Exposure to Asbestos Doesn’t Mean You Will Get Mesothelioma

If you know what mesothelioma is, you probably also know what causes it.  It is common knowledge that exposure to asbestos causes mesothelioma.  Given the abundant use of asbestos in pre-Second World War era, a large number of people who have been exposed to asbestos, now live in fear.  In reality, not all of the people who have been exposed should feel that they are doomed.  Recent research has identified an important aspect of asbestos exposure that matters the most.  Asbestos particle size appears to be the primary factor in causing the disease.

It has been known to scientists for a long time that the length of asbestos particles is the primary factor in causing mesothelioma.  However, the exact length that tips the scale was not explored.  A team of scientists in Scotland took on this task and used nickel nanofibers and carbon nanotubes to determine the threshold of length that may cause mesothelioma.

The researchers used laboratory mice in this experiment.  They injected the mice with different sized nano fibers and then measured the inflammatory response by observing the chest wall through microscopes.  Their observations revealed the minimum length of the fiber which may trigger the inflammatory response leading to mesothelioma.

Our results showed a clear threshold effect demonstrating that fibers beyond 4 µm in length are pathogenic to the pleura,” they conclude in an article in Toxicological Sciences. The results have implications not only for understanding and predicting asbestos-related mesothelioma risk but also for creating synthetic nano-fibers that are, as they say, “benign by design,” commented the researchers.

It must also be mentioned here that while it is common knowledge that exposure to asbestos may cause mesothelioma, not many people know that there are other man-made fibers that may bring about the same outcome.  There are several nanoparticles used in different fields of material sciences that may cause inflammatory diseases such as mesothelioma.

Are you at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?

One thing that needs to be understood is that although asbestos is a hazardous compound, not all asbestos products are dangerous.  It becomes dangerous when it is inhaled in the form of loose fibers.  This happens when activities like demolishing, grinding, chipping, etc. are carried out on asbestos products.  There were certain occupations or industries where asbestos was heavily used:

  • Many people involved in various industrial and commercial jobs were exposed to high levels of asbestos.  A few examples of the environments which had high levels of asbestos exposure include chemical plants, oil refineries, power plants and steel mills.  All of these had high heat environments that necessitated the use of asbestos.
  • A large number of Americans like doing DIY repair and construction work.  They work with construction materials that contain asbestos and when these materials are sanded, filed or cur, asbestos fibers are released and subsequently inhaled.  Some commonly used DIY products include roofing materials, insulation products, joining compounds, flooring materials, etc.
  • Another area of high asbestos exposure that may not obvious to many people is the military. All branches of the military heavily used asbestos containing products.  Naval personnel were particularly exposed to high levels of asbestos in ships and shipyards.  Similarly, army personnel were exposed while working on military installations, buildings, etc.
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