The dangers of asbestos and exposure of asbestos are well known. We also hear a lot about the illnesses that can develop around this, such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. These are often put together in discussions, and have very similar symptoms, but there are crucial differences between them, most notably that mesothelioma is a cancer and asbestosis is a chronic lung disorder. With this in mind, what are the main causes of mesothelioma?
There is no getting away from it, exposure to asbestos, and the inhalation of asbestos fibres specifically, is the primary cause of mesothelioma. These asbestos fibres damage the lining of the lung (pleural mesothelioma), forming nodules that eventually create a sheet that stiffens the lung completely and makes it hard to breathe and expand. It has symptoms such as a shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pains. As the fibres travel through the body however it results in different types of mesothelioma, such as peritoneal mesothelioma, where fibres become lodged in the lining of the stomach.
Mesothelioma was unheard of prior to the 20th century, when asbestos was used as a material in construction and engineering for a wide variety of reasons. There are many professions from the past where a person may have been exposed to asbestos or asbestos-containing materials, leading to mesothelioma being contracted and discovered much later in life, as the symptoms do not always present straight away.
These include working in mines, or in plants where asbestos was processed. It could be working within heavy industry and manufacturing, construction, serving in the military, working on engineering projects, shipbuilding, or in more recent times working on home refurbishment and renovation projects, where there is a higher chance of asbestos materials being disturbed.
Most of the time, exposure to asbestos takes place in a workplace setting, but as we are now talking about asbestos only being present in buildings constructed prior to the 21st century, it is often found in public schools and universities, hospitals, libraries, and other public buildings with heavy footfalls. This is risky for all concerned.
There is also the potential for secondhand exposure to asbestos causing mesothelioma, with some housewives of men who worked with asbestos in the 1950s and 1960s suffering from mesothelioma in later age after it was discovered that they would have been washing clothes covered in asbestos fibres, breathing in asbestos fibres that were in the air when their husbands came home etc.
If you are the person responsible for the management of a building or public space, you may be aware of your legal duties regarding the safety and management of asbestos. In many buildings, especially those built in the UK prior to the ban on asbestos in 1999, there are many asbestos-containing materials. If these are exposed or damaged, and people inhale asbestos fibres, it can be disastrous. This is why it is important that you find and hire licensed asbestos management contractors to test survey a property, test asbestos-containing materials, and remove it if necessary.