Asbestos was once hailed as a miracle material before its public health hazards came to light. The naturally occurring mineral was heavily utilized across industrial and construction sectors for its durability, fire resistance, insulation abilities, and affordability.
Today, asbestos is banned or restricted after decades of widespread exposure led to devastating health impacts. The effects still linger through diseases with long latency periods.
Pennsylvania was among the many states that saw heavy asbestos use over the decades. From the shipbuilders of Philly to the factory workers of Pittsburgh, asbestos still haunts many Pennsylvanians.
Let’s explore the top six conditions caused by asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer strongly associated with asbestos exposure. This fatal cancer develops in the protective lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart; exposure to asbestos is the only known cause.
Pennsylvania has historically seen higher rates of mesothelioma than most other states due to the heavy use of asbestos in its steel mills, chemical plants, power plants, and other industrial sites.
If you or a loved one developed mesothelioma after asbestos exposure in Pennsylvania, connecting with knowledgeable mesothelioma attorneys can help you understand your legal options. But how do you find an attorney with the expertise to help you with your case in Pennsylvania? All you need to do is look up the keyword mesothelioma attorneys Pennsylvania, and you will get a list of experienced attorneys.
An experienced lawyer can analyze your case specifics, gather evidence, determine viable defendants, and file claims to help you secure compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other hardships. They can also answer your questions about the process every step of the way.
2) Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in the United States, responsible for more deaths annually than breast, prostate, colon, and pancreatic cancers combined. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, but asbestos exposure also significantly increases lung cancer risk.
The National Cancer Institute determined that people exposed to inhaled asbestos fibers on the job face a 5-fold increase in lung cancer risk compared to the general population. The risk escalates for people who smoke in addition to asbestos exposure.
Inhaled asbestos fibers become lodged in lung tissue, leading to scar tissue and genetic mutations over time that can eventually manifest as cancerous tumor growth. The tumor may arise directly from the scar tissue or near asbestos fibers in the lung.
Like mesothelioma, the disease often has a long latency period. Most patients are diagnosed with advanced stage 3 or 4 non-small cell lung cancer that has already spread significantly in the body. Treatment is challenging at this stage, with low survival rates.
Asbestosis is a chronic respiratory condition resulting from the inhalation of asbestos fibers. These fibers lead to the scarring of lung tissue and subsequent breathlessness. Asbestosis falls under the classification of pneumoconiosis, a group of diseases caused by the accumulation of mineral dust in the lungs, leading to tissue damage.
The disease progresses slowly, with lung damage and symptoms steadily worsening over time. Early symptoms like shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness can severely impact quality of life.
In people with extensive asbestos exposure, severe asbestosis can significantly impact lung function, restrict airways, and raise the risk of other lung conditions. Advanced asbestosis may require oxygen therapy to aid breathing.
Treatment focuses on managing symptoms, as there is no cure for the cumulative lung damage caused by asbestos exposure. Quitting smoking and avoiding further asbestos exposure are important for slowing the progression of asbestosis.
4) Pleural Plaques
Pleural plaques are areas of thick scar tissue on the pleura, the membrane lining the lungs and the chest cavity. While they do not always cause symptoms, these scars indicate past asbestos exposure and increased risks of other asbestos-related diseases.
Plaques develop when inhaled asbestos fibers become trapped in the pleura, triggering inflammation and scarring over time. The chest pain, shortness of breath, and coughing experienced by some patients likely stem from plaques restricting lung expansion rather than the plaques themselves.
Pleural plaques are often detected incidentally through medical imaging for other purposes. The scars may calcify and show up on X-rays or CT scans decades after the initial asbestos exposure occurred. Those with known occupational exposure may undergo periodic medical screening that catches plaques before other related diseases develop.
The scars do signal asbestos fibers entering the lungs and remain embedded there, capable of causing cellular damage over time. Periodic cancer screening is recommended for those diagnosed with plaques.
5) Pleural thickening
Similar to plaques, pleural thickening involves the scarring and hardening of the pleura lining the chest wall and lungs. However, pleural thickening is more extensive and widespread than the localized plaques.
Diffuse pleural fibrosis can involve partial or full layers of the pleura and may cover a larger region of the lungs. This extensive scarring impedes outward expansion of the lungs and can cause shortness of breath. It can also restrict breathing and lung function.
Analysis of chest X-rays is needed to diagnose and differentiate pleural thickening from pleural plaques. Mild pleural thickening may not impair lung function or cause symptoms right away. However, significant thickening can lead to earlier respiratory problems in those exposed to asbestos. Preventing progression involves avoiding further asbestos exposure.
6) Asbestos Warts
Asbestos warts are rough, raised growths that form on the fingers, hands, forearms, and neck after contact with asbestos fibers. These benign skin lesions represent an immune reaction to sharp asbestos fibers penetrating the skin barrier.
The warts may develop weeks or even years after the exposure occurs. While not harmful or cancerous, they provide telltale clues of daily unsafe asbestos exposure from handling asbestos-containing materials.
Asbestos workers like laggers, insulators, boilermakers, plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, mechanics, and construction workers were at high risk of developing warts on their hands from repeated contact with asbestos products. The warts tend to be itchy and occasionally painful.
Treatment usually involves having a dermatologist surgically remove them. Asbestos warts should prompt medical evaluation to check if asbestos fibers also entered the lungs and impacted them. Even those with mostly skin exposure can develop deadly mesothelioma decades later.
Though asbestos use is now heavily restricted, its public health impacts linger due to the mineral’s historical prevalence and the long latencies of related diseases. Many dedicated their working lives to jobs surrounded by the toxic fibers before the risks were clear. Now, decades after those exposures, they face devastating respiratory conditions and cancers linked to past asbestos contact. While we cannot undo the past harm, there are ways we can help prevent future suffering and support those dealing with these burdens. We can potentially eliminate new asbestos disease cases by raising awareness, improving safety, seeking accountability, and providing legal and medical resources. Our vigilance now honors those impacted and protects future generations.