Although the dangers of exposure to asbestos fibers has now been well-known for many years, the several different diseases that may result may not be. In addition to malignant mesothelioma — a cancer that appears in the mesothelial tissues lining the lungs, peritoneum, pericardium, and chest cavity — other cancers of the lungs, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract have also been connected to asbestos. Asbestos fiber inhalation is also the direct cause of asbestosis, a condition in which the lung tissues become increasingly scarred, seriously reducing lung function.
Malignant mesothelioma is a very devastating diagnosis — most people diagnosed with this cancer die within 12 months of receiving their diagnosis. This is not to say victims of this disease should be without hope. For example, famous scientist Stephen Jay Gould lived for more than 20 years after his mesothelioma diagnosis, eventually succumbing to an unrelated condition. While certainly grim, malignant mesothelioma diagnoses are still relatively rare.
Non-mesothelioma cancers resulting from asbestos exposure are much more variable in survival rates. However, these cancers share a common trait with mesotheliomas — a long period of “latency” between exposure and disease diagnosis. These types of cancers have a somewhat shorter latency period than mesothelioma, in the range of 15 to 30 years.
Asbestosis directly affects the lung tissues, rather than the surrounding mesothelial lining of the lungs. In this condition, inhaled asbestos fibers become lodged in the lung tissues and prompt the body’s immune system to activate, resulting in inflammation and pockets of fibrous scar tissue. This scar tissue reduces the elasticity of the normal lung tissue and reduces the lung’s ability to properly exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, leading to severe shortness of breath. Asbestosis sufferers are also — as one would expect — at much higher risk of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers.
According to one environmental organization, more than 10,000 people in the United States die each year as the result of asbestos-related diseases, including nearly 1% of the deaths of males over the age of 50.
While there is no complete ban on the use of asbestos in the United States, it was among the first air pollutants recognized as a hazard in the Clean Air Act of 1970, and many specific applications have since been banned. Since 1988, all asbestos content in products in the United States must be reported as required by Environmental Protection Agency regulations. The primary danger to workers in present times is to workers in construction and building maintenance, who may become exposed to asbestos used in decades-old buildings.
The very first lawsuit against an asbestos manufacturer in the United States was actually all the way back in 1929, but the large wave of asbestos litigation didn’t begin until the 1970s and especially in the 1980s, when these devastating conditions began to appear in large numbers after their long latency periods of sometimes 40 years and more. Presently, asbestos litigation cases come in many different shapes and sizes, some as individual claimants against individual employers, others as thousands of claimants against dozens of employers and manufacturers in class-action lawsuits.
If you or a family member has contracted one of these diseases, there is a high likelihood that it is related to an occupational exposure for which you may be entitled to receive compensation. Seeking legal advice, such as a free consultation with Sacramento mesothelioma and asbestosis attorney Edward A. Smith, would be a wise option.