Asbestos exposure, and subsequent diseases such as mesothelioma kill thousands of Americans each year. It is integral to be aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure, and to uncover whether you could possibly have been exposed. Before understanding diseases like Mesothelioma, it is integral to learn what asbestos is, as well as where asbestos exposure can come from. It is also important to know some general facts about asbestos exposure to determine if you may have been affected. 

  Many people know how toxic asbestos can be, but may not know why the compound is so deadly. Asbestos is a natural mineral product. This product is resistant to heat and corrosion and has been used extensively in insulation, cement and floor tiles.

How Dangerous is Asbestos Exposure?

Asbestos on top of yellow caution tape with skull and crossbones on it

While some may think that asbestos can be absorbed through skin or food, asbestos exposure occurs when someone inhales or swallows asbestos dust. Asbestos related disease is most commonly caused by months to years of regular workplace exposure. Therefore, when people develop asbestos related disease, it is caused by mineral fibers that have accumulated in a person’s lungs.

This could be people exposed to a high level of asbestos dust over a length of time where airborne fibers become lodged within the alveoli. The greater the exposure is, the greater the lung damage will be. The alveoli is affected because it contains tiny sacs within the lungs where oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide within the blood. Asbestos fibers can then irritate and scar lung tissue, in turn making it difficult to breathe. Eventually, lung tissue would become so stiff in this case, that it would not be able to do its normal job of contracting and expanding.

Short term or one time exposure rarely causes disease and is not a major risk, however prolonged exposure to these asbestos fibers can cause lung tissue scarring and shortness of breath. Another fact is that effects of asbestos exposure are cumulative, therefore, short term exposures over time can add up and lead to disease. Further, certain disasters may cause asbestos exposure. Characteristics of the asbestos in question, such as if the area was poorly ventilated, determining how the asbestos was uncovered and the appearance of the asbestos could predict how much asbestos exposure there was.

Overall external factors include dose of asbestos, duration of exposure, and the type of asbestos one has been exposed to. Besides external factors, certain internal factors can determine if the asbestos would make a person sick or not. Internal factors include genetics and smoking history can play a rule, multiplying a person’s risk of developing disease.

When Is Asbestos Exposure High?

stacks of asbestos filled rugs

While no amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe, most asbestos-related diseases come about due to years of regular exposure or intense short-term exposure. It is even possible for a single event to cause extreme amounts of asbestos exposure. An example of this is 9/11, where due to the clouds of toxic dust, the residents and workers exposed in the aftermath of the attacks are subsequently at a higher risk of developing disease.

  If there is just a single event of asbestos exposure, this is not usually a significant risk, except in extreme circumstances with toxic dust. A single event could be a simple home renovation. Asbestos could come from rock erosion in the country, and in more urban areas, from construction work. Asbestos related diseases do not tend to develop until 20 years after exposure.

  Besides people caught in the aftermath of a terrorist attack like 9/11, or people exposed to home renovations for a prolonged amount of time, certain individual’s occupations could cause them to be more at-risk for exposure to asbestos. These individuals would be exposed to mining, manufacturing, milling, installation or removal of asbestos before the 1970’s. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, examples of workers likely exposed to asbestos according to these qualifications would be:

  • Asbestos miners
  • Aircraft and auto mechanics
  • Boiler operators
  • Building construction workers
  • Electricians
  • Railroad workers
  • Refinery and mill workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Workers removing asbestos insulation around steam pipes in older buildings

Further, secondhand exposure is even possible for household members of exposed workers when asbestos fibers are carried home on clothing. People in the military may have been exposed to asbestos as well particularly for those in the Navy. Also, people who live close to mines could be exposed to asbestos fibers released in the air.

What Are The Effects of Asbestos Exposure?

a pile of shredded up asbestos

After determining that asbestos exposure occurs due to asbestos particles build up in the lungs, it is important to then determine how much asbestos exposure is harmful. Asbestos symptoms can range from mild to severe. Effects may not appear until decades after continued exposure. This could be 10-40 years after the initial exposure. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, loss of appetite with weight loss, fingertips and toes clubbing, as well as chest tightness or pain. The asbestos may then cause asbestosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, “asbestos is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.”

Asbestos diseases may include certain malignant conditions like mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and even laryngeal cancers. Nonmalignant asbestos diseases could include asbestosis, COPD, and more. Benign asbestos-related diseases are more common than asbestos related malignancies. Now that you understand what asbestos is, and how exposure could affect you, we can move to understand the effects of exposure in the form of mesothelioma.

  According to The Mesothelioma Center, “Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers and forms in the lining of the lungs abdomen or heart.”

While many other diseases can be caused by asbestos exposure, mesothelioma is unique in that unlike the other cancers and diseases, it is exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Malignant mesothelioma is a rare incurable, asbestos-related cancer that usually affects the lining of the lungs. When this disease affects the lungs it is known as “pleural mesothelioma.” This type of mesothelioma accounts for approximately 75% of all cases. 

The statistics for mesothelioma indicate that the average age of the mesothelioma patient is 69, and the majority of patients are male. According to the CDC, more than 45,200 people died of mesothelioma in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015.

