As many as 80% of mesothelioma cases are related to exposure to asbestos. While coming into contact with this harmful substance is certainly not the only way to risk developing mesothelioma, it is clearly the most common method.
But not every person who has ever been exposed to asbestos has developed mesothelioma, and most of them won’t get this rare and deadly type of cancer. So does that mean the only way to get mesothelioma from asbestos is long-term, regular exposure? According to the available scientific literature, the picture is a bit murky.
Mesothelioma and Asbestos
Until the 1960s, asbestos was an incredibly popular material that was used in a range of industries and occupations, but most frequently in construction, plumbing and manufacturing. As medical science developed a better understanding of the connection between asbestos and cancer in people, use of this substance was phased out, and in many places in the world, though not the U.S., asbestos is not approved for any uses anymore.
According to several studies, up to 80% of all cases of mesothelioma are connected to asbestos exposure (Rare Diseases.org). Generally, workplace exposure to the substance is most often correlated with higher incidence and death rates from mesothelioma. In fact, Americans working in the construction trades have far higher death rates from this type of cancer than the public at large (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
In addition to its connection to asbestos, mesothelioma is also notorious for having a very long latency period, which refers to the number of months or years between exposure to a harmful substance like asbestos and diagnosis of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma’s latency period ranges from 20 to 50 years or more.
Types of Exposure
We know that asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, but there are multiple ways to come into contact with this carcinogen, and those can all have an impact on the chances of developing mesothelioma.
Here’s a look at the possible ways to come into contact with asbestos, including methods that are quite rare today thanks to phasing out asbestos for most purposes:
- Installation or removal of insulation
- Manufacturing of asbestos-containing products
- Asbestos mining
- Asbestos processing
- Installation or removal of asbestos floor tiles
- Domestic (fibers carried on shoes or clothing)
Risk of Short-Term Exposure
While it’s unlikely that being exposed to a small amount of asbestos for a moment will cause mesothelioma, the truth is that no amount of exposure to asbestos should be considered safe. But as one might expect when dealing with a lethal form of cancer, the situation isn’t clear-cut.
It’s true that people with occupational exposure have far higher rates of mesothelioma than the average person. Among the general population, the death rate from mesothelioma is far below 1 per 100,000, but several occupations have disturbingly high rates.
Mesothelioma deaths per 100,000 by occupation
|Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters||4.8|
|Sheet metal workers||3.5|
|Sailors and marine oilers||3.4|
|Structural iron and steel workers||3.3|
|Stationary engineers and boiler operators||2.9|
But not everyone who is diagnosed with mesothelioma has worked for decades around asbestos, and there’s one particular group of people that health officials have warned could be at very high risk from exposure to harmful substances, including asbestos — 9/11 first responders and cleanup volunteers.
In at least one case, a man who rushed to Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of 2001 has died from mesothelioma that his friends, family and physicians believe was caused by his presence in New York after the attacks (The Tube City Almanac).
As the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came down, a debris field of more than 1.8 million tons and untold airborne particulate was born. Fires burned in the area for nearly three months afterward, and hundreds of firefighters, police officers and others worked tirelessly to clear the rubble.
An analysis published in the New York Times found that a week after the attacks, the settled dust collected from the site was 0.8% asbestos, which means that thousands of pounds of the harmful substance was dispersed into the air and collected on the surface of everything it touched (New York Times).
Almost 10,000 people have been diagnosed with cancers connected to their work at the Ground Zero site, and almost as many deaths have occurred as a result than happened on the day of the attacks (Mount Sinai Hospital).
Get Mesothelioma Legal Help
For individuals who were exposed to asbestos and later became sick with mesothelioma, or other conditions, financial compensation may be available without the need to file a lawsuit. About $30 billion is available through the Asbestos Trust Funds for those impacted by asbestos. Complete the form or call us toll-free (800) 352-0871 to find out more.