Are Jewelers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure?
Before 1980, generations of jewelers were exposed to asbestos. Many trades used asbestos in processes that required heat or soldering. Asbestos is fire-resistant and chemical resistant. Raw asbestos fibers were blended into fire-resistant molds and materials and sewn into tradesmens’ gloves and protective gear. When the deadly nature of asbestos was discovered, many jewelry tradespeople had already been exposed. Those exposed are at risk of developing lung cancer or mesothelioma.
The First Case of Mesothelioma in the Jewelry Industry
In 1992, the case of mesothelioma in the jewelry industry was reported. A 61-year-old man who had worked in a jewelry production facility for 35 years was diagnosed with mesothelioma. His mesothelioma was pleural mesothelioma, cancer of the pleura, a thin lining that separates the lung cavity from the chest wall. The cancer spread to one of his lungs, so he underwent a pneumonectomy to remove the infected lung.
How do Jewelers Get Mesothelioma?
Jewelers would mix loose asbestos fibers with water to create fire-resistant clay that would hold metal pieces together during the soldering process. Jewelers wore gloves made from asbestos when soldering. When jewelers used asbestos soldering pads, they released fibers into the air when they were soldering.
Those that worked in jewelry making or manufacturing were regularly exposed to asbestos.
It was not uncommon for open buckets of loose asbestos fibers to be found in large and small jewelry shops and facilities. Jewelry workers swept the floors and caused the asbestos fibers to become airborne again.
Gemstones are cut from mineral crystals found in some of the same rocks as asbestos. The lapidary process of cutting, shaping, and polishing gemstone jewelry also released asbestos fibers into the air.
The Dangers of Asbestos Exposure
Airborne asbestos fibers can be inhaled or swallowed and trapped in the lining of the lungs or the abdomen. Once trapped, asbestos fibers do not break down. Instead, the asbestos fibers irritate the lung or stomach lining and cause scarring, inflammation, or tumors. Eventually, this leads to asbestos-related diseases, including:
- Asbestosis- scarring of the lung tissue
- Lung Cancer
- Mesothelioma- cancer of the tissue around the lungs, abdomen, or testicles
- Pleural plaques- hardened structures around the lungs and diaphragm
People who develop diseases due to asbestos exposure often don’t show signs of the illness for a long time after they have been exposed. It may take from 10 to 40 years or more for symptoms of an asbestos-related condition to appear. Due to the long latency period for symptoms to appear, most people are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease at a later stage of the disease. Lung cancer is usually fatal, while mesothelioma is almost always fatal, often within a few months of diagnosis.
Most people who become ill from asbestos are usually exposed to it regularly. Often a job where they work directly with asbestos-containing material or through substantial environmental contact puts them at risk. If you believe you have had asbestos exposure, please contact your medical provider and consult Goldberg Persky and White P.C. today.
Kern, David G, “Malignant Mesothelioma in the Jewelry Industry.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine, (1992) [Link]
Lewton-Brain, Charles, “The Jewelers and Asbestos.” Ganskin [Link]
“Toxicological Profile for Asbestos” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (2001) [Link]