It was not until the mid-1900s that the connection between lung cancer and asbestos was suitably established, following a rash of illnesses seen by medical professionals around the country in the years following the Industrial Revolution. It would take another three decades before the U.S. government began taking official action against asbestos manufacturers, but by that time, it was too late for thousands of oblivious victims—who now suffer from malignant mesothelioma or another similar disease.
Mesothelioma: a Largely Man-Made Condition
The most common type of lung cancer from asbestos exposure is mesothelioma. This particular type of cancer, which affects the linings of different internal organs, is actually very rare within the general population. However, it is found in ostensibly high numbers amongst patients with frequent and/or repeated exposure to asbestos—either at home or at work. In fact, as many as 90% of mesothelioma cases are directly attributable to the toxic affects of asbestos.
Many of the first cases of mesothelioma cancer and other related conditions occurred in workers of asbestos mining companies. Asbestos mines had cropped up around the country during the late part of the 19th century, and by the 1920s, doctors in mining-heavy areas began to notice a pattern of illnesses that miners were contracting.
Profit over People: How Big Business Finally Lost the Asbestos Battle
Despite many warnings raised by the medical community at-large, mining and manufacturing processes continued at an ever-increasing rate, until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) got involved in the 1970s. Up until that time, businesses that were based around the acquisition and utilization of asbestos outwardly denied the associated dangers proposed by doctors and researchers.
But by the 70s, citing a well-evidenced connection between deadly lung cancer and asbestos, the EPA began to require the installation of anti-pollution equipment in asbestos mines and plants. Those businesses that refused to comply were threatened with a shutdown order.
In 1989, the use of asbestos products was banned completely by the EPA, in a blanketed mandate that was repealed just a few years later. Still, by that time, the damage had been done to the profitability of asbestos mining and manufacturing, and asbestos products from the U.S. became virtually extinct.
Lung Cancer and Asbestos: Are We Still at Risk?
Unfortunately, the complete elimination of asbestos from American consumer contact would likely be more dangerous than it would be protective. Asbestos removal is a very precarious process, requiring the use of HAZMAT suits and specially made, HEPA-filtered vacuums. If proper precautions are not taken, anyone who attempts to remove installed asbestos runs the significant risk of inhaling floating debris that can cause mesothelioma and other related cancers.
For this reason, asbestos products still exist in many older buildings today. The best options for those asbestos-containing structures is either to simply leave them be, hire a professional to renovate and replace asbestos with better, safer materials or to “seal in” the asbestos-containing products, thus preventing them from being damaged and causing toxic fibers to become airborne.