We Lived in a House Made From Asbestos Blocks
Our House Made From Asbestos Blocks
When I was ten years old, in 1967, I moved to Australia with my parents and four siblings. We lived there for two years, totally unaware of the danger we were in. Our house was made from asbestos blocks. Any one of us could have developed an asbestos-related lung disease or malignant mesothelioma cancer had the house been damaged. In fact, my father died from cancer. I do not know if it may have been caused by living in this house, but I do wonder.
My Mother Wrote This Letter to My Grannie in 1967
The letter reads:
This is our car and a bit of the house in Lameroo. The house is made of asbestos. Most of the houses are made of this stuff. The bottom half of the windows have fly screens on.
My parents really did not have a clue how dangerous asbestos can be.
Is Your House Made With Asbestos?
Asbestos can still be found in buildings today, particularly older homes built before 1990. If the material is intact, experts say there is no danger. However, if the material is damaged in some way—the official term is friable, or easily crumbled—it is extremely dangerous because of the risk of inhalation.
What to Do If You Find Asbestos in Your Home
You should avoid any contact with the material and call an expert asbestos removal firm immediately to deal with the problem.
Mesothelioma in Australia
Australia has one of the highest death rates due to mesothelioma, second only to the UK. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2017, over 700 Australians were diagnosed with mesothelioma, most of which were men. Researchers expect the number of cases, as well as the number of deaths, to increase. Australia and Britain are the two countries with the most reported deaths from mesothelioma.
Asbestos was mined in Australia for use in materials for fireproofing, insulation, and soundproofing. The demand was so high that during the 1970s, in addition to the mining, Australia imported 22 million pounds of asbestos. It wasn't until the early 1980s that awareness of the dangers of asbestos became widespread. Mines were forced to close down, materials containing asbestos began to be phased out, and stringent Health and Safety laws went into effect.
By 1990, most houses were built with asbestos-free materials, but not all. On December 31, 2003, Australia completely banned the manufacturing, use, import, transport, storage, and sale of all forms of asbestos.
Mesothelioma in United States of America
Before the public became more aware of the dangers of asbestos 1980s, Chrysotile was the most commonly used type of asbestos in American construction (for thermal, electrical, and sound insulation). Asbestos is extremely heat and fire resistant. For this reason, it is also used in floor and ceiling tiles and is often mixed with concrete. All the lining for water pipes, heaters and ventilation pipes, and air conditioning fixtures were made from asbestos.
In 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned most spray asbestos products under the Clean Air Act. A few years later, in 1989, the EPA implemented a full ban on all manufacturing, uses, and sale of asbestos products. However, in 1991, the ban was overturned because industry supporters argued the EPA did not have enough evidence that alternatives to asbestos were much better than asbestos-containing products. Currently, the EPA only bans the following asbestos products:
- Corrugated paper
- Commercial paper
- Specialty paper
- Flooring felt
- New uses of asbestos
When the Twin Towers were destroyed in New York, the whole world saw the news reports of the huge cloud created when the buildings fell to the ground. It is estimated that the cloud contained over one thousand tons of asbestos, along with other toxic chemicals. In an interview with Asbestos.com, first-responder John Feal, states that the number of cancer deaths from the fallout of 9/11 continues to rise and predicts that it could surpass the death toll of the attack itself.
Mesothelioma in Britain
Britain is one of the countries with the highest use of asbestos, and therefore, unsurprisingly, also has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world. Its use was popular both in buildings and in vessels built for the British Armed Forces. In the 1980s, along with many other countries, Britain passed laws prohibiting the use of asbestos. However, it wasn't until 2006 that the UK passed the Control of Asbestos Regulations Act which banned all use, supply, and import of asbestos. However, where asbestos had already been used, it doesn't need to be removed if it is intact.
The number of mesothelioma cases continue to rise, particularly for skilled workers including carpenters, electricians, heating engineers, electricians, joiners, and plumbers. In 2015, there were 2,697 reported cases of mesothelioma—up by two-thirds from the 1990s. However, there is a positive outlook as the number of cases are projected to decrease by 53%.
What Is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a deadly and aggressive cancer of the mesothelial cells that make up the thin lining (mesothelium) of the lungs and other organs, namely the heart and abdomen. It is caused by inhalation or swallowing of asbestos fibres, which cannot be expelled or broken down by the body. This results in scarring and inflammation of the mesothelium. Over time, the scars may develop into cancerous growths, leading to mesothelioma.
