Many people associate asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, with older generations. This is misguided. While the use of asbestos has dropped dramatically since the 1970s, it is still out there – and remains dangerous.
Asbestos continues to tear apart the lives of individuals and families. These illnesses and deaths are often part of the “third wave” of asbestos disease.
The waves of asbestos disease
The first wave of asbestos disease affected a specific subset of individuals. Those exposed to the problematic fibers in the mines, the mills and manufacturing facilities were the first to suffer. The second wave hit those who handled the subsequent materials. Shipbuilders, insulators and construction workers, for example.
Now, we are seeing the impact of the third wave. These workers are exposed to asbestos via products and structures that were installed decades ago. Now, these people have to work with – or are tasked with removing – asbestos-laden items.
NPR profiled one of these people a few years ago. The man was a contractor who had done work installing fiber-optic cable underground. The cable was placed inside a pipe composed of asbestos cement. The job kicked up dust from the pipe – which the man likely inhaled. Ten years later, at the age of 39, a doctor found his stomach “filled with cancer.” The diagnosis was peritoneal mesothelioma.
Holding employers accountable
Asbestos-related illnesses continue to kill thousands of Americans each year. Many older buildings and structures still have asbestos materials inside them. This reality, coupled with the continuing need for abatement workers, means more and more people will likely be exposed.
Employers have a responsibility to ensure workers are protected. This means not just providing proper equipment and training, but also disclosing when work may require someone to handle asbestos. Some businesses may try to hide this or avoid responsibility.
Just because it may take years for symptoms to show does not mean the asbestos exposure did not happen. Workers who were wronged, as well as their loved ones, should be compensated accordingly.