Professional pipefitters are tasked with designing, installing, and maintaining the pipe systems in commercial buildings. The job requires someone who is experienced, skilled, and detail-oriented. It is a difficult job, made more difficult by occupational hazards.
From the 1940s to the 1980s, professional pipefitters were exposed to a great deal of asbestos during their work day. At the time, they didn’t consider this a problem. In fact, since the asbestos resisted both heat and corrosion, the pipe fitters felt it was a good thing.
Attitudes changed in the 1970s when the medical community revealed that it had made an alarming connection between asbestos, which was heavily used at the time, and terminal medical conditions, including mesothelioma. They effectively proved that inhaling the asbestos fibers created the perfect conditions to damage the lining of the lungs, heart, and stomach.
Because pipefitters worked so closely with multiple items that had asbestos in them, they’re considered a high-risk group for developing asbestos-related illnesses.
Pipefitters and Asbestos Exposure
The daily activities of pipefitters include everything from planning a job and installing a system to repairing an older system. It’s not unusual for a pipefitter to visit two or three different job sites during an average work day. Some of those job sites might include working with materials that are old and still made with asbestos fibers.
Whenever a pipefitter thinks they’ll be working near asbestos, they must wear a protective face mask that filters the microscopic fibers from the air the pipefitter breathes.
There are several items a pipefitter might come into contact with that exposes them to asbestos, including:
- Block Insulation
- Amosite Sheeting
- Carbonate of Magnesia
- Diatomaceous Earth with Asbestos Fiber
- Hydrous Calcium Silicate
- Elbow/Joint Compound
- Asbestos Sponge Felt
Any pipefitter who routinely worked with these items should speak to their doctor about regularly testing for mesothelioma
There are three commonly diagnosed illnesses that are related to asbestos exposure.
The only way a pipefitter can develop mesothelioma is via asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma cancer attacks the lining of the heart, lungs, or stomach before entering the bloodstream and attacking other organs. Although the prognosis following a mesothelioma prognosis is grim, doctors have made great strides in recent years and have done a wonderful job of extending the life of pipefitters who get diagnosed while the cancer is still in the first or second stage.
There are three types of mesothelioma:
- Pleural mesothelioma
- Pleural mesothelioma
- Peritoneal mesothelioma
Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer
Asbestos-related lung cancer differs from mesothelioma because asbestos is only one of the factors that can trigger it. Pipefitters who not only inhaled asbestos fibers but who also smoked are 50-90% more likely to develop lung cancer than those who weren’t exposed to asbestos.
Asbestosis has the distinction of being another disease with only one cause—asbestos. Pipefitters who have asbestosis have so much scar tissue in their lungs that their ability to breathe is hampered and blood flow is restricted.
Early signs of an asbestos-related illness include breathing problems, dry coughs, chest pain, and fatigue. If you believe you have been exposed to asbestos, speak to your doctor. Early detection is the key to finding treatments that can help prolong life expectancy.