It’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.