Thursday, November 11, 2010

Asbestos

I've more than once been asked to write something about Mesothelioma on this blog (no need to ask why, just accept the fact that's the case) and invariably fail to remember how to spell it. Never mind - accept the fact that the spelling above is correct. Just accept it!

Mesothelioma, as you'll know, is a cancer related to asbestos; that is, people who've worked with asbestos and inhaled the asbestos dust over a period of time are very susceptible to getting the illness. Just so you're really clear about this, mesothelioma is named from the mesothelium, which is a membrane that covers and protects most of the internal organs of the body. It's composed of two layers of cells: one layer immediately surrounds the organ; the other forms a sac around it. The mesothelium produces a lubricating fluid that is released between these layers, allowing moving organs (such as the beating heart and the expanding and contracting lungs) to glide easily against adjacent structures.

Now there's something you didn't know you'd find out when you came to read this blog today. Anyway, if you've contracted mesothelioma you may need a mesothelioma lawyer so that you don't find your employer or ex-employer trying to wriggle out of paying you money in compensation. That's another story. What I'm more interested in today is asbestos itself.

Asbestos is a Greek word meaning 'unquenchable' or 'inextinguishable' - a pretty scary sort of thought in itself, particulary if you've picked up the cancer connected to it. There are other other illnesses you can contract via asbestos: asbestostosis, which affects the lungs, for instance, and lung cancer itself.

Asbestos ain't fun to be around, even though it's very effective as a building material, with various qualities that make it useful. In fact, it's not so much its use in building that's the big problem (although there are hazards), it's what happens when you 'unbuild' it.

Now you might think we've only just discovered in the last couple of centuries that its use brought problems; nope, the ancient Greeks noticed that when their slaves mined asbestos they tended to get sick. Of course, there were always plenty more slaves around, so it didn't matter in those days. (Slaves were only there for use, like other tools and materials.)

There's a story that Charlemagne had a tablecloth made out of asbestos. Certainly it might have saved on the laundering, but you have to kind of wonder what it did to the food....

Mining of asbestos in modern times turned out to be not much better for the slaves - sorry, workers - than it had been in ancient days. Miners got sick just like their forebears and were probably treated only marginally better.

Strangely, asbestos is found naturally in the air outdoors, and in some drinkable water, including water from natural sources. Most people's systems cope with the infinitesimal amounts that they come in contact with, but there have been studies done in which it was found that people living near to asbestos deposits got sick; increasingly, the closer they lived to the deposits. Mesothelioma was one of the main illnesses they contracted.

When the Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11, millions of particles of asbestos were released into the air. That's pretty scary.

You look around the world some days and think: this is a pretty okay sort of a place. And then you discover that the Creator seems to have left some very strange things just kind of lying around. Equally, when you think that the ancient Greeks had a fairly good idea that asbestos, for all its useful properties, wasn't that healthy for humans, you have to wonder why we moderns have considered using it in such huge quantities.

Seemingly the only way we learn is when we find we have to fork out large sums of money in compensation.
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