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asbestos diseases

Latest Trends in Asbestos-Related Disease

asbestos diseaseIt’s common knowledge in the scientific community that exposure to asbestos drives the development of several diseases. However, it’s important to remember that scientific knowledge doesn’t stand still. Researchers are always trying to learn something new when it comes to asbestos-related diseases, whether it has to do with diagnosis, treatment or prevention.

During the course of a few years, it’s easy for the research community to acquire so much knowledge that it’s hard to keep track of everything. Recently, I came across an article in The Clinical Respiratory Journal, in which scientists from Australia took a step back and reviewed what is known about illnesses caused by asbestos exposure.

What is the U.S.’s policy on asbestos?
Before we get into what the scientists wrote in their article, let’s take a moment to remember that asbestos is still a health threat in the U.S. The fact that it’s often a topic of discussion as a health threat may mislead people into thinking that it’s no longer allowed in this country. Unfortunately, they’d be wrong, but it’s not for lack of trying.

Asbestos was a common component of many construction materials up until the 1970s. Due to the growing scientific consensus connecting the mineral to diseases such as malignant pleural mesothelioma, responsible companies started eliminating asbestos from their manufacturing processes. Elsewhere, the federal government started banning the use of certain asbestos products. These efforts came to a head in 1989, when the Environmental Protection Agency prohibited most uses of asbestos. However, the powerful asbestos lobby successfully reversed most of this policy.

As it stands now in the U.S., new uses of asbestos are banned, along with inclusion in the manufacturing of rollboard, flooring felt, corrugated paper, construction paper and specialty paper. It is still allowed in products that have always used it, such as cement sheets.

What does the latest review tell us?
The continued use of asbestos is significant because of its ties to illness. While malignant mesothelioma is arguably the most feared of these diseases, it’s important to remember that the breadth of asbestos-related diseases is wider than that. Other complications include asbestosis, pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening, benign pleural effusions, rounded atelectasis and lung cancer.

Here’s what the researchers had to write about the progress in addressing these health issues:

“No new treatments have been developed for the benign [asbestos-related diseases]. Significant advances have been made in chest imaging and nuclear medicine techniques, which have greatly assisted in diagnosis and treatment planning, and in thoracoscopic surgical techniques for diagnosing [malignant mesothelioma]. Sadly, [malignant mesothelioma] remains a deadly disease despite much research endeavor.”

They suggested that further research on the mechanisms of mesothelioma can help the medical community provide more effective treatment.

What can consumers do now?
The review authors suggested that, in the meantime, the best way to tackle asbestos-related diseases is to prevent them in the first place. That means banning the use and production of asbestos around the globe.

The World Health Organization is working with several intergovernment groups and the International Labour Organization to support education on the dangers of asbestos and the use of safe alternative materials. Meanwhile, you as the consumer need to continue to pressure your legislators so that they know that you don’t want your life to be in danger.

Studies Linking Asbestos Exposure to Bile Duct Cancer Raises Urgency for Asbestos Ban

asbestos exposureThe link between exposure to asbestos and fatal respiratory diseases is undeniable. The scientific studies that describe this relationship are used to support efforts to ban the use of asbestos in the manufacturing of new products, and call for more protective measures for workers who frequently have to handle the material.

However, at Kazan Law, we know that asbestos can have negative effects on more than just the respiratory system. In fact, a team of scientists recently published a report in the journal Cancer Causes Control, in which they linked asbestos exposure to cholangiocarcinoma, which is also known as bile duct cancer.

What is cholangiocarcinoma?
The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation describes the liver as an organ with many functions, including the production of bile, which is a fluid that helps the liver filter out wastes while aiding the digestive system in the breakdown of fat in the food we eat. After the liver cells make bile, the liquid collects in tubes and drains out of the liver and into the gallbladder for storage via the bile ducts. These larger branches connect the liver to the gallbladder and the small intestine, into which the bile is released once food enters.

Bile duct cancer occurs when these larger, branched tubes develop a malignancy. This diseases can cause symptoms such as chills, fever, itching, decrease in appetite, weight loss, pain in the upper right abdomen that may travel to the back, and jaundice.

The five-year survival rate of this disease is 30 percent in cases when doctors are able to spot it in its early stages. However, only about 20 percent of incidents are found in such a timely manner.

Asbestos may be tied to disease trends
The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation estimates that more than 2,500 cases of bile duct cancer are newly diagnosed every year in the U.S. However, the incidence is increasing, and experts from the patient advocacy group are not entirely sure why. They suggest that doctors are becoming better at diagnosing the disease.

