Most people have been exposed to asbestos at some point in their lives. Asbestos is found almost everywhere in the environment. Asbestos fibers also come off as sloughs from deteriorating asbestos containing products. Only a few people however actually get sick as a consequence of the exposure. Most of the people who have been diagnosed with asbestos related disease have been the ones that worked in professions that allowed an exposure to asbestos for a significant period of time. Some family members of these workers also came to be diagnosed with asbestos related illnesses. Asbestos that clung to the workers’ clothes, skin and hair as they entered their homes was the nidus for the exposure.
Since the late 1800s, the commercial use of asbestos in North America has been steadily increasing. During the World War II, the world saw a dramatic increase in asbestos use as shipyards increased their efforts to produce an enormous number of ships as part of the war effort. The construction, automotive, and manufacturing industries followed suit later on in their extensive use of asbestos.
For the next ensuing years, the use of asbestos in various industries remained unregulated. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the first regulatory law on asbestos use was passed by the Consumer Products Safety Commission of the USA. This law stipulated a ban on the use of asbestos in all compounds used for wallboard patching as well as in the manufacturing of artificial ash for gas fireplaces. These two products were specifically targeted due to the immense amount of asbestos fiber that these release during their respective usages. Yet another asbestos ban was issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1989. This particular ban stipulated that all new uses of asbestos be forbidden. One loophole in this ban was that all asbestos uses established prior to 1989 were still allowed. Thus, until the present time, asbestos is still being used, are still being incorporated into a variety of products, and as a result people are continually being exposed to it.
The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) of the National Cancer Institute pegged the total number of cases of mesothelioma among American males to be approximately 71,000. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City was not included in this projected number however.
Exposure to asbestos does not always result in a diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma later on in a person’s life. In fact only about 10% of those people who have had moderate to severe exposure to asbestos in the past were shown to have developed this disease. However, among those who were diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, 80% did have a history of asbestos exposure. Still, there is no controversy surrounding the notion as to whether asbestos fibers pose considerable health hazards. The controversy only lies in the magnitude of asbestos dosage needed to effect a diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma as well as how much risk to health hazard is really carried by these asbestos fibers that naturally occur in the environment.
Needless to say, it is highly relevant that any known exposure to asbestos be disclosed by patients to their respective physicians. This disclosure may spell the difference between a prompt or delayed diagnosis.