There are three types of mesothelioma: pleural (lung), pericardial (heart), and peritoneal (abdomen). Symptoms may differ slightly depending on the type of mesothelioma.
It can take years and decades for symptoms to develop, making it difficult to find the root cause.
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent cough
- Tightness and/or pain in the chest
- Crackling sound while breathing
- Weight loss and poor or no appetite
In the later stages, the patient may have a very hoarse voice, have difficulty swallowing, and begin to cough up sputum and blood.
In cases of pleural mesothelioma, additional symptoms include lower back pain and pains in the side of the chest. Some people might notice that their arms or face swell up.
In cases of peritoneal mesothelioma, additional symptoms include constant nausea and/or vomiting.
Pleural mesothelioma mainly affects those who have had a job where they were exposed to a high level of asbestos in their work place. The asbestos affects the thin layer in the chest which creates a thickening or calcification of the lining of the lungs.
It can take ten years or more to show up. This strain is usually not fatal but could easily develop into the fatal disease of Pleural Mesothelioma. This has happened because Pleural disease has spread from the pleura into the outer chest wall, abdomen, and heart.
Surgery in some cases can be used effectively if the disease it caught soon enough before too much damage is done. Removing the pleura might be attempted but the risks are great from the operation itself. Sometimes all or part of the lung on the affected side is also removed. But once at the later stages of Pleural Mesothelioma and if not diagnosed in time then it is fatal within twelve months.
Pleural Mesothelioma often causes fluid on the lungs, and this can be treated with needle aspiration biopsy. This will drain the fluid and give temporary relief. It is also used to diagnose the disease. It is inserted just under the skin and extracts cells which are examined under a microscope. Depending on the stage of the disease this procedure might not be enough and the more major surgical of an open biopsy is required.
During this time treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy are used for the Mesothelioma. It helps ease the pain and some other systems.
Pericardial Mesothelioma originates in the lining of the heart. Pericardial Mesothelioma is the rarest type with only ten per cent of those exposed to asbestos developing this form of the disease.
Pericardial Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos fibres, which are inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream. They wrap around the heart's lining as the blood pumps through the heart. Pericardial Mesothelioma is also nearly always fatal.
Peritoneal Mesothelioma develops in the thin cell walls which surround the abdominal cavity, known as the peritoneum. This form of the disease is usually fatal within twelve months of diagnosis.
The only thing that can be done for Peritoneum Mesothelioma is relief in the form of Radiotherapy or Chemotherapy. So depending on the Mesothelioma Diagnosis there are different treatments for each one
Who Has the Highest Risk of Developing Mesothelioma
- Residents of old buildings, particularly those built before 1990
- Construction workers
- Manufacturers of products containing asbestos
- Insulation or roof workers
- Shipyard workers
- Railroad workers
If a patient goes to the doctor with these symptoms, the doctor may ask about the patient's work and living environments if they have been exposed to asbestos. Once this is established, the doctor will likely order chest X-rays from which a diagnosis can be made. A tissue sample (biopsy) from the chest wall may also be taken with a thorascope under general anesthetic to confirm the diagnosis.
If needed, follow-up tests may include a Pulmonary Function Test, another biopsy, a bronchoscopy, and CT and/or MRI scans.
Mesothelioma and Women
Women tend to come into contact with asbestos through the environment or secondary contact, although direct occupational exposure is also possible. Of the mesothelioma cases in women, most were pleural, followed by peritoneal. The prognosis is generally better for women than for men because treatments have been found to be more effective for women.
A combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy are usually given. Sometimes surgery may also be helpful. It depends on the stage the illness has progressed to once diagnosed.
Malignant Mesothelioma Support
Using asbestos is now illegal in most countries but it is too late for those who have the asbestos cancer Malignant Mesothelioma. Thousands.more people around the world will be diagnosed with and die from Malignant Mesothelioma in years to come.
I have included links to Government support groups for those suffering from Malignant Mesothelioma and other cancers from all over the world
Mesothelioma Support Groups
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- NIH Staff. (7 Jun. 2017). Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk. NIH National Cancer Institute.
- Selby, Karen, RN. (n.d.). Mesothelioma in Australia. Asbestos.com. Retrieved on May 29, 2019.
- Selby, Karen, RN. (n.d.). Mesothelioma in the UK. Asbestos.com. Retrieved on May 29, 2019.
- Selby, Karen, RN. (n.d.). Mesothelioma Statistics. Asbestos.com. Retrieved on May 29, 2019.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.