For more than a century, ironworkers have been a critical part of construction operations, helping build thousands of bridges, high-rises, and commercial plants. Ironworkers are responsible for many different tasks on a worksite, from demolition of old buildings to adding rebar before new concrete walls are poured. Because ironworkers are frequently out on construction sites, they are oftentimes exposed to asbestos, a toxic substance that can lead to serious diseases and health problems like mesothelioma.
Asbestos Exposure for Ironworkers
Prior to the 1980s, asbestos was the top choice for insulation materials because it can withstand high temperatures and is highly resistant to fire. However, doctors eventually discovered that asbestos was making people sick. Laws changed to restrict asbestos use in construction materials, but it’s still not completely banned. Many existing structures continues to have asbestos hiding in the insulation, floor tiles, or ceilings. Because of this, ironworkers may encounter asbestos at any point during a routine day on the job.
One of the most common causes for exposure in the late 1900s was slate board. Insulation products also caused frequent danger for ironworkers. Each time asbestos insulation was cut or sanded, tiny fibers of asbestos dust were released into the air, putting everyone nearby at risk. Sometimes metal beams had an asbestos coating to prevent fires. Ironworkers could also spread asbestos exposure to their families when tiny fibers covered their clothes or shoes. These microscopic toxins could be carried home, putting relatives at high risk for second hand exposure.
The Health Risk of Asbestos Exposure
The medical community has now learned that asbestos is closely linked to lung diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. During the1970s, doctors noticed a sudden increase in the number of skilled tradesmen developing these diseases, and after further investigation discovered that the cause was asbestos.
One of the most worrisome health impacts of asbestos is mesothelioma. This is a cancer that is directly caused by asbestos exposure. It impacts the lining of the heart, lungs, and stomach. Mesothelioma is difficult to treat and if one is diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, the prognosis is typically poor. Asbestos exposure can increase the likelihood of developing lung cancer and asbestosis.
While the health impacts of asbestos are quite serious, symptoms are not immediately noticeable. In fact, it can take 10 to 50 years after asbestos exposure before a person develops any symptoms of asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. Even after symptoms appear, they are frequently misdiagnosed or are seen as harmless. Eventually, the symptoms become unbearable and doctors do further testing to find a diagnosis. Common symptoms of asbestos-related diseases are shortness of breath, chronic coughing, chest pain, or coughing up blood.
If you are an ironworker or if you worked in this trade many years ago, it’s important to talk to your doctor about potential asbestos exposure. While there is no way to prevent damage that has already occurred, your doctor can monitor your health closely and look for early warning signs to help treat diseases before they get worse. You should also talk with an asbestos attorney to learn about your legal rights. Many ironworkers have been able to successfully file lawsuits against manufacturers who used asbestos.