The refusal to recognise the deadly health risks of exposure to asbestos continues to be a long running sore in both Britain and a number of other countries around the world, most notably, Russia. It took most of the twentieth century to bring better asbestos awareness of a direct relationship to asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Organisations such as the HSE, Mesothelioma UK and many charity support groups continue their vital work aimed at providing as much information which can dispel persistent myths surrounding mesothelioma and the risks of asbestos exposure.
Recently, a spokesman for the Russian Chrysotile Association was quoted as saying that he “didn’t see a problem with asbestos – we consider it safe and its fireproofing abilities saves lives.” While the statement may be considered not unexpected given the Russian asbestos industry generates an annual revenue of 540 million dollars (£ 350 million), in Britain too, many vested interests seek to perpetuate ‘asbestos myths’ in a bid to undermine efforts of asbestosis lawyers to make a mesothelioma claim on behalf of their clients.
No safe level…
The predominant myth is that limited exposure only to asbestos was – and is – not harmful, and chrysotile (white) asbestos poses no real health risk. Medical and scientific research has clearly shown that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. The Government Office for Science has also reaffirmed the status of chrysotile (white) asbestos as a Class 1 carcinogenic substance stating that it may not be possible “to determine a threshold level below which exposure to ‘pure’ chrysotile could be deemed ‘safe’ for human health. The same applies for exposure to chrysotile from cement during removal and disposal activities.”
The realities of death occurring simply by secondary exposure to asbestos fibres found on work clothes, boots or hair brought into the home are also powerful evidence. While chrysotile is considered a ‘low level’ risk and less toxic than the brown and blue asbestos forms, which were the first to be banned in 1985, it is still dangerous if found in a friable condition and handling likely to release the mineral fibres into the air.
The next misleading myth says that mesothelioma is a type of lung cancer because certain symptoms appear to be similar to those of lung tumours. Mesothlioma is a cancer of the linings of the chest and abdominal cavities ( mesothelium) as well as the internal organs. The mesothelium is divided into three sections, pleura (chest cavity), peritoneum (abdominal cavity), and pericardium (area around the heart).
Mesothelioma is neither hereditary nor contagious. As with secondary exposure, it’s simply a case that either the same family members, e.g. father and son, brothers or co-workers have all been employed at the same workplace or similar workplaces where they were exposed to asbestos fibres.
Another commonly held pair of myths is that only men or smokers contract mesothelioma. While it is true that men develop mesothelioma at five times the rate of women, females can also be affected, especially when teaching in schools where asbestos containing materials are still present. Another factor was the scarcity of women in the workplace before World War II, and the continued predominance of men in the building and construction trades.
Not smokers only…
Exposure to asbestos is a direct cause of mesothelioma, irrespective of whether an individual smoked cigarettes. Smokers who have been exposed to asbestos over a longer period of time have a much greater chance of developing asbestos-related diseases than non-smokers exposed over the same period.
While the Mesothelioma Bill is passing through its third reading at the House of Lords, events such as the recent annual Action Mesothelioma Day, held throughout the UK, continues to highlight the dangers of white chrysotile within the home, workplace and publics buildings.
There is also no myth about the legacy of asbestos exposure which has resulted in 2,000 men and women who die each year from asbestos-related disease.