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The History of Asbestos-Related Mesothelioma

Aug 17, 2007
Asbestos is a fiber that was once used in construction as insulation and fireproofing. Asbestos fibers are small and toxic, easily entering the body through the lungs and causing a number of health problems. Exposure to asbestos can cause a variety of diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the meosthelium or protective lining that covers the body's internal organs, most notably the lining of the lungs and chest, known as the pleura. While mesothelioma can be caused by other factors, the majority of cases are linked to asbestos exposure.

Asbestos-related mesothelioma first gained attention in 1929 when the first lawsuit against asbestos manufacturers was filed. Both sides settled and agreed to avoid pursuing similar cases in the future, and asbestos harmful effects yet again dropped off the radar.

In 1960, however, asbestos and mesothelioma were in the news again. In a paper published by Wagner et al, asbestos was declared as the official cause of mesothelioma. The paper cited more than 30 cases of mesothelioma in people who were either working in asbestos mines or spent a good deal of time in proximity to asbestos. Two years later, an Australian asbestos worker was diagnosed with the first case of malignant mesothelioma. He worked in the asbestos mines in Wittenoom, Australia for just two years before developing the disease.

Wittenoom would eventually become a mesothelioma nightmare. A mining town that revolved around the asbestos mills, the mines asbestos waste had an affect on many who lived there, whether or not they worked in the mines. Toxic levels of the mines asbestos were found on playgrounds, and cases of mesothelioma began to crop up in mine workers and non-mine workers alike. Mining in Wittenoom lasted from 1943 to 1966 despite the existence of proof that asbestos caused mesothelioma and other serious medical conditions.

The mines were owned and operated by CSR Limited, a company that produced aluminum and construction materials including asbestos insulation. The company didn't take proper safety precautions to control the exposure of individuals to asbestos from the mines.

In fact, during the period that CSR Limited Wittenoom mines were in operation, thousands of mine workers, their families, and visitors were exposed to lethal amounts of asbestos. There were regulations in place at the time as to how to control asbestos exposure for mine operators; CSR Limited simply didn't follow them.

The Western Australia Health Department issued several warnings to CSR, but they failed to make any changes to protect the miners and townspeople, even after many cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases began to spring up.

In the late 1970's the Western Australian government began shutting down the town of Wittenoom because it was no longer safe to live there. Asbestos levels were far too toxic, and, eventually, at least a third of those exposed to asbestos in Wittenoom would be diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

In 1979, suits were brought against CSR Limited, and they were found to have shown conscious negligence and disregard for the safety of the mine workers and the town. Even now, new cases of mesothelioma related to the Wittenoom tragedy are being diagnosed, costing CSR Limited millions of dollars in settlements.

Asbestos is still widely used in many products today, despite its toxicity. Attempts to legislate a ban on asbestos, so far, has been overturned by the courts. The EPA has resources available to provide you with information about asbestos, asbestos-related products, and how to control your asbestos exposure.
About the Author
Wittenoom : http://www.asbestosdiseases.org.au/asbestosinfo/wittenoom_tragedies.htm
CSR Limited :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CSR_Limited
Mesothelioma : http://www.asbestosnews.com/html/lung-cancer.html
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