The link between asbestos and lung cancer has been a subject of medical research for decades. For more than 4,000 years, asbestos was mined for its strength, heat resistance and corrosion resistance. Initially used to strengthen pottery and earthenware, asbestos exploded in popularity near the end of the 19th century when it began to be incorporated into structural design. However, health problems associated with the material have been noted since the Roman Empire. It wasn’t until the 20th century, though, that doctors actually understood how dangerous the substance was.
Corporations reliant on the mining and sale of the material have long worked to suppress medical research concerning it. This was particularly troublesome in the 1950s, when mining and manufacturing companies specifically omitted any research that suggested a link between asbestos and lung cancer. In the early 1940s, an employee under Lewis and Vandiver Brown of the J-M Company, a major manufacturer of asbestos products, revealed the attitude exuded by many corporate leaders at the time. He recalled a conversation between the two where one of the men stated that they were fools to discuss health concerns with employees. His reasoning was that the company would save money if they allowed the workers to drop dead from diseases related to the material.
In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated a ban and phase out of the substance, but it is still allowed to exist in trace amounts for some consumer products. Many cities still harbor buildings that contain dangerous amounts of the material, and many vehicles still use it for brake systems. This means automotive mechanics, airplane mechanics, firefighters, electricians and construction workers are at particular risk for developing mesothelioma and other severe diseases.
There are several forms of the material, all of them fiber-producing silicates. Their fibers are what make them valuable because they can be integrated into other substances to enhance strength and resistance. However, each fiber is incredibly small, smaller than bacteria or fog particles. When disturbed, these fibers are suspended in the air where they can be readily inhaled. Once this occurs, it is only a matter of time before the person suffers from respiratory discomfort.
Once the fiber settles in the lungs, it will provoke an immune response by the body. Macrophages dispatched to the fiber’s location attempt to digest the material, but they fail. Scar tissue is left behind and builds up as more macrophages die while attempting to destroy the fiber. This scar tissue forms a mass, causing fibrosis. Over time, this fibrous mass can become cancerous, a form of the disease known as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma can also be caused by fibers penetrating DNA in the body, resulting in severe genetic damage.
Since discovering the link between asbestos and lung cancer, thousands of people diagnosed with mesothelioma have come forward and pursued litigation against neglectful companies. Mesothelioma is almost always fatal within months, so victims should consider speaking to an injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss their options regarding representation.