I heard about asbestos exposure for the first time in my life when I was about 12 years old and living in Germany with my parents. Our school had to be moved to a temporary building as the main building was renovated and treated for this mysterious thing called asbestos. It was quite a media splash at the time! I remember my father patiently explaining to me (certainly to calm me down) that I do not need to worry and that in his office too there was similar asbestos removal work going on. He explained to me that asbestos was a naturally occurring, fibrous material and that it had been used almost everywhere in building products thanks to its insulation and fire retardant properties as well as affordable price. However, there had been evidence that asbestos exposure was not good for our health so it was better to remove it.
Germany was one of the first countries in Europe to forbid the use of asbestos in the early 90s. The European Union then banned the use of asbestos in 2005, joining more than 50 countries in the world who moved a similar statute. However in other parts of the world like Russia, China, Brasil, India and Canada, asbestos is still very much used even today in construction. Canada’s Mesothelioma Cancer rate, a type of rare but aggressive cancer most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos, is one of the highest in the world (Source).
But even in Europe despite the fact that it is not produced and used anymore, it is still appearing regularly in the news because of the buildings that were build before the ban and where the effect of asbestos is due to deterioration. An important point to remember here is also that asbestos related illnesses like Masotheliomia have a latency period. So people getting ill today, may have been exposed to asbestos about 20 to 50 years ago. So this is certainly not a closed issue, but just as relevant as it used to be.
This is a serious issue and needs special attention. To help you UrbanMeisters detect if somebody you know could be affected by asbestos related illnesses and best guide you on what to do, we are privileged to profit from the expertise of the Mesothelioma Lawyer Center. Their organization is doing a fantastic job in the United States where they are the guardian angels of asbestos victims for over 20 years now. They are working hard to create awareness about asbestos related illnesses like Mesothelioma, but also to inform victims about their legal rights for financial compensation. The legal options available to asbestos victims are of the utmost importance, so that victims and their families can pay for medical expenses and receive compensation for the pain and suffering they endure. Tragically, many of the men and women who were deemed « expendable » by asbestos companies do not even know about their legal options. The organization was so kind to develop this exclusive guide for our UrbanMeisters readers.
What are the Dangers of Asbestos and How to Protect Yourself?
Asbestos, a mineral that’s naturally found in mines across the world, has been used in numerous products and machinery for decades. Although it was once touted for its ease of use, affordability, and ability to withstand heat and fire, the downside was proven that it far outweighed the positives when people began developing asbestos-related diseases, such as the life-threatening cancer, malignant mesothelioma.
How are we exposed to Asbestos?
People are primarily exposed to asbestos on job sites. UrbanMeisters.com talked about this for example in this article.
Although asbestos use has dropped in the United States dramatically in the workplace after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put strict regulations on its use in the late 1970s, there was a time when asbestos was used in almost everything, from appliances, building materials, concretes, pipes, bricks, paper, insulation, roofing shingles, and much more.
The result of such high amount of asbestos exposure across the world has resulted in copious amounts of deaths. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that a little over 100.000 people die from asbestos-related illnesses each year. Since the latency period of asbestos-related disease can last up to 50 years, people may not be aware they’ve developed an illness until decades after being around asbestos.
It’s not just in the workplace that asbestos exposure occurs. Other ways include second-hand exposure, using public drinking fountains that were built with asbestos, playing in and around old abandoned buildings, and starting renovations in homes that were built with asbestos-containing materials (ACMs). Even common household and beauty products, such as talcum powder and certain brands of children’s crayons and modeling clay, once contained asbestos.
What are the signs of Asbestos-Related Illnesses?
Unfortunately, there are no immediate signs of asbestos-related illnesses. In fact, the dormancy period of these types of diseases can last anywhere from 20 years to up to 50 years. When signs and symptoms finally manifest, they typically include:
Pleural Symptoms (Pleural Mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer)
- Excessive coughing
- Trouble breathing
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
- Chest pains
- Pleural effusions
Peritoneal Symptoms (Pericardial Mesothelioma)
- Abdominal bloating
- Feeling full (even without eat)
- Bowel obstructions
- Fluid buildup in the abdominal area
- Pain and tenderness in the abdominal area
- Loss of appetite
Pericardial Symptoms (Peritoneal Mesothelioma)
- Chest pains, ranging from minor to severe
- Difficulties with breathing
- Chronic coughing
- Heart palpitations
Where to seek medical help?
If you suspect that your loved one may have an asbestos-related illness, it’s important to seek medical help as soon as possible. It’s also crucial to find the right medical care. Since mesothelioma is still considered a rare disease, not all doctors have the experience and knowledge to properly treat mesothelioma patients or even get a correct diagnosis.
Fortunately, there are now doctors and clinics across the world that specialize in diagnosing and treating asbestos-related diseases.
- In UK, the London Mesothelioma Clinic is one of the most prominent medical facilities in the world for diagnosing and treating people with mesothelioma.
- Australia has the highest rate of asbestos-related diseases in the world per capita. Yet, medical centers such as Flinders Private Hospital in Adelaide and organizations such as the Asbestos Disease Research Institute in Concord, New South Wales, are making great strides in helping people with mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos illnesses.
- In the U.S., award-winning clinics and hospitals that specialize in mesothelioma and other asbestos illnesses are available, such as the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, the UPMC Cancer Center in Pittsburgh, and much more.
Be certain to search for a medical provider diligently and thoroughly, paying close attention to clinics and doctors that have experience in and specifically specialize in treating asbestos-related diseases.
How to Protect Yourself: Ways to Avoid Asbestos Exposure
Abestos fibers cannot be detected by the human eye. Asbestos is safer when it’s left undisturbed. It’s the tiny, odorless asbestos fibers that can create life-threatening illnesses once inhaled or ingested, but this only happens if asbestos is disturbed. If you live in an home that has been build before asbestos were banned, be certain to never:
- Start any repair or renovation projects until a professional asbestos worker inspects the home for asbestos (if asbestos is present, it will need to be abated by a professional)
- Walk around in your attic, store boxes in your attic, or let children play in the attic
- Remove an old appliance until it’s been inspected for asbestos by a professional
In addition, always bring bottled water to drink out of while in public parks or any other area that provides drinking fountains. There is a chance that the fountains’ pipes were created with asbestos. When these pipes get older, the coating and crack and asbestos fibers may get into the water stream. Although this isn’t true for every water fountain, it’s always better to be on the safe side.
Children should never be allowed to play in or around old abandoned homes and buildings. The lure of an unfamiliar buildings can quickly pique not only children’s interests but many adults as well, but you never know which structures were built with asbestos. It’s best to avoid these types of buildings and the surrounding areas.
In the U.S. and numerous other countries, employers are now required by law to provide protective gear to any worker who works around asbestos. This has helped dramatically reduce the chances of second-hand asbestos exposure.
If you feel your employer isn’t living up to federal laws requiring that all workers have protection against asbestos exposure, be certain to speak out. Furthermore, you should also always be told when you’ll be working around asbestos and what area of your job site contains asbestos. Many lawsuits have happened in the US due to manufacturers and even employers failing to protect workers.
So, please take asbestos exposure seriously. If you have any doubt that a loved one could be concerned, contact the Mesothelioma Lawyer Centre in the US or check the following websites for some other countries:
- For Germany: Umweltbundesamt
- For France: Victimes-amiante
- For UK: Health and Safety Executive
If you have other advice or contact, please drop as a quick note so that we can share with the UrbanMeisters community here.