Understanding the link between mesothelioma and asbestos means going back more than 150 years to the era surrounding the Industrial Revolution, during which, industries began incorporating the mineral asbestos into heavy manufacturing usage. Thousands of consumer products were built from asbestos, including textiles, as well as automotive and other mechanical parts. But no industry utilized asbestos more than construction—it could routinely be found in flooring, siding, insulation and more.
The popularity of asbestos as a building material stemmed from its two most coveted properties: strength and resilience—in particular, fire retardation and heat resistance. Particularly during the great war-eras of the first half of the 20th century, a tremendous need grew for construction components that could withstand combat. Both the U.S. military and private businesses with which it contracted became key players in the exponential growth of the asbestos business.
Mesothelioma became linked in the U.S. by the 1920s, when doctors began to note the direct connection between a rapid increase in usage of the naturally occurring element and a sudden rise in cases of a rare and particularly aggressive cancer, which had been practically unseen before the latter part of the previous century.
Mesothelioma from asbestos contact and exposure is a particularly tragic illness that has claimed the lives of thousands of unsuspecting workers—including many veterans of the U.S. Navy.
Its stage was set when exposed individuals inhaled or ingested tiny asbestos fibers that had become separated and airborne after asbestos-containing product were damaged and broken apart. Those microscopic particles ultimately became lodged in the protective lining—called the mesothelium—of vital organs like the heart, lungs and stomach.
Those particles, over time, caused enough damage and scarring to lead to tumor development and then mesothelioma cancer—all over a period of 10 to 50 years or more. And thus, mesothelioma from asbestos is formed and usually lies undiagnosed until the very late stages of the illness.
Though evidence of that mesothelioma asbestos linkage was presented to manufacturers and installers of the deadly mineral’s many products, those warnings failed to be heeded and use of asbestos continued to grow into the 1970s. At that point, two government agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) got involved, cautioning the public and regulating industry usage.
Once the long-term effects of asbestos exposure became well-known in the public domain, its use fell rapidly out of favor, and today anyone working with or removing asbestos products is protected by stringent safety regulations and the inclusion of required HAZMAT suits.
As such, it is unlikely that we will continue to see frequent cases of mesothelioma from asbestos contact routinely arise in today’s age. Still, the long latency period of the illness makes it almost certain that cases stemming from past exposure will continue to be newly diagnosed for many years to come.