As a Pennsylvania worker, you may be inhaling asbestos fibers on a daily basis without even knowing it. Your risk increases if you work for a construction company, a vehicle repair shop or a company that manufactures products containing asbestos.
Asbestos is a mineral long known for its excellent insulating properties and its resistance to fire, flame and heat. As such, building and consumer products used it extensively up until the 1960s when its carcinogenic properties first became known. Scientists and researchers discovered that asbestos breaks down as it ages and/or when it is disturbed by saws, drills, sanders, etc. When this occurs, the asbestos turns into microscopic fibers that become airborne at the slightest air current, whether from outdoor wind or indoor fans and/or heating and cooling systems.
Workers consequently inhale these asbestos fibers or ingest them when they fall onto food or other things that you put into your mouth such as cups, utensils, cigarettes, etc. Once in your body, they start building up in the linings of your lungs, heart, and stomach and eventually lead to such catastrophic diseases as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Workers most at risk
Virtually all types of construction workers are at high risk for on-the-job asbestos exposure, including the following:
- Bricklayers and stonemasons
- Tile and floor installers
- Drywall workers
If you are a demolition worker, renovator, rehabber or remodeler, especially if you do a lot of work in structures that were built prior to the 1970s, your asbestos exposure risk is especially high. In addition, you are at high risk if you work in an auto repair shop and part of your job is repairing brakes.
Consumer products containing asbestos
Although 55 countries have banned asbestos, the United States has not. Even though laws and regulations highly restrict its use today, numerous products still contain asbestos, including the following:
- Drywall and similar products, including their tape and spackle
- Insulation and roofing materials
- Floor tiles (particularly the vinyl ones) and their joint compounds
- Duct tape
- Roofing and vehicle brake felts
- Products that contain vermiculite
The stealthy, silent killer
One of the most frightening aspects of asbestos exposure is that it can take years, even decades, for you to develop symptoms. You may not receive a mesothelioma or asbestosis diagnosis until 20-50 years after your initial exposure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 2,400-2,800 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the U.S. Between 1999 and 2013, 20,317 people nationwide died from asbestosis.
Mesothelioma is a malignant cancer that appears in the lining of your lungs, heart or abdomen. If you are a man, it also can appear in the membrane lining your testes. Depending on where your cancer is located, you could experience shortness of breath, pain in your chest or abdomen, fever and/or night sweats, unexplained weight loss and chronic fatigue. Men suffering from the testicular form of mesothelioma can experience pain in or swelling of their testes.
Asbestosis is an inflammatory lung disease that occurs when the asbestos fibers you have inhaled scar your lungs. It also can cause your pleura, the lining around your lungs, to thicken and/or fluid to build up between your pleura and your lungs. Over time, your ability to breathe steadily decreases, and the amount of oxygen your organs receive thus decreases substantially. Asbestosis sufferers often develop additional serious medical conditions such as heart failure, pleurisy, pulmonary hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Under Pennsylvania law, your employer must pay for your medical bills and lost wages if you develop mesothelioma, asbestosis, or another asbestos-related disease from inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers at work. You may wish to consult with an experienced, knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorney, however, before you attempt to file a workers’ comp claim.