Not all fiber is good for you, in fact some of it is downright deadly. Case in point: asbestos, the inhalation of which caused millions of people to develop a debilitating disease called mesothelioma. October is National Healthy Lung Month. Following are some sobering facts and stats about this devastating disease.
Mesothelioma attacks a membrane [the mesothelium] in our internal organs. Its primarily caused by exposure to asbestos, the fibers of which may be inhaled and embedded in the lungs.
A century ago the mining industry was at the root of most cases of mesothelioma. Miners inhaled the deadly airborne-fibers and often transported the fibers on their clothes, which when washed by the miners wives, became a source of asbestos inhalation to those unsuspecting women and their children.
Because it was strong, fire-resistant, and sound absorbent, asbestos was famously used in the early 1940s in domestic, commercial, and industrial products including roofing, siding, building insulation, electrical insulation, patching compounds, and paints.
In 1989 the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission coalesced to regulate the use of asbestos by industrial and construction workers. So today the use of asbestos is banned or heavily restricted in the United States, yet mesothelioma still strikes some three thousand Americans each year.
One of the most notable cases of asbestos contamination in the nations recent history occurred during the terrorist attack of 9/11. The destruction of the World Trade Center in New York unleashed thousands of tons of asbestos dust and debris from other construction materials into the air throughout Manhattan.
Asbestosis scars lung tissue and inhibits lung capacity which can cause shortness of breath. It can also put victims at greater risk for the development of lung cancer. Smoking does not cause mesothelioma or asbestosis, but smoking can exacerbate symptoms of both diseases.
The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural plaques which causes a thickening of the mesothelium membrane. Like an internal time bomb, it develops over decades of exposure to asbestos used in industrial settings.
Tumors caused by malignant mesothelioma are aggressive and incurable. Shortness of breath, chest pain, weight loss, and overall deterioration of a victims health are common symptoms that ultimately lead to death.
There is no cure for mesothelioma, but there are ways to prevent it. For workers who may be exposed to asbestos, wearing protective clothing is the first step. The next step is to leave that protective clothing at the worksite. Because the fibers cling to clothing, it is easy to transport it from the workplace to the home.
It is also possible to contract the disease through asbestos exposure in the home. During home improvement renovations, the use of some construction materials may put a family at risk. Floor tiles, drywall, popcorn ceilings, roofing, and attic insulation are among products in current use that may contain asbestos. Renovation projects should be carefully planned and protective clothing should be used to minimize asbestos exposure.
For those who suspect that they may have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos, blood tests and imaging tests are available to facilitate screening.