Plumbers Still at High Risk of Mesothelioma According to Study


Plumbers are among the industrial workers most at risk for deadly mesothelioma cancer.  That’s the finding of an insurance industry study recently done in the UK.

The report, prepared for Claims National, found that current or former plumbers and pipe fitters, as well as electricians, builders and auto mechanics, have a much higher incidence of the asbestos-related cancer than people working in other industries.  It’s a finding supported by CDC researchers in the U.S. who found the number of mesothelioma deaths among plumbers and pipe fitters ‘proportionately significant’ and predict the numbers could keep rising for another 40 years.

Asbestos is an insulating material that was widely used in industry around the world until the 1980’s.  It was particularly prized in plumbing for its resistance to temperature extremes and corrosion. Although it is no longer used in new construction – and has even been banned in more than 40 countries (though not in the U.S.) – asbestos is still present around the water pipes and in the pipe fittings and water heater filaments of millions of older homes and commercial buildings.  Plumbers and pipe fitters who disturb this asbestos by cutting, repairing or replacing it, can release the toxic fibers which are the seeds of mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and many other illnesses.

The UK insurance report warns current and former plumbers that mesothelioma is an especially dangerous disease because it tends to develop slowly, with symptoms that can mimic other conditions, making diagnosis less likely until the disease is in its later stages.  According to the report “The symptoms of asbestosis often only appear 15 to 20 years after the initial exposure to asbestos.  Symptoms begin gradually, and may become more noticeable over a few years.  Common symptoms are shortness of breath (Initially after physical activity, but eventually while resting as well), coughing, wheezing, and chest pain.”

At the same time, the UK’s ‘Daily Telegraph’ newspaper is reporting a £175,000 payout for a former hospital plumber diagnosed with mesothelioma.  Sixty-one year old Alan Ward of Westin-super-Mare claims he was never warned of the dangers of asbestos inhalation.  “We just smashed off the asbestos and carried on working,” says Ward.  Ward worked in a Wakefield hospital from 1964 to 1972.


“Asbestos-diseased plumber gets £175,000 compensation”, July 20, 2010. The Daily Telegraph online.
“Plumbers ‘Among Those Most at Risk’ of Mesothelioma”, August 4, 2010. ContractorsCompare.com.
KM Bang, PhD, JM Mazurek, MD, E Storey, et al, “Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality – United States, 1999-2005”, July 1, 2009, JAMA. Vol 302, No. 1.

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