Nearly 400,000 people in America have chosen careers as professional painters. Whether they paint full-time, part-time, or as part of the growing gig economy, they do a huge service to people and businesses across the country. They also put themselves at risk by being exposed to toxic chemicals and materials, including asbestos. Asbestos exposure can potentially lead to a lifetime of medical problems, including the development of a specific type of cancer that is known as mesothelioma.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found in the earth. It must be mined and then processed in order to be useful to humans. However, it costs relatively little to mine asbestos, which is why it became such a popular material.
Many scientists and inventors in the first three-quarters of the 20th century experimented with ways to use asbestos in product development. They did not realize until later in the century that asbestos could be deadly.
Before the 1970s, asbestos was used for a variety of purposes by manufacturers, including as an insulator. Many homes and commercial structures constructed prior to or around 1980 had, and may still have, asbestos-lined insulation in the walls and attics. Yet, asbestos was not only used to augment the fireproofing elements of insulation, it was also added to many types of paint.
When asbestos is combined with paint, the paint is said to become more fire resistant. The paint may also take on a richer sheen and fuller texture, both of which appealed to many builders and buyers before they understood that asbestos could be dangerous to humans and animals.
Although asbestos-containing paints can no longer be made due to safety regulations, they are still covering the interior and exterior walls of residences and businesses around the country. For example, if a home was built prior to or around 1980, it may have asbestos-containing paint anywhere on the inside or outside.
Contrary to popular belief, paints that have been made from asbestos are not harmful when they are intact and dried on a surface. Nevertheless, paint has a habit of cracking over time instead of remaining undisturbed. If people inhale the dust from cracked asbestos paint, they increase their chances of presenting symptoms of mesothelioma later in life.
Painters often disrupt asbestos paint without realizing it while working on a project in a place that was constructed or remodeled before 1980. Part of the normal surface preparation method prior to repainting includes sanding and scraping. This inevitably sends asbestos fibers into the air, sometimes in places with limited ventilation. As the asbestos paint dust becomes airborne, fine bits of asbestos can easily make its way into a painter’s lungs.
Even painters who diligently wear professional protective equipment, such as high-quality face masks and gloves, may end up inhaling asbestos dust. The powder is incredibly fine and can adhere to clothing and skin. If the asbestos dust gets into the body through accidental inhalation or ingestion, it will lodge in the lungs. Once in the lungs, asbestos fibers remain in the body.
Over time, painters who are continuously exposed to asbestos fibers can start to exhibit health issues linked to mesothelioma. It may take 20 years or more for mesothelioma to fully develop.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that only comes from eating or breathing in asbestos fibers. The cancer comes from the fibers irritating the tissues of the lungs, as in pleural mesothelioma, or in the stomach, which is called peritoneal mesothelioma.
As the asbestos fibers buildup over the course of years, the fibers disrupt the normal ability of the lungs to remain elastic. With long-term asbestos exposure, painters may become unable to comfortably breathe or even work. Again, the latency period of mesothelioma can be up to 50 years, which means a painter may be retired before developing mesothelioma.
Workers in numerous industries are at risk of developing mesothelioma. The home improvement or commercial construction industry, which includes painters, remodelers, flooring specialists, HVAC installers, general contractors, and hourly day workers, brings people into contact with asbestos regularly. Consequently, people employed in any type of field where they take apart or refurbish older structures may come into contact with asbestos.
It is important to repeat that asbestos is not something that can be spotted without testing; therefore, testing for asbestos by the client or employer should ideally occur before major work begins on any structure built prior to 1980. Of course, everyone who works in painting should remain vigilant about watching for indicators of possible mesothelioma.
Family members who lived for years with professional painters may want to stay vigilant for symptoms of mesothelioma. Painters may bring home asbestos on their apparel, footwear, and body, leading to the contamination of the indoor air in their homes. Some people who have received a diagnosis of mesothelioma never directly had contact with asbestos.
Even though mesothelioma mostly attacks the lungs, it spreads after developing and will affect other parts of the body, too. In the earliest stages, mesothelioma may cause:
As tumors develop, grow, and metastasize, patients with mesothelioma may report:
Every person has different initial and later stage responses to mesothelioma. The best bet for painters to catch the cancer early is to continue getting regular physicals, as well as paying attention to changes in lung ability, performance, and efficiency.
Diagnosing mesothelioma may be a difficult task. A doctor must diagnose mesothelioma, patients cannot perform at-home tests to be sure that they have the disease. Physicians are trained to conduct a variety of in-office physical tests augmented by x-rays and CT scans. If the results indicate that a person may have the warning signs of mesothelioma, a biopsy of the lung or chest cavity tissues can show whether the tissues are normal or abnormal due to cancer.
After patients receive a positive diagnosis for mesothelioma, their doctors will map out treatment plans based on the type and aggressiveness of the disease.
Mesothelioma can be treated in a number of ways. Surgical procedures may help reduce the amount of diseased lung tissue or remove small tumors embedded in the lungs that have not yet spread to other parts of the body. Since mesothelioma is a cancer, chemotherapy drugs and radiation are sometimes used to shrink tumors and eradicate cancerous cells. Some professionals who develop mesothelioma also choose to make lifestyle changes to help ward off symptoms of mesothelioma, such as changing their dietary and nutrition habits and undergoing alternative medicine therapies.
Mesothelioma can be managed and treated, but it may reoccur. Survival rates for mesothelioma vary widely, depending on a patient’s age, gender, overall health, and prior length of exposure to asbestos. As medicine has become more advanced, people with mesothelioma have been able to push the typical survival rate and maintain better qualities of life. With that being said, mesothelioma generally shortens a person’s lifespan significantly.
Painters who were exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma have the legal right to speak with an attorney about possibly recovering damages. Even if they have been retired or only worked as painters for a short time, they can pursue compensation and punitive damages to help offset the direct costs and pain and suffering that is related to having mesothelioma.
Many lawyers specialize in handling asbestos-related cases, helping their clients to win awards to compensate for the development of this avoidable cancer. Families of painters who died from mesothelioma may still want to talk with an asbestos attorney as they may be able to recover damages even though their loved one is no longer living.
If you have mesothelioma and you are a painter, contact one of our experienced lawyers immediately. Our Philadelphia mesothelioma lawyers at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler will assess your case and help you obtain compensation. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-4000 for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Delaware County, Chester County, and Philadelphia County.