Two-thousand years ago, the Roman historian Pliny the Elder noticed that slaves who worked in asbestos mines often suffered from respiratory illnesses that led to premature death. Today, we know that asbestos, a naturally-occurring fibrous mineral, has dangerous health-effects. However, workers continue to be diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses.
Historically asbestos has been used for heat shielding and protective garments worn by steel workers. Asbestos has fire-retardant and heat-insulating properties make it especially useful in the steel industry. Today asbestos is strictly regulated, but workers can suffer asbestos-related illnesses years or even decades after exposure.
Almost all asbestos-related illnesses are due to occupational exposure. The risk of asbestos-related illness depends on both the length of exposure and the amount of asbestos that the worker was exposed to. However, just a few months of exposure can be enough to cause mesothelioma forty years later.
There are four industrial illnesses associated with asbestos:
- Pleural Disease
- Asbestos-related lung cancer
Asbestos-related pleural abnormalities include pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening, benign asbestos pleural effusions, and rounded atelectasis (folded lung). These conditions can result from low levels of asbestos exposure.
Asbestosis occurs when prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers causes scarring of lung tissue and affects breathing. Symptoms usually occur 20 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the pleural lining that usually occurs 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure. Because the cancer is so aggressive, most patients die within a year of diagnosis. Mesothelioma may also affect the peritoneum (lining of the abdominal cavity) or the pericardium (lining of the heart).
Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer
Exposure to asbestos can cause many types of lung cancer. Smokers who are exposed to asbestos are at the highest risk. Asbestos exposure may also cause cancers of the voice box, upper throat, kidneys, esophagus and gall bladder.
Because of the long latency period associated with asbestos-related illness, most asbestos workers do not qualify for Pennsylvania workers’ compensation. Pennsylvania only allows workers’ compensation benefits to employees who are diagnosed with an industrial illness within 300 weeks of employment. However, you may still be eligible for compensation from your employer. Contact Mednick, Mezyk & Kredo at 888-807-WORK to learn more.