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Since the late 1800's Asbestos has been mined and used commercially. The use of Asbestos dramatically increased during World War II and since the early 1940's millions of Americans have been exposed to asbestos dust working within industries where initally the risks were not known. There has been widespread exposure to Asbestos by workers within shipyards, mines and mills, producers of asbestos products, workers in the heating and construction industries, and other tradespeople and an increase risk of deveolping mesothelioma has been the result.
Today, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets limits for acceptable levels of asbestos exposure in the workplace. By contrast, the British Government's Health and Safety executive (HSE) states formally that any threshold for mesothelioma must be at a very low level and it is widely agreed that if any such threshold does exists at all, then it cannot currently be quantified. For practical purposes, therefore, HSE does not assume that any such threshold exists. People who work with asbestos wear personal protective equipment to lower their risk of exposure.
The risk of asbestos-related disease increases with heavier exposure to asbestos and longer exposure time. However, some individuals with only brief exposures have developed mesothelioma. On the other hand, not all workers who are heavily exposed develop asbestos-related diseases. Family members and others living with asbestos workers have an increased risk of developing mesothelioma, and possibly other asbestos-related diseases. This risk may be the result of exposure to asbestos dust brought home on the clothing and hair of asbestos workers.
To reduce the chance of exposing family members to asbestos fibers, asbestos workers are usually required to shower and change their clothing before leaving the workplace.
The combination of smoking and asbestos exposure significantly increases a person's risk of developing cancer of the air passageways in the lung. The Kent brand of cigarettes used asbestos in its filters for the first few years of production in the 1950s and some cases of mesothelioma have resulted. Smoking current cigarettes does not appear to increase the risk of mesothelioma.
There is no curative treatment. Close monitoring (routine X-rays or even pleural biopsy) for mesothelioma is mandated. Oxygen therapy at home is often necessary to relieve the shortness of breath. Supportive treatment of symptoms includes respiratory treatments to remove secretions from the lungs by postural drainage, chest percussion, and vibration. Aerosol medications to thin secretions may be prescribed
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