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Mesothelioma: Asbestos Exposure

Mesothelioma: Asbestos Exposure

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissues (mesothelium) that cover our internal organs. Although rare, it is aggressive and deadly.

· 1999–2015: 45,221 mesothelioma deaths were reported in the U.S.

· The time from first exposure to mesothelioma ranges from 20 to 40 years, but can be as long as 71 years

· The life expectancy for most patients is 1-2 years after diagnosis

· The 5-year survival rate is 9%

The primary risk factor for mesothelioma is Asbestos exposure (photo).

· The earliest recorded discovery in the U.S. was on Belvidere Mountain in Vermont sometime before 1823

· In 1918 the first descriptions of asbestos disease were published, showing X-ray changes among 15 individuals exposed to asbestos

· Asbestos has been mined and used commercially in North America since the late 1800s. Its use increased greatly during World War II

Asbestos Properties

· Naturally occurring bundles of fibers that can be separated into thin, durable threads

· These fibers are resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals, and do not conduct electricity, making them useful in a wide variety of applications

· When asbestos is broken up, dust may be created. If the dust is inhaled or swallowed, the asbestos fibers can settle in the lungs or in the stomach, causing mesothelioma

In the U.S., an estimated 27 million workers were exposed to asbestos fibers between 1940 and 1979, with peak exposure during the 1960s and 1970s. The rate of mesothelioma increased from the 1970s to the early 1990s but has since leveled off and even gone down slightly.

Mesothelioma most often affects the tissue that surrounds the lungs: pleura mesothelioma. The average age of diagnosis is 69. Symptoms include:

· Chest or low back pain

· Painful coughing; Coughing up blood

· Shortness of breath

· Unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on your chest

· Unexplained weight loss

Peritoneal mesothelioma, affecting abdominal tissue, causes:

· Abdominal pain and swelling

· Lumps of tissue in the abdomen

· Unexplained weight loss

Pericardial mesothelioma, affecting tissue around the heart, causes breathing difficulty, chest pain, and an irregular heartbeat.

Mesothelioma of the tunica vaginalis, which affects tissue surrounding the testicles, may be first detected as swelling or a mass on a testicle.

Older homes and buildings may contain asbestos. In many cases, it's more dangerous to remove the asbestos than it is to leave it intact. Breaking up asbestos may cause fibers to become airborne, where they can be inhaled. Asbestos uses include:


· Strengthening cement and plastics

· Insulation

· Roofing

· Fireproofing

· Sound absorption

· Ceiling and floor tiles

· Paints, coatings, and adhesives

Shipbuilding: Insulate boilers, steam pipes, and hot water pipes

Automotive: Vehicle brake shoes and clutch pads

Regulating asbestos began in 1973, when the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned spray-applied surfacing asbestos-containing material for fireproofing and insulating purposes.

In 1989, the EPA attempted to ban most asbestos-containing products. However, the majority of asbestos-containing products covered in the 1989 final rule was overturned in 1991 by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result, the 1989 asbestos regulation only bans new uses of asbestos in products that would be initiated for the first time after 1989.

2018: In 2018, EPA proposed a “significant new use rule” for certain uses of asbestos. EPA is proposing to ensure that the manufacture, import, or processing for the currently unregulated new uses of asbestos identified in the rule are prohibited unless reviewed and approved by EPA. This proposed rule broadens EPA’s 1989 restrictions on asbestos products. In the absence of this proposed rule, the importing or processing of asbestos for the significant new uses proposed in this rule may begin at any time, without prior notice to EPA. 

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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: A Deadly Gas

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