First Discoveries of Diseases Caused By Asbestos
Asbestos is a mineral naturally grown in the earth, which was mined for its unique qualities. Asbestos was used in machinery, ships and equipment, and in the construction industry. Asbestos is an ideal material to guard against fire and heat. Many workers unknowingly inhaled asbestos daily. However, asbestos is a toxic material now known to cause cancer and many other incurable diseases. Symptoms may not appear for 20 to 40 years. Once diagnosed, most patients survive less than five years. When were the deadly effects of asbestos first known?
How were the dangers of asbestos discovered?
The first asbestos-related illnesses were recorded in 1924 in the British Medical Journal. In the United States, asbestos popularity rose significantly during the 1940s after World War II. It wasn’t until the 1960s, when a group of medical scientists established a definite link between asbestos exposure and pleural mesothelioma, that the dangers of asbestos became fully known. It was another 10 years before the U.S. government acted to protect workers from this industrial carcinogen.
Chronology of the medical discovery of the dangers of asbestos
- 1924: W. E. Cooke publishes the first paper on asbestos-related disease.
- 1930: Edward Merewether confirms that inhalation of asbestos dust can cause a fatal disease.
- 1935: Kenneth Lynch and W. Atmar Smith identify a ‘‘possible relationship’’ between pulmonary asbestosis and lung carcinoma.
- 1955: Richard Doll finds that some asbestos workers face a ‘‘notably higher risk’’ of contracting lung cancer than the rest of the population.
- 1960: Wagner, Sleggs, and Marchand publish their first paper indicating a relationship between pleural mesothelioma and asbestos exposure.
- 1964: Selikoff, Churg, and Hammond demonstrate that insulation contract workers face a health hazard resulting from asbestos exposure.
Types of diseases caused by asbestos
Mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is the most commonly known asbestos-related cancer. Once the long asbestos fibers have been inhaled, they can become embedded in soft tissue that surrounds various organs like the lungs, heart, and stomach and cause mesothelioma.
The types of mesothelioma are named for the cavity in which they develop.
- Pleural mesothelioma develops in the lungs’ outer lining and internal chest wall.
- Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdominal cavity.
- Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the space surrounding the heart.
- Testicular mesothelioma develops in the lining that surrounds the testicles
The most common mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma. Both pericardial mesothelioma and testicular mesothelioma are rare forms of the disease.
Asbestosis. Asbestosis is a chronic lung condition that is caused by prolonged exposure to high concentrations of asbestos fibers in the air. Inhaling asbestos fibers or its dust over a long time can produce lung tissue scarring.
Government responses to widespread asbestos-related diseases
During the 1970s, asbestos in home building materials, such as wallboard and fireplace inserts were banned by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. OSHA implemented regulations on asbestos use and exposure.
In 1989, the EPA banned asbestos in new materials and called for all school buildings to be inspected and repaired if necessary.
Asbestos has still not been entirely banned in the U.S., but the last asbestos mine closed in 2002. Asbestos still exists in older buildings, shipyards, industrial sites and recently has been found in talcum powder products.
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