Mesothelioma from Asbestos on the Job: How Millions of Americans Got Cancer at Work

Mesothelioma and asbestos, we now know, go tragically hand in hand. A toxic and once almost omnipresent carcinogen, asbestos made its way into millions of American lives throughout the 19th and 20th centuries—resulting in more than 10,000 cases of directly related illnesses in the U.S. alone. Close to a third of those are cases are mesothelioma cancer, an aggressive and terminal illness that claims the vast majority of its victims less than two years after diagnosis.

One thing that makes the mesothelioma and asbestos connection particularly troublesome is that it constitutes one of the worst occupational health hazards in U.S. history. Most victims of asbestos exposure were unknowingly placed in harms way while doing just what they had to do to survive—while at work, trying to simply support themselves and their families.

Even more tragically, we now know that many, if not most, of the deaths caused by mesothelioma that have occurred over the last few decades could have been prevented.

After the1920s and perhaps even before, manufacturers, miners and installers of asbestos and asbestos-containing consumer products had knowledge of the health risks associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos. And yet the companies that were profiting off of the sale of asbestos chose not to disclose those known dangers to their employees—effectively placing the almighty dollar above thousands of innocent human lives.

And the mesothelioma and asbestos connection extends beyond the jobsite. Through a type of secondhand exposure that occurred when workers brought home asbestos particles on their clothes, skin and hair, thousands more innocent bystanders were also placed at risk—including wives and children of those employed in industries with heavy asbestos usage.

Those employed in the construction industry were among the most vulnerable, as a massive number of building materials—from cement to insulation to ceiling tiles—were routinely made from asbestos. Thus, any worker who came into regular and repeated contact with those materials—including contractors, construction workers and even architects—was likely to receive consistent exposure to a substance known to cause cancer.

Mechanics and other workers in the automotive industry were also in the high-risk category, as many components of automobiles were also made from asbestos. Among those parts were brake pads and shoes, as well as clutches. And because repair work was often done in enclosed and poorly ventilated spaces, the chances of dangerous exposure was even more likely for those in the automotive repair field.

Perhaps most tragically of all, millions of U.S. veterans from all military branches—and the navy, in particular—were routinely exposed to asbestos when aboard tanks, ships and jets used in active combat. Prior to the 1970s, a wide variety of military equipment included many asbestos-made components and building materials. In fact, as a result of this associated exposure, as many as one-third of Americans that have been diagnosed with mesothelioma from asbestos exposure are veterans of the United States Military.

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