Can Malignant Mesothelioma Be Prevented?

Mesothelioma is preventable if you avoid asbestos exposure. You need to educate yourself about where asbestos may be hiding. It still lingers in the places we live and work. Asbestos awareness can help prevent exposure, the cause of mesothelioma, and other health issues.

During the 20th century, U.S. manufacturers added asbestos to thousands of products. Construction materials still contain asbestos in homes, offices and factories across the country.

Workers may encounter asbestos while on the job. Settings include shipyards, power plants, chemical plants, railroads and auto mechanic shops.

Ways to Prevent Mesothelioma
  • Avoid old asbestos insulation products that can easily release dust when disturbed.
  • Check for asbestos before demolition or renovation work in homes built before 1980.
  • Follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations if you work with asbestos.

For decades, most workers and the general public had no idea asbestos exposure could lead to serious diseases. Examples include malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

Some companies even hid the health risks of asbestos from their employees. Today, more people are aware of the dangers, especially those who work in industries that used asbestos.

Mesothelioma Prevention at Work

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration began regulating employee exposure to asbestos in 1972.

Asbestos warning sign at a jobsite.
Asbestos warning sign at a jobsite.

OSHA outlines specific standards for general industry (29 CFR 1910.1001,) construction (29 CFR 1926.1101,) and shipyards (29 CFR 1915.1001.) These standards require employers to develop a written plan that discusses exposure, and establishes processes or procedures for minimizing the hazard.

To determine if a plan is needed, air monitoring must be conducted. If employees are exposed to more than 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of (1 f/cc) over an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) day, or the short term Excursion Limit (ELT), of 1.0 fiber per cubic centimeter of air (0.1 f/cc) as averaged over a sampling period of 30 minutes ; a plan must be created.

The plan must outline a training program for employees. The following are also required or recommended planning elements:

  • Conduct air monitoring to determine exposure.
  • Create controlled zones or “regulated areas” where asbestos work is performed; and limit access to this area to authorized personnel who have been trained and are wearing the proper personal protective equipment.
  • Prohibit eating, smoking, drinking, chewing tobacco or gum and applying cosmetics in these zones or areas
  • Provide medical examinations for affected employees
  • Display warning signs
  • Do not allow removal of contaminated clothing from shower and or changing rooms. Use closed containers to store clothing until it is laundered or disposed of
  • Do not use pressurized air to remove dust. Use a HEPA vacuum instead
  • Seal wastes in properly marked bags
  • Conduct air monitoring at least once every six months.
  • Maintain monitoring records, training records and medical records

Awareness of asbestos health risks has improved over the years. Some employers still don’t take the proper steps to prevent harmful workplace exposures. Workers must take their own precautions around asbestos. They must report any unsafe work conditions to OSHA.

You can take steps to help prevent asbestos exposure and related health conditions. Never perform asbestos work for your employer if you are not trained and certified. If you lack the proper training in asbestos removal, leave this type of work to professionals.

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How to Protect Your Family from Asbestos

Anyone performing renovation work on a home built before 1980 should be cautious of asbestos. The only way to tell if a construction material in your home contains asbestos is to have a sample sent to a certified laboratory for testing.

Homeowners can release asbestos dust into the air during renovations. Concealed asbestos materials in good condition are safe if undisturbed. Cutting, sawing, sanding, scraping or drilling into them creates a health risk.

Asbestos Products Found in Homes

  • Attic insulation
  • Roof shingles and tar
  • Drywall and joint compound
  • Floor tiles and adhesives
  • Popcorn ceiling textures
  • Insulation wrapping on pipes, ducts and electrical wires
Diagram of Where Asbestos Can be Found in a Home
Asbestos use has declined significantly since the late 1970s, when the U.S. banned spray-on asbestos and several other uses. However, many older homes still contain asbestos.

An asbestos product that has become brittle and crumbly over time is called friable asbestos. Materials in this state are especially dangerous. Toxic asbestos fibers can break off and float through the air.

Damaged or friable asbestos products should be encapsulated or removed from the home immediately. A licensed abatement company should perform the job. It’s the best way to protect you and your family from asbestos exposure.

How to Avoid Asbestos in Your Home

  • Ask your home inspector or real estate agent if there is asbestos in your home.
  • If you have an older home, don’t perform DIY renovations without checking for asbestos first.
  • If you think you have found asbestos in your home, leave it alone.
  • Regularly check known asbestos products in your home for signs of wear.
  • If an asbestos product is worn or has become damaged, call an abatement specialist.
  • Never attempt to remove asbestos without help from a professional.
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Regulations on Asbestos in Schools and Public Buildings

The same asbestos-containing materials used extensively in home construction also were used to build schools and other public buildings where people work, learn and visit each day.

Government organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have regulations for protecting people from asbestos exposure in these buildings, including:

  • NESHAP: The National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants set strict rules for ensuring renovations and demolitions do not put people at risk of asbestos exposure.
  • AHERA: The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act requires every school to inspect for asbestos-containing materials and prepare an asbestos management plan. Schools must keep the plan on site and update it with each inspection.

Monitoring Your Health

People with a history of asbestos exposure should monitor their respiratory and digestive health. Mesothelioma arises 20 to 60 years after the initial exposure to asbestos.

Ways to Detect or Prevent Mesothelioma

  • Review Your Health: Keep track of changes to your health since your asbestos exposure. Note any new respiratory symptoms or new pains in your chest or abdomen. If new symptoms arise, keep a journal of the changes and share it with your doctor.
  • Maintain a Healthy Diet: A well-rounded diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can lower your risk for cancer. Eat foods rich in antioxidants to help your body repair itself and fend off disease.

Talk to Your Doctor About Regular Medical Tests

People exposed to asbestos long ago can be monitored via a diagnostic imaging test — such as an X-ray — or a pulmonary function test, which measures how well the lungs are working.

If you have a history of asbestos exposure, be sure to tell your doctor and ask how frequently you should be tested for signs of disease. If mesothelioma symptoms arise — especially chest pain, shortness of breath or a persistent cough — see a doctor immediately.

When mesothelioma is diagnosed in its early stages of development, there are more treatment options available that may improve your survival and quality of life. A blood test called MESOMARK may be used to monitor response to treatment. But this test isn’t used often.

Chemoprevention Research

Chemoprevention researchers are investigating ways to prevent the development of mesothelioma among asbestos-exposed workers. Chemoprevention uses natural substances or drugs to prevent disease. Much of this early laboratory research is still being conducted on animals or in test tubes.

For example, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are investigating flaxseed lignans as chemopreventative agents. According to a 2018 study published in the journal Antioxidants, a synthetic version of a flaxseed lignan protected cells against asbestos-induced damage.

The researchers are also investigating new biomarkers. They may help identify asbestos-exposed workers who may be at risk of developing mesothelioma or lung cancer. The goal is to identify the people most at risk and use chemopreventative agents to prevent asbestos damage.

A 2021 research report concluded that the complete knowledge of the genetic background of mesothelioma will be further improved by future genetic and genomic studies, allowing scientists to develop better strategies for the prevention and treatment of this malignancy.

Smoking Cessation Programs

You can reduce your chances of developing an asbestos-related condition by quitting smoking.

There is no evidence that smoking increases a person’s risk of mesothelioma. Studies show that smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer or asbestosis.

If you have a history of asbestos exposure, you should find a smoking cessation program and stop smoking immediately.

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