September 26th was Mesothelioma Awareness Day. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that forms after exposure to asbestos. The most common version involves the asbestos getting inhaled and embedded in the lining of the lungs.
Asbestos has been used for thousands of years, it’s a fiber with decent tensile strength, and had the benefit of being heat and electricity resistant. The danger to humans occurs when the fibers are broken up, releasing particles into the air. Asbestos was a common material in insulation, but also ducts, linoleum, caulk, roofing tiles, shingles, siding, concrete, fiberboard, furnaces, stoves, water heaters, paint, plaster, floor and ceiling tiles and more.
In the mid-1970s, the United States started issuing rules to regulate asbestos use, but the mineral is still not really banned. The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance reports that 80% of homes built before 1980 have asbestos. They strongly recommend having a home inspector check for asbestos before purchasing a home, or if doing a DIY project, to have a contractor look and see.
If asbestos is found, the most vital thing to do is leave it alone. Disposal should only be done by professionals who do asbestos abatement (removal.)
Mesothelioma is often misdiagnosed until the later stages of the disease.When people are exposed to asbestos through inhalation, the tiny fibers settle in the lungs. They then become lodged in the lung lining, where eventually tumors may form. Typically, those who are diagnosed with the disease are given a poor prognosis, usually ranging from 12-21 months, though many factors can impact a patient’s life expectancy. The latency period (length of time from when you get it to when symptoms show up) is between 10 to 50 years.
The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization petitioned Congress to make a day for awareness. Their ultimate goal is to get asbestos banned in the United States. Right now it’s not allowed in construction, but still can be used in other products. This year the retail store Justice pulled two make-up products that tested positive for asbestos. The talc in the make-up had traces of asbestos.
In 2015 the Environmental Working Group found several brands of crayons contained asbestos. Snopes.com discusses the findings. “When the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) followed up on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer‘s article about asbestos in crayons in 2000 with their own analysis, they categorized the risk of asbestos exposure from crayons to be “extremely low” — in large part because trace amounts of asbestos encased in a waxy substance such as crayons are not friable (easily crumbled or reduced to powder) and therefore pose small risk of being inhaled or absorbed.”
Another common source of exposure is from fires. Firefighters have a very high cancer rate from environmental and chemical hazards on the job. The Clarkfield Fire Department is working on acquiring an equipment washer to clean the contaminants encountered during the job.
There is a danger of second-hand exposure from equipment. Heather Von St. James is a spokesperson for Mesothelioma awareness, and was exposed to asbestos as a child. Her father worked in construction hanging drywall and Von St. James would wear his coat outdoors during the winter, but, unbeknownst to her, it often carried asbestos dust. Years later, she started having problems after her daughter was born. She survived, and now helps spread a message of hope, and encouraging the search for a cure. Her tale is on YouTube titled “Heather Von St James | A Mesothelioma Cancer Survivor Tale”
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