Steelworkers have a reputation for being some of the toughest, hardest working individuals in the world. Not only do they perform a dangerous job, they do it in extreme temperatures. A steelworker isn’t the type of person anyone expects to be conquered by a microscopic fiber of asbestos, yet in hospitals all over the country, that’s exactly what’s happening. Many steelworkers who were working in steel mills before 1980 have developed an asbestos-related illness and are now fighting for their lives.
When inhaled or ingested, asbestos particles can lead to a variety of illnesses, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. There’s a number of different ways steelworkers were exposed to asbestos, including the equipment they dealt with on a daily basis, the protective clothing they wore in their line of work, and construction supplies used to make the steel mills and factories where steelworkers were employed.
Because asbestos is highly heat resistant, it seemed like the perfect choice for insulating the equipment used by steel mills. Gaskets, rolling mills, hot blast stoves, ovens, furnaces, steam pipes, tanks, molding boards, and cranes all benefited from asbestos insulation.
Steelworkers are constantly coming into contact with dangerously hot equipment. Prior to the 1980s, it seemed perfectly reasonable to outfit the steelworkers in protective clothes that had asbestos fibers woven into them as asbestos was known to be flame resistant. Each time the clothing got cut or tore on a piece of equipment, however, everyone working around that person was exposed to deadly asbestos fibers which could easily be ingested or inhaled without being seen.
Just as the protective clothing used by steelworkers contained asbestos to protect from the risk of fire, so to did the buildings housing the steel mills. Having asbestos in the walls, refractory bricks, liner boards, floor tiles, asbestos blankets, and ceiling tiles served to reduce the risk of fire and seemed like a good idea before people learned how dangerous the fibers themselves were.
Studies indicate that the steelworkers who are most at risk of developing an asbestos-related illness are the one who worked in the maintenance buildings, though the scientist who conducted the studies admit that anyone connected to the steel mills has a high risk of having asbestos-related health problems. Anyone who was in the steel processing industry for more than 5 years should talk to their doctor about the prospect of early screening for the conditions connected to asbestos.
Unfortunately, steelworkers aren’t the only ones at risk. Steelworkers’ loved ones are also at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses. There have been several cases where steelworkers transported asbestos particles home in their hair or on their clothing unknowingly. Their loved ones later inhaled those fibers and eventually became ill.
Treating Asbestos-Related Health Problems
Even though mesothelioma is difficult to detect, it really is in the best interest of steelworkers to take advantage of early screening opportunities. When the illness is caught early enough, experienced doctors can use a variety of treatments, including surgery, radiation, and chemo, to halt the progression of the disease and drastically extend the steelworker’s life.