Asbestos is a fibrous collection of minerals primarily made of silicon, oxygen and hydrogen. The two principal types of asbestos are chrysotile and amphibole asbestos. Chrysotile asbestos is frequently used for industrial purposes and is spiral in shape, whereas amphibole asbestos fibers appear straight and sharp on a microscopic level. Asbestos fibers are neither highly flammable nor reactive with other chemicals, so these minerals were once widely used to manufacture insulating and construction materials, until their use was restricted in the mid-1970s due to health concerns. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), more than one million Americans are still exposed to harmful levels of asbestos in the workplace. Employees who run the greatest risk of asbestos exposure are construction workers, contractors, carpenters, car mechanics, electricians, plumbers, boilermakers and shipbuilders. These workers risk detrimental asbestos exposure because they regularly handle materials that contain this mineral, such as cement, sealant, roof shingles, pipe covering, cables, wires, brakes and clutches.
Harmful exposure to asbestos can occur through inhalation or ingestion of this mineral, and the majority of cases result from the inhalation of airborne asbestos. Asbestos fibers are very fragile and unstable and become easily detached from deteriorating materials that contain these minerals; minor movements, slight vibrations and faint air currents can swiftly detach and transport asbestos fibers from their source, contaminating the surrounding air. Workers may breathe in asbestos when mining and refining these minerals, manufacturing products created with asbestos, installing insulating materials that contain asbestos and undertaking construction projects. Construction workers risk asbestos exposure while working in outdated and dilapidated buildings that are being refurbished or demolished. When old-fashioned buildings are renovated, sources of asbestos may be disturbed and consequently emit harmful particles into the surrounding air. For example, crumbling wall, ceiling or floor tiles that contain asbestos might release asbestos particles into the air during drilling and other restructuring processes. Maintenance workers who discard dust, residue from construction projects, and damaged materials containing asbestos may also risk harmful exposure to this mineral if they lack adequate protective gear. One may also acquire asbestos poisoning through second-hand exposure if relatives who work in industrial settings track asbestos dust from the worksite back into the home. Second-hand asbestos exposure may result from inhaling asbestos dust particles that cling to family members’ work attire. In addition to acquiring asbestos poisoning through inhalation, harmful quantities of asbestos may be ingested by eating foods and drinking water contaminated with this mineral. Asbestos may pollute water that passes through corroding cement pipes if the plumbing contains this mineral. Certain types of soil and rocks are a natural source of asbestos and sometimes release this mineral into the water supply when erosion occurs.
Asbestos is a proven carcinogen, as long-term exposure to this mineral has led to the development of malignant diseases, such as lung cancer, ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer and mesothelioma. The likelihood of developing an asbestos-related cancer is usually directly proportional to the duration of exposure to asbestos, as well as the quantity of asbestos absorbed by the body. Asbestos-related cancers have a delayed onset; patients typically become symptomatic after a substantial amount of time has elapsed from first contact with asbestos. Workers who were heavily exposed to asbestos on the job may present with lung cancer symptoms 15 years or more after exposure to this mineral. Workers who face harmful asbestos exposure on the job sometimes develop mesothelioma, cancer of the membranes that encase organs of the chest and abdominal cavities. Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 new diagnoses of mesothelioma are made annually in the United States. Workers may not exhibit symptoms of mesothelioma until 30 years after their initial exposure to asbestos. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma, which affects the tissue lining the heart, lungs and other organs of the chest cavity, include lumbar pain, pain in the side of the chest, a chronic cough, exhaustion, shortness of breath, swallowing complications and weight loss. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the membranes surrounding organs of the abdominal cavity, is characterized by a range of gastrointestinal problems, including accumulated fluid in the abdomen, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and bowel obstruction.
In addition to causing cancer, long-term exposure to asbestos can lead to nonmalignant conditions that compromise normal respiratory functioning. Asbestos particles can travel to the smallest branches of the lungs and settle in the alveoli, air sacs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. This accumulation of asbestos can irritate the lungs and ultimately result in pulmonary asbestosis, scarring of lung tissue. The principal symptoms of pulmonary asbestosis are difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and a dry cough. Rales are detected with a stethoscope at the bottom of the lungs. Pulmonary asbestosis usually arises between 10 and 20 years after the patient was first exposed to asbestos, but this condition typically becomes more severe as time progresses. In cases of advanced pulmonary asbestosis, patients become dependent on supplemental oxygen as the oxygenation of blood is impeded.
The law firm of O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble has significant experience handling personal injury lawsuits resulting from exposure to toxic substances. If you have suffered from the harmful consequences of asbestos exposure, you may be entitled to obtain a just settlement to compensate your pain and suffering.