The ability of asbestos to withstand high temperatures, electricity, chemicals and fire made it a natural choice for use in the industrial arena. The material saw a boost in popularity during the industrial revolution when the strong, readily-available mineral was used heavily as an insulator in these facilities. However, the consequences of this wide-spread industrial use eventually began to appear, as an inordinately high number of these industrial employees began showing symptoms of asbestos-related diseases.
The metal works industry was one of the most frequent users of asbestos materials. The popularity of asbestos in this industry was due to its strong heat resistance and durability, leading to its frequent use for insulating ovens, furnaces, boilers, pipes and even protective clothing. As a hazardous work environment brimming with the possibility of catastrophic employee injury, the first focus of these early plants was to safeguard employees from the immediate danger molten metal presented. Despite the use of asbestos to protect from the immediate physical threat of these work environments, its long-term, hidden consequences continued to impact employees for decades later.
Ironically, despite the ability of asbestos to provide a measure of safety to employees in the form of insulation, the material’s friable structure made it a lasting danger. When undergoing the heavy wear and tear of an industrial setting, these asbestos-lined materials likely shed the particles quickly. When damaged, these fibers could then suspend in the air of the plants where they are easily inhaled, leading to the development of mesothelioma and other serious conditions.
Despite the high number of employees developing asbestos-related illnesses, owners of industrial plants were seldom concerned with these results, choosing to overlook or purposely misrepresent the reality of the situation. Internal communications between large companies in the early 20th century even addressed this topic, as several corporations jointly agreed to downplay these results. Unfortunately for many early employees of facilities like metal works, profit mattered more to these companies than worker health.
Everyone comes into contact with asbestos on a daily basis to varying degrees. However, once one is exposed to asbestos in high concentrations for a sustained period of time, as employees of metal works frequently were, the prognosis is often poor. Signs and symptoms of asbestos related diseases may not appear for 20 to 50 years after initial exposure. However, once symptoms do appear it generally indicates the disease is in its later stages, where it often spreads rapidly.
Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos after working at a metal industry should contact a physician as soon as possible to receive the proper testing for diseases related to asbestos exposure. A professional diagnosis can help with mesothelioma treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment is frequently the difference between a hopeful and a poor prognosis for patients.