Mesothelioma is a highly aggressive and currently incurable cancer of body membranes caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos dust. Most mesothelioma patients have a history of working in an occupation, such as construction, manufacturing, or asbestos mining that exposed them to the toxin over an extended period of time.
But a growing number of mesothelioma cases worldwide are being reported in people who have no occupational history with asbestos. Instead, these people are being exposed to asbestos while doing repairs or renovations in their own homes. The two newly published cases from Denmark are prime examples.
Occupational medicine researchers with Aarhus University Hospital in Slagelse say both of the mesothelioma patients in their report were exposed to asbestos while doing roof repairs. In both cases, the homeowners reported drilling and cutting into asbestos-containing roof sheeting. Detailed case histories on the patients, both of whom were men in their 70s, showed that neither had ever worked in an asbestos industry.
“The two cases demonstrate the importance of careful handling of products containing asbestos, with emphasis on avoidance of inhaling asbestos fibers,” writes author Dr. Rolf Petersen.
While the dust created when asbestos products are cut, sanded, drilled or otherwise disturbed may look no different from any other dust, it contains sharp fibers that, once inhaled, are almost impossible for the body to expel. In certain people, years of irritation and inflammation caused by these embedded fibers can trigger cellular changes that result in mesothelioma.
In most developed countries, homes built after about the 1980s contain very little asbestos because the dangers of the product were known by then. But homes built before that time – particularly those built between the 1930s and the 1960s – may contain asbestos-enhanced cement blocks, floor or ceiling tiles, roof shingles and sheeting, and/or insulation. Before the link to mesothelioma was discovered, asbestos was prized for its strength, durability, low cost, and resistance to fire and corrosion. Even some wall paints and joint compounds were mixed with asbestos.
To minimize the risk of mesothelioma, homeowners who suspect they have mesothelioma in their home should consult an abatement professional before doing any renovation work themselves. The newly-reported Danish homeowner mesothelioma cases illustrate the EPA’s assertion that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Petersen, R et al, “Non occupational pleural mesothelioma”, January 12, 2015, Ugeskr Laeger, pp 177