry can become a major health risk when it becomes hurt or disturbed, and airborne.
This week the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is focusing its efforts on educating the community about the dangers of asbestos and mesothelioma, the deadly — and preventable — cancer of the lung lining caused by exposure to asbestos. Every year Sept. 26 is national Mesothelioma Awareness Day.
Nationwide, an estimated 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry may face significant asbestos exposure on the job, said the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Heaviest exposures occur in the construction industry, particularly during building renovation or demolition activities where asbestos is disturbed or removed. Employees may also be exposed during the manufacture of asbestos products.
Across the U.S., 2,500 deaths a year are attributed to mesothelioma, according to the alliance, with 3,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The average age at diagnosis is between 72 and 75, because symptoms can take between 20-50 years to fully show up.
Known for its resistance to fire and most chemicals, asbestos has microscopic needle-like fibers that, if inhaled or swallowed, can become lodged in the linings of the lungs, heart or abdomen, causing inflammation. Scar tissue forms around the lodged fiber, where cancerous cells can grow and cause mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer. Asbestosis, a chronic inflammatory and scarring disease in the lungs is another disease linked to asbestos exposure.
Asbestos was used extensively until the 1970s when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned certain applications, according to the the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Asbestos was used in the building of homes, schools and public buildings across the country — including Michigan and Ionia County — until the EPA banned certain applications. Asbestos was widely used in buildings for fireproofing, thermal and acoustical insulation, condensation control, and decoration. It was sprayed on beams and ceilings, used to cover piping and boilers, and sprayed onto ducts.
The EPA lists some of the places in the home where asbestos can still be found, including attic and wall insulation produced containing vermiculite, vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives, roofing and siding shingles, textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceilings, walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets, hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape, oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets with asbestos insulation, heat-resistant fabrics and automobile clutches and brakes.
While there are regulations in place now to limit asbestos use, it is not banned in the U.S.; nor is it mandatory to remove asbestos or replace it with safer alternatives, the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance said. It is still legally imported, used and sold as raw asbestos and as products containing asbestos.
The alliance cites statistics that 1,573 Michigan residents died from mesothelioma from 1999 to 2015. Michigan, which is part of the Rust Belt, has an above-average mesothelioma death rate of about 9.3 people. Research has found that states in the Rust Belt tend to have more asbestos exposure through the auto industry, steel and metal working shops that support the auto industry. In addition, Michigan shipbuilding sites, power plants and oil refineries have been sources of asbestos exposure for its employees.
Michigan also has nine known asbestos mines and natural deposits of the mineral. While the Upper Peninsula has a higher mesothelioma mortality rate, the Lower Peninsula has a higher population density with more mesothelioma cases, also according to the alliance.
For work sites in smaller local communities where workers have have been at risk for asbestos exposure, visit www.mesothelioma.com/states/michigan and look for the pull down menu under the section, “Asbestos Risks at Smaller Michigan Job Sites.”
Experts recommend that homeowners don’t try to remove asbestos themselves. Special protective equipment and breathing apparatus is required to protect from exposure, because there is no safe exposure to asbestos. Contact either an asbestos abatement or asbestos removal company, or question their air conditioning specialist and request a referral for these type of companies.
Citizens who believe they have been exposed to asbestos but don’t have symptoms should have regular visits with their physical, as they may not become ill until decades after exposure.
For more on asbestos and mesothelioma, visit www.mesothelioma.com.
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