Asbestos exposure remains the number one cause of work-related deaths in the world. Statistics show that as many as 3,000 people in the U.S. each year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, and most of these patients live less than a year from the diagnosis. There are four main types of mesothelioma cancer which can be identified by the location in the body where tumors develop.

  1. Pleural Mesothelioma 

This type of mesothelioma accounts for 75% of all cases, and forms on soft tissue surrounding the lungs.

  1. Peritoneal Mesothelioma 

This type of mesothelioma occurs in less than 20% of all cases, and develops on the lining covering the abdomen.

  1. Pericardial mesothelioma

This type of mesothelioma occurs in 1% of all cases, and forms on the soft tissue surrounding the heart.

  1. Testicular Mesothelioma

This type of mesothelioma occurs in less than 1% of all cases, and develops on the lining of the tests.

Mesothelioma forms in the membranes of body cavities, and tumors from this disease can then appear on the lining of internal organs such as the heart, lung, stomach or even testes. This can lead to different diagnoses based on where the mesothelioma is located. Further, each type of mesothelioma comes with a unique set of symptoms, but common symptoms often include shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain.

A quick breakdown from the Mesothelioma Center may be helpful to understand the process of how mesothelioma may develop.

  1. A person inhales or swallows microscopic airborne asbestos fibers
  2. The asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart
  3. Embedded Fibers damage mesothelial cells and cause inflammation
  4. Over time tumors form on the damaged mesothelium, leading to mesothelioma.

Symptoms of mesothelioma appear when tumors spread and in turn press against the chest wall, as well as the abdominal cavity. The Mesothelioma Center relates that the most common mesothelioma symptoms are:

  • Dry coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Respiratory complications
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs)
  • Fatigue Weakness in the muscles

To diagnose mesothelioma, doctors may utilize imaging scans, biopsies, blood tests and staging. While the biopsy is the only test that confirms the disease, early mesothelioma diagnosis also helps to increase treatment options for the patient. The mesothelioma stages are based on tumor size and location and range from 1 to 4.

  • Stage 1: At this stage, cancer is localized. Surgery is most effective, survival rate is higher, and median life expectancy can be 22.2 months.
  •  Stage 2: At this stage, tumors have likely spread from their original location and moved into adjacent structures. Surgery is still an option but not as effective. Median life expectancy goes down 2-20 months.
  • Stage 3: At this stage, cancer has spread into lymph nodes and surgery is then only an option in certain circumstances. The patient's median life expectancy drops to 17.9 months.
  • Stage 4: At this stage, tumors have spread into other internal organs. While there are still options to ease symptoms like chemo and immunotherapy, median life expectancy at this point is 14.9 months.

  The people most at risk of developing mesothelioma are individuals who handled asbestos for a prolonged amount of time or were exposed to large amounts of asbestos in their occupation. These individuals may include veterans, family members as well as blue-collar workers working as shipyard workers, power plant workers, construction workers and even firefighters.Once we understand how mesothelioma can be so deadly, it is important to understand how you can recover from this loss. 

Nearly every case of mesothelioma could and should have been prevented if the asbestos product manufacturer had discontinued use of the material once they knew it was deadly. If this were the case, and manufacturers stopped using the material decades ago, rates of mesothelioma would have remained low, opposed to becoming the deadliest workplace killer.

While filing a lawsuit does not right the wrongs done so many years ago, it may help to hold asbestos product manufacturers responsible for their actions and honor the life of a loved one you have lost. Further, filing a mesothelioma wrongful death claim may provide compensation to help the immediate family pay outstanding medical and funeral costs as well as calm other financial concerns.

Only the estate of the individual who died has the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This action should be handled by the estate representative. This individual is most often named in the decedent’s last will and testament. This person does not have to be a blood relative.

To file a lawsuit, the wrongful death claim must show documentation of:
  1. Known exposure: an essential element, this documentation must illustrate where the asbestos exposure occurred, the products utilized and organizations/companies responsible.
  2. Negligence: clear negligence must be shown on behalf of the defendants in exposing the decedent to asbestos.
  3. Significant Impact: more than just a mesothelioma death, the decedent's estate must demonstrate that due to the death they were significantly impacted financially, emotionally or both.

The lawsuit needs to be filed before the death of a loved one to help locate work records, medical records and other documents that may be difficult to locate. The wrongful death claim can be explained in 5 basic steps. This can occur by:

  1. Hiring an attorney. A mesothelioma attorney can help try or settle your claim.
  2. Investigation. The lawyer will investigate the claim to understand which asbestos products the decedent was exposed to.
  3. Filing a claim. The lawyer can then file a wrongful death claim against those responsible for the decedent’s death.
  4. Discovery occurs. Both sides of the lawsuit will gather evidence, and conduct deposition to gather testimony for a tentative trial proceeding.
  5. Settlement or Trial. Statistics occur in this phase that the vast majority of mesothelioma lawsuits settle, and the average settlement is 1.4 million to 2.4 million.

If you or a loved one has developed mesothelioma or any other asbestos related illness, contact us today, or click here for a free case review.