Continued Research, Advocacy Needed for Mesothelioma

Jasmine Duff

Jasmine Duff is a student at Savanna College of Art and Design. She is the second-place winner of the Spring 2016 Asbestos.com Essay Scholarship.

The Industrial Revolution was the catalyst for the monumental growth and development of the U.S. into the world power it is today.

Mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by asbestos, is an unfortunate byproduct of that growth.

Readily available in 90 percent of the earth’s surface, this cheap material was widely used in military and civilian applications, primarily because of its fire retardant, heat resistant and insulation properties.

Early clinical and labor studies revealed the potential link of asbestos to cancer, but common misdiagnoses, lack of pharmaceutical research funding, long latency periods (20-50 years) and slow legislative response placed millions of unwitting workers, renters and property owners at risk.

Admirably, current efforts from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — along with assistance from private organizations — laid the groundwork for future progress, focusing on increased awareness, research, clinical studies and a multitude of treatment options.

These efforts offer a viable blueprint for future success, hopefully increasing patient longevity in the short term and the eventual discovery of a cure and an eradication of the disease as the long-term goal.

Mesothelioma Patients Typically Unaware of Process

A three-prong attack is required: Infusion of increased litigation, a renewed government intervention and a fervent influx of private funding.

Over decades, many businesses enjoyed huge profits manufacturing products containing asbestos. Despite knowing about the hazards their employees faced, these companies failed to implement necessary safety measures to protect them.

The reality is most potential litigants are low-income and underinsured people with higher out-of-pocket health expenses and a fear and distrust of the medical profession and judicial system.

This group may not understand lawyers take their case on a contingency basis, where fees are paid only if the case is won or settled. It might be helpful if legal clinics are strategically placed in target areas where abnormal cancer rates are found.

Medical, Legal and Advocacy Groups Must Unite

The medical community must have a connection to these centers and advise patients accordingly after diagnosis, since time is of the essence.

Courts where the litigation is brought should structure settlements to designate a percentage of the award earmarked specifically for research and clinical trials, in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry. This may encourage them to dedicate some their own research dollars toward the effort as well.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration could be brought into the fold to expedite the approval process of new medications. More litigation highlighting mesothelioma and asbestos might encourage the media to cover the disease more diligently and get Congressional attention, spawning private funding as well.

A massive letter writing campaign using social media to stimulate grass-root interest and awareness is needed. This a critical piece because there is a significant amount of old properties — commercial and residential — that still contain high volumes of asbestos products. Many at-risk groups remain ill-informed of the latent hazard asbestos poses.

Asbestos Is Still a Concern in Older Buildings

A large number of homes, factories and commercial properties built between 1930 and 1970 may contain asbestos insulation, plumbing, hot water heaters and some paint products.

Most of the public is unaware of this. It impacts a segment of the population that may be less sophisticated and have no option to move because of limited financial resources.

If they are living in structures with exposed asbestos, their children may likely play around the material and possibly damage it, releasing dangerous asbestos fibers into ventilation system and placing their entire family at risk.

Local government statutes should require disclosure of potential hazards in leases and a fact sheet that outlines the proper handling of asbestos materials. Owners likely won’t agree to professional removal because of the high cost and the risk involved.

The same goes for factories and commercial properties. Traces of old insulation, wiring and plumbing remain — posing a significant risk to inhabitants.

All properties built between 1930 and 1970 should be required to have the requisite disclosures written into leases and sale contracts. Protection of the public is of utmost importance.

Awareness Campaigns Must Grow

I commend organizations that keep the flag raised on asbestos-related cancer deaths. They must continue to build a coalition of supporters from the legal, political, medical and pharmaceutical professions, as well as heavily endowed charitable organizations.

They must press on with awareness campaigns, research and clinical trials at a rapid pace, continuing to reach out and partner with other players in the cancer arena.

By implementing and adequately funding a joint task force, they can keep their eye on the prize, using a multitude of treatments — some that regress the aggressiveness of the disease and hopefully one day cure mesothelioma.

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