Asbestos is a naturally occurring but highly hazardous mineral fiber that was once widely used in a variety of industrial and consumer products in the United States. Unfortunately, while asbestos use in the U.S. has plummeted dramatically over the past several decades, the prevalence of mesothelioma - an asbestos-related cancer - remains unchanged.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. Although it can occur in other parts of the body, mesothelioma typically affects the lungs, resulting in severe respiratory problems. The early symptoms of mesothelioma are often mistaken for other conditions, and may include:
- Shortness of breath.
- Chest pain.
- Coughing or wheezing.
- Fluid buildup in the tissues around the lungs.
- Coughing up blood.
Although many years can pass between the initial asbestos exposure and the onset of symptoms, mesothelioma is usually fatal within a few months or years after diagnosis.
A history of asbestos use in the United States
Because asbestos was cheaply available and featured desirable characteristics like sound absorption and heat resistance, asbestos was once commonly used to make products like insulation, construction materials and flame-resistant coatings.
In 1973, the use of asbestos in America peaked at 803,000 metric tons, according to asbestos.com. Over the next two decades, amid growing concerns over the health risks associated with asbestos exposure, the Environmental Protection Agency implemented a series of bans and restrictions on asbestos use in the United States, causing its use to drop off sharply.
In 2011, the U.S. used just 1,180 metric tons of asbestos. Unfortunately, despite dramatic reductions in U.S. asbestos use, even the relatively small amount in use today is enough to put exposed individuals at risk of devastating illness.
Why mesothelioma rates have not changed in the U.S.
Anywhere from 10 to 50 years can pass between the time that a person is exposed to asbestos and the first appearance of mesothelioma symptoms. As a result, many individuals who were exposed to asbestos decades ago are only just now being diagnosed. Due in part to this lengthy latency period, the prevalence of mesothelioma in the U.S. has held steady despite the fact that asbestos use is now a tiny fraction of what it once was.
In addition, because asbestos use remained widespread until the mid-1980s, it is still present in many buildings today, including schools, apartment buildings and offices. When these structures are remodeled or demolished, asbestos fibers can be released into the air unless proper preventative measures are taken. Unfortunately, because asbestos containment and cleanup measures can be costly and time consuming, it is often done incorrectly or not at all.
Legal rights of asbestos victims
In many cases, people who have become ill or lost a family member due to asbestos exposure are eligible to receive monetary compensation from the parties responsible. Talk to an experienced mesothelioma attorney to learn more about the legal options available to asbestos victims and their families.