I write today with a heavy heart. My baby brother (though he just turned 52). Mike was diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis is not looking good. We all knew that he wasn’t well but cancer? For years we would see him huffing and puffing his way around Jersey City- we all thought he had asthma or something like bronchitis. After all, he had spent so many years working in the shipyards around Portsmouth, VA.
The doctors have told Mike that he has a type of cancer called pleural mesothelioma. This means that the lining of his lungs has been damaged. Mike wanted to know how he could have contracted this cancer, but the answer broke his heart.
It turns out that Mike must have inhaled asbestos. This is a material that was used throughout the navy in almost every naval vessel. This was because asbestos was regarded as excellent for fire-proofing. Further, asbestos would prevent the fire from spreading. It was used throughout ships in boiler rooms, gun turrets, piping, and lagging in the engine rooms.
Apparently, if asbestos is left alone, it is fine and not dangerous. However, if it is damaged or broken up, it releases small pieces of asbestos fibers into the air. The pieces are so small, it is easy to inhale them and you would not even know that you have. Inevitably, the asbestos fibers will end up in your lungs where they start to react and interfere with the lungs. I do not know quite how it happens but the asbestos fibers start to tear up the lungs from within.
Now Mike was discharged from the navy when he was 45. By the time he retired he was in a desk job working as a designer, designing engine rooms. Mike tells me that he cannot even remember the last time he went down to the dockyard or was up-to his elbows in grease and reckons that it must have been at least 10/15 years.
This had me confused- surely the symptoms would have become more apparent earlier? Not so, according to the doctors. One of the features of asbestos and cancer is that it can be many years before the symptoms start to show. This makes diagnosis difficult and, often, too late for many sufferers. The doctor is still the asbestos testing phase.
The real kick in the teeth came a few days ago when I was doing some research. I typed in the words “asbestos cancer mesothelioma” into the search engine and found out that many of the search results were from firms of lawyers. These lawyers are all trying to persuade mesothelioma sufferers to sue those responsible.
I found out that many people and companies in the asbestos industry knew that asbestos was hazardous and there is a lot of insinuation that, in particular, the navy knew that asbestos was dangerous. Nevertheless, they proceeded to manufacture and sell asbestos products, knowing full well that these could kill people. Apparently the first documented case was in 1896 in France. In the US, the first alarm bells were sounded in 1908.
So there was no reason for Mike to become sick, had those who were required to protect others from harm had been doing their job.