Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma occurs when microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs or swallowed in our food. When the fibers enter our bodies, they become lodged in internal tissue. As the body attempts, in vain, to eliminate the asbestos fibers, it creates a buildup of scar tissue (asbestosis), and in some cases develops into cancer, including throat cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, and mesothelioma.
Asbestos refers to a group of six, naturally occurring, minerals including chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite. All 6 are known carcinogens. The most commonly found types are chrysotile, also known as “white asbestos”, amosite “brown asbestos”, and crocidolite, known as “blue asbestos”.
These minerals have been used throughout history; dating as far back as the Ancient Greeks and Romans who used the mineral in their clothing and building materials because of its fireproofing qualities. Roman history books also show that Pliny the Elder noted “sickness of the lungs” in the slaves who worked with the mineral and wore clothing woven with asbestos.
Asbestos use gained popularity during the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s as factories found use for the mineral’s fireproofing qualities. By the early 1900s, asbestos was being mined in the United States and used widely as insulation for boilers, steam pipes and turbines in railroad cars, shipyards and automotive manufacturing. Millions of tons of asbestos were mined in the United State and put in thousands of products throughout the 20th century. Asbestos was very inexpensive and was used as a filler in many different products. For example, asbestos was used in insulation, roof shingles, gaskets, flooring products, cements, drywall muds, brake and clutch linings, paints, and textiles.
As early as 1925 the companies that used asbestos knew that is was dangerous to the workers, their families and the public. Medical studies commissioned by the companies revealed these dangers, but the companies chose profits over safety and hid these studies. As a result of their decision to not provide warnings of the dangers, thousands of Americans have been killed by asbestos. It was not until the late 1970s that regulation of asbestos use began in the United States, and asbestos is still not banned.
Mesothelioma generally has a latency period of 20 to 50 years from the time of asbestos exposure until symptoms appear or mesothelioma is diagnosed. Health experts predict that Americans will continue to suffer from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases for decades to come. Mesothelioma is not caused by smoking, and asbestos exposure is the only known cause of this disease.
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