Sheet Metal Workers Face Higher Death Risk from Mesothelioma, Asbestosis

New research reveals that sheet metal workers should be included among those who are at higher risk for developing asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.

Duke University researchers conducted the study, which is published in the August edition of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Among sheet metal workers with at least two decades of experience in the trade, the researchers found an increased death rate due to illnesses most commonly associated with exposure to asbestos.

The cohort study looked at mortality rates from 1986 to 2004 among 17,345 individuals with at least 20 years of experience as sheet metal workers and who participated in a disease screening program. Although the workers were generally healthier than the rest of the American public, the study identified a higher asbestos death rate from conditions like mesothelioma, asbestosis and cancers of the lining of the chest and abdomen.

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Asbestos is known to be the primary cause of mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis, and the conditions are often not discovered for many years after the exposure. Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that can prove fatal. Mesothelioma is an extremely fatal form of cancer that attacks the lining of the chest and lungs, which can go undetected for decades. Both diseases are contracted through breathing in of asbestos fibers.

Generally, workers with direct exposure to asbestos in the fields of construction, mining, ship-building demolitions and asbestos removal have been considered to be most at-risk. Researchers concluded that the new study is evidence of increased risk not only for sheet workers, but for any workers considered to have indirect exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos litigation is the longest-running mass tort in the history of the United States, with more than 600,000 plaintiffs having filed cases since the first asbestos lawsuit was filed in 1929. Estimates suggest that payouts to individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related injuries may one day reach a combined total of more than $200 billion.

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