• Asbestos: The Cancer-Causing, Workplace Carcinogen
  • January 12, 2018
  • A new study conducted by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) and Cancer Care Ontario reveals that the prevalence of on-the-job hazardous substances is much higher than many realize. Workplace exposure to carcinogens such as diesel exhaust, asbestos, and silica, as well as solar ultraviolet radiation and outdoor sun exposure are causing thousands of cancer cases in Ontario each year. Asbestos, in particular, is leading the bunch, causing an estimated 630 cases of occupational lung cancer and 140 cases of mesothelioma in the province.

    What is Asbestos?

    Asbestos is a fibrous mineral known for its insulating and fire-retardant properties. The problem with this dangerous mineral is that its fibers produce fine dust that, when inhaled, form deposits in the lungs that can cause serious and deadly illnesses. “Over time, asbestos-containing products dry out and become brittle,” explains Susannah Chester-Schindler, partner with Waters Kraus & Paul, mesothelioma attorneys in Dallas. “When the products are disturbed during demolition or remodeling, asbestos fibers are released into the air, posing a danger to those nearby.”

    Who is at Risk for Developing an Asbestos-Related Illness?

    The most prevalent asbestos-related illness is malignant mesothelioma, an extremely aggressive cancer in which malignant cancer cells are found in the sac that lines the chest, abdominal cavity, or heart. People most at risk for developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses are workers whose jobs directly exposed them to asbestos fibers — yet even a minimal exposure can result in asbestos-related illnesses. In fact, there are many documented cases in which the spouse or child of a worker exposed to asbestos on the job developed asbestos-related diseases. In these cases, the family member is exposed to asbestos particles that the worker brings into the home on his body, work clothes, and shoes. This type of asbestos exposure is called “household exposure,” and it can be as deadly as being exposed to asbestos directly on the job.

    According to Dr. Paul Demers, OCRC director, asbestos is Ontario’s worst carcinogen, and they will be living with it for a while. An asbestos ban will begin in Canada in 2018. However, asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma generally have a long latency period of up to 30 to 40 years. This means that people exposed to asbestos today may not start showing symptoms disease until the 2040s.

    Today, more than 3,000 everyday products may contain some amount of asbestos, but the widespread use of asbestos in the United States ended in the 1970s, thanks to government enactment of strict regulations for workplace exposure.