One team of scientists from Italy decided to investigate whether asbestos exposure played a role in this trend.

For their study, the researchers analyzed the medical data collected from 155 patients, all of whom were treated for bile duct cancer between 2006 and 2010. This information included the occupational histories of the individuals, all of whom were matched with data from control subjects.

Results showed that there was an increased risk of asbestos exposure among the patients who had intrahepatic bile duct cancer, which affects the ducts inside the liver. Furthermore, there was some evidence that asbestos was also associated with extrahepatic bile duct cancer, which occurs outside the liver.

One reason why asbestos may stimulate the development of these diseases is that the mineral can drive inflammation within the body, according to the scientists.

“Exposure to asbestos could be one of the determinants of the progressive rise in the incidence of [intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma] during the last 30 years,” the researchers wrote in Cancer Causes Control.

Calls for better asbestos control become more urgent
The Environmental Working Group estimates that asbestos exposure is responsible for more than 9,900 deaths in the U.S. every year. Out of those incidents, about 1,200 are related to malignant diseases of the digestive system.

This is cause for concern because asbestos has not been banned outright in countries like the U.S., where the material is a common component of automotive parts and insulation materials, potentially putting both trades workers and consumers at risk.

Hopefully, studies such as the recent report on bile duct cancer will urge government groups and manufacturers to become more conscientious.

World Trade Center Rescue Workers Still Feeling Asbestos-Related Health Effects of 9/11

WTC Fireman

Much print space has been dedicated to the men and women who risked their lives during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11, 2001. Now, researchers are discovering that rescue workers – many of whom dug through flaming rubble and endured intense asbestos exposure – are still suffering, long after their experiences in an extraordinarily toxic environment.

Most people have seen it in pictures and video clips: firefighters and emergency volunteers wading through piles of dust, battling flames and intense heat, inhaling thick dust or choking on smoke from combusted jet fuel.

Research Confirms Health Conditions of Rescue Workers

For years, doctors have suspected that this environment posed a severe health risk to all involved. Finally, as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, researchers are releasing information confirming this suspicion.

The reports are complex and technical, but their findings are simple: exposure to noxious gases, smoke, dust and asbestos particles at the site of the WTC has resulted in serious lung diseases among first responders and rescue workers.

Some of these conditions were apparent immediately, while others, like asbestosis or mesothelioma, may not appear for decades to come.

Consider a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the New York University School of Medicine sifted through seven years’ worth of data on the respiratory condition of first responders from the New York City Fire Department (FDNY).

What were they looking for? The team wanted to know how exposure to the air at Ground Zero affected the lung function of FDNY crew members.

Severe Losses in Lung Functioning Discovered

Their data showed that those who responded during the first year of recovery efforts tended to display severe losses in lung capacity and exhalation strength. The team emphasized that these losses were not small. The average decrease in lung function was 12 times larger than the normal loss associated with age.

Furthermore, the biggest blow to lung health occurred among firefighters and EMS personnel who responded on the morning of the attack itself, indicating that the worst of the effects came from exposure to the densest gases and dust.

Just what were first responders breathing 10 years ago, on the morning of 9/11 and for months afterward? Several reports appearing in a special commemorative issue of The Lancet spell it out.

WTC Air Filled with Known Carcinogens

According to one study, the collapse of the WTC filled the air with “a dense cloud of dust that contained particulates, glass fibers, asbestos, lead, hydrochloric acid” and a number of other known carcinogens.

Another study noted that jet fuel fumes and alkaline cement dust also hung in the air for weeks after the initial disaster. Rescue workers often inhaled these substances in massive quantities.

Exposure to such toxins can fast-track dozens of terrible health problems. These include asthma, sinusitis, gastrointestinal reflux, heart disease and poor lung function, according to several studies published in the journal.

Scientists noted that it may be years before the effects of this tragedy are fully understood and accounted for.

Consider asbestos, which many first responders inhaled to a degree almost unthinkable in the U.S. today. Research has shown that the effects of asbestos exposure – which include asbestosis and mesothelioma – often take decades to manifest themselves.

It will be some time before anyone can estimate the impact of asbestos-related mesothelioma on first responders, volunteers and New York City residents.

Once diagnosed, any volunteers who have this disease will face a grim prognosis. Even when mesothelioma has not spread throughout the body, patients typically live just 16 months beyond their initial diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute.


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