When I was in college, I managed a bakery that had an industrial oven the size of a small bedroom. The oven was several decades old, lit by two standard light bulbs. Due to the oven's intense, constant temperature, it was necessary to insulate the light fixtures from the oven, or the bulbs would burn out within days. The original insulating gaskets were still in use. When one finally broke, I discovered that it was made of asbestos, and that there was no replacement material that provided similar protection from the oven's heat.
That is the miracle of asbestos – it is a remarkable insulator, and in many ways remains unmatched despite the advances of technology. The remarkable nature of asbestos, and the many uses to which it can be put, resulted in its wide use in many industrial settings. With huge profits at stake, asbestos producers minimized and concealed the dangers of exposure to asbestos particles. When asbestos was at its peak level of use, many workers would leave shipyards, steel and power plants, construction jobs or other work sites covered with asbestos powder, resulting in possible contamination of their homes and the exposure of their families to asbestos particles.
Starting in the late 1970's, asbestos use was curtailed, and massive clean–up efforts began. By the time all of the facts were known legions of workers were already destined to develop asbestos–related disease, including asbestosis and mesothelioma, as well as lung cancer and other cancers.
Asbestosis is a chronic, progressive lung disease caused by inhalation of asbestos particles over a prolonged period of time. Asbestosis results in lung scarring and breathing difficulties. It is not treatable, and in severe cases may necessitate a lung transplant.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelial tissue. Mesothelial tissue includes the pleura that envelopes the lungs and lines the chest cavity, the peritoneum that lines the abdomen, and the pericardium that surrounds the heart. Mesothelioma is usually malignant in nature.
Approximately 75% of mesotheliomas begin in the chest cavity ("pleural mesothelioma"), with about 15% beginning in the abdomen ("peritoneal mesothelioma"). It is very unusual for a mesothelioma to begin in the pericardium.
Mesothelioma is rare in the absence of a history of asbestos exposure. Between 70% and 80% of persons diagnosed with mesothelioma can trace the condition to asbestos exposure.
Types of Mesothelioma
Types of mesothelioma include:
Epithelioid Mesothelioma – This is form of mesothelioma affects the epithelioid cells, and is the most survivable form of the disease. About 50 to 70 percent are of the epithelioid type.
Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma – This form of mesothelioma affects the sarcomatoid cells, and is less survivable.
Mixed / Biphasic Mesothelioma – This form of mesothelioma affects both the epithelioid and sarcomatoid cells, with the same prognosis as sarcomatoid mesothelioma.
Symptoms of Mesothelioma
Initial symptoms of mesothelioma include chest pain, cough, and may include difficulty breathing associated with pleural effusion, a build–up of fluid between the pleura and the chest cavity. Due to the nonspecific nature of the symptoms, there may be a delay in diagnosis, often in the range of three to six months.
Treatment of Mesothelioma
Even with advancements in treatment, mesothelioma is usually fatal within six to eighteen months from the date of diagnosis. Less than ten percent of patients surviving five years or more. It is thus important for people who have been exposed to asbestos to be vigilant about the possibility of developing mesothelioma, and to seek the most effective treatment options available if symptoms develop.
With early diagnosis and effective treatment a typical patient may survive for two or three years, with some living as long as five to ten years.
Asbestos litigation is premised upon the liability of manufacturers of asbestos and asbestos products, for the harm caused by exposure to those products. Due to the fact that thirty or more years can pass before asbestos disease manifests itself, despite the withdrawal of asbestos from the marketplace, asbestos injury claims continue to arise. Many companies have been forced into bankruptcy since the litigation of asbestos cases began.
A lawyer who handles a mesothelioma case will typically be able to resolve the case within a year. Many of the firms that take asbestos injury cases do so on a national level. When a person was exposed to asbestos at more than one location, the lawyer may select the best state in which to file a lawsuit for that client, commencing litigation in association with a local attorney.