Guest Piece by Rachel Lynch. Rachel is the Media and Public Relations Coordinator with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, specializing in asbestos use.
Asbestos is a carcinogen legal to use in the United States. Yes, you read that correctly — a known carcinogen is still legal to use in the states. Asbestos is the lone cause of Mesothelioma Cancer; 3,000 people are diagnosed with the disease in the United States each year. Those diagnosed typically are only given 12 to 21 months to live. In Calhoun County, specifically, 137 people have died from asbestos related diseases between 1999 and 2013.
With such poor prognosis and no cure, raising awareness is of the utmost importance. Asbestos itself is no longer mined in the country but still legal to use — though now under strict guidelines. The toxin is a naturally occurring mineral that when inhaled embeds itself in the lining of the lungs, heart and abdominal cavity. The most common form of the disease, accounting for 80 to 90 percent of all diagnoses, is pleural mesothelioma which develops in the lining of the lungs.
Most mesothelioma patients are not given an accurate diagnosis until the cancer has progressed to the third or fourth stage — when palliative, end of life, care is the only option. Diagnosis takes such a long time because symptoms of the disease are often mistaken for other more common illnesses, such as the flu or pneumonia. Pleural mesothelioma symptoms impacts lung and thoracic cavity function, leading to shortness of breath and chest pain.
Mesothelioma diagnoses are further complicated because symptoms of the disease do not manifest until decades after the asbestos exposure. So, while asbestos use is currently decreasing, the apex of mesothelioma has yet to be reached because of the lag time.
Asbestos was initially used as a building material because of its flame retardant qualities found in ships, insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, among other things. The use tapered in the 1970s but the material is still found in countess building erected prior to the 70s.
In Albion alone there has been known asbestos exposure in Albion High School, Albion Malleable Iron Company, Corning Glass Works, Ew Sheldon Hospital, Gengel Plumbing & Heating, Hayes-Albion Corporation, Ideal Castings, New Sheldon Hospital, Sheldon Hospital and Union Steel Products Company. Those who worked or ever entered these structures may have been exposed to asbestos. Even Albion College has experienced worksite exposure. Though the dates of when exposure occurred is unknown being aware of the risks is paramount. Listening to your body and mentioning possible exposure to medical professionals if any symptoms occur can greatly improve prognosis.
There have been three waves of asbestos exposure — the first impacted those working with the material, often men. The second was the family members of those workers, often their wives and children. The third, and current wave, of asbestos exposure has been prompted by the DIY craze. Homeowners renovating their spaces themselves unknowingly disturb asbestos. Contractors and tradesmen have training on how to properly handle and remove asbestos to avoid the health repercussions.
As with most aspects of life, taking ownership of your health and advocating for your safety is crucial. Each year the rare disease is given the spotlight on September 26 for Mesothelioma Awareness Day. To learn more about the dangers of asbestos and mesothelioma join the Mesothelioma Awareness Day tweetchat, September 26 at 12 p.m. ET, using the hashtag #EndMeso.