On December 7th, 2011, Pearl Harbor Survivor and Navy Veteran, Frank Curre, passed away exactly 70 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Curre, who had shared his harrowing experience with others, not only suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) type symptoms, but suffered from mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer most often linked to asbestos exposure, a type of exposure which was common for Navy veterans before regulations on the use of asbestos were established. Today, many Navy Veterans who served during the Vietnam War are the faces of mesothelioma victims.
Any individual, who has a history of working with asbestos, should be aware of mesothelioma symptoms and take immediate action if any symptoms are present. While mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer, an early detection may allow an individual to live with it more comfortably.
What is Asbestos?
Many of us have seen a sign, at a construction site, warning of potential asbestos exposure; we know that asbestos is bad, but what exactly is it? According to the National Cancer Institute, asbestos is the name given to a group of minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibers; such fibers were used for insulating and in other building materials due to their heat resistant properties. Mining of asbestos gained popularity in the late 1880s and peaked during World War II. Asbestos, in its natural form is relatively harmless, but once it is manipulated or broken down, it becomes dangerous; as the small particles are often inhaled. Asbestos wasn’t deemed a safety hazard until almost 100 years after it was first mined in North America. In the late 1970s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces due to the potential release of asbestos fibers. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos. Additionally, the EPA created regulations which required inspections in schools and properly remove or isolate any found asbestos. Despite regulations, many people in a variety of occupations are at risk for asbestos exposure which can lead to life threatening mesothelioma.
The Faces Behind Mesothelioma; Who’s at Risk?
Many of the victims who are diagnosed with deadly mesothelioma had occupations that made them heroic, put their lives at risk on a daily basis, and required a dedication for the unknown. Many brave men and women, like war veteran Curre, fought to live through tragedy only to face the separate battle of mesothelioma decades later. Anyone who lives or works in a structure with asbestos present is at risk for asbestos exposure, but some people are at a bigger risk than others:
- Navy Veterans or Naval Shipyard Workers: Up until the late 1980s, vessels were filled with insulation containing asbestos in confined spaces such as boiler rooms. Respirators or protective gear were not worn in the tight quarters of a life at sea.
- Firefighters: While firefighters wear protective gear when fighting fires, any residue from an asbestos filled building can collect on their clothing. When firefighters return to their station, no longer wearing their respirators, they can unknowingly breathe in and spread around asbestos particles. Today’s highest risk firefighters are those who responded to the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center.
- Family Members: An individual, who is at high risk for asbestos exposure, is not the only one who could develop mesothelioma. In some cases, family members have developed asbestos related health issues due to their secondary exposure to asbestos through clothing.
Additionally, anyone who was employed for a prolonged period of time before the late 1970s may be at risk for mesothelioma. Such occupations include, but are not limited to:
- Aircraft and Automobile Mechanics (asbestos was used in numerous parts such as brakes, etc.)
- Building Construction Workers, Building Engineers, or Electricians
- Boiler Operators
- Railroad Workers
The Symptoms of an Aggressive Disease:
Unfortunately, mesothelioma is not a curable disease and it is generally detected later when it is at a more aggressive form. Like all other types of cancer, there is no guaranteed fix for mesothelioma. Surgeries, chemotherapy, and other removal methods may be attempted to stop the spread of mesothelioma, but the best action to take is getting medical help as soon as you detect a symptom. Your symptoms may indicate a specific form of mesothelioma, but symptoms should not be taken lightly, especially if you have knowingly been exposed to asbestos. According to the Mayo Health Clinic, mesothelioma symptoms include:
- Chest pain under the rib cage
- Painful Coughing
- Shortness of Breath
- Unusual lumps of tissue under the skin in the chest area
- Unexplained Weight Loss
- Abdominal Pain or Swelling
- Unusual lumps of tissue in the abdomen
- Swelling or mass in the testicles
If you were exposed to asbestos at any point in your lifetime through your occupation, from a loved one, or through your environment, you may be at a high risk for mesothelioma. If you suspect you have symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. While there is no cure, medical professionals can help you live comfortably, giving you the continued respect you deserve for serving your country, building America, or saving lives.
About the Author:
Andrew Miller is a passionate member of the End Ecocide movement, an avid legal blogger and Environmental Law Student. He has worked in marketing for over a decade and finds his passion in bringing concepts to life. As a Socialpreneur, he is an agent for positive social change through both his writing and business endeavors.