Opinion

Asbestos is putting children at risk

A worker removes asbestos-laden material from a building roof. (Photo: Bjoern Wylezich)

I think it’s fair to say that the health of children should be of the utmost importance to pretty much everyone, but we’ve let them down. Asbestos is a known carcinogen that is still legal in the United States and children are regularly exposed to the toxin.

What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a set of six silicate minerals that have the ability to resist heat and chemical reactions. These abilities made them common additives to building materials from 1930 through the 1970s. It was during this heyday that the world came to the realization that this mineral was not the godsend that they’d thought, but instead was a carcinogen.

Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer and is now banned in over 60 countries.

The United States Public Interest Group tested the green colored crayon from PlaySkool crayon packs and found traces of tremolite, a specific kind of asbestos.

The United States is not one of those that have taken the highest preventive action. Asbestos can still be used in the United States and as of June 2018, there is the potential for the restrictions that are currently in place to be loosened. Under a new Significant Use Rule, the Environmental Protection Agency would be allowed to approve further new uses of asbestos.

Even if a complete ban were to come to fruition, the existing asbestos across the country would still be putting Americans, and Californians specifically, at risk.

Asbestos can be found in insulation, ceiling tiles, flooring, wallpaper, boilers, and cement, among other products. Unfortunately in recent years, and even in the past month, asbestos has been found in children’s products.

Asbestos in Children’s Products
The most recent case of asbestos in children’s products occurred just last month when the toxin was detected in PlaySkool crayons.

The United States Public Interest Group tested the green colored crayon from PlaySkool crayon packs and found traces of tremolite, a specific kind of asbestos. The PlaySkool crayons are sold at Dollar Tree stores across the country.

Mesothelioma Facts
Inhalation or ingestion of microscopic asbestos fibers is the only known cause mesothelioma cancer. The cancer forms in the lungs, heart, or abdominal cavity after the fibers embed in the lining of the organs.

There is currently no cure for the cancer and prognosis is poor. Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose, as each form of the cancer presents a unique set of symptoms. Often, the disease has progressed to the third or fourth stage before an accurate diagnosis is given. These later stages are met with few viable treatment options, sincer the cancer has typically metastasized at that point.

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, but if the asbestos is left undisturbed there is little risk that the fibers will become airborne. The danger with asbestos containing crayons is that when used the crayons create a dust that can then enter the body and become cancerous.

Mesothelioma most often occurs after occupational exposure to asbestos, and in California there have been ample opportunities.

The average age of mesothelioma patients is in between 72 and 75-years-old, but with asbestos exposure occurring earlier – in childhood versus at the job site – there is potential that diagnoses could be coming sooner.

It takes 20 to 50 years for mesothelioma symptoms to manifest, so if a child is exposed at age 10, they could be facing a cancer diagnosis by the time they reach 30 years old.

With no cure and few treatment options, the best and safest course of action is to prevent exposure – especially in America’s children.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma in California
California has a sordid history with asbestos and mesothelioma. The state has the highest number of mesothelioma deaths. According to reports, between 1999 and 2015 over 4,000 California residents died from mesothelioma. To paint a clearer picture of how pervasive asbestos is in the state, according to the United States Geological Survey, 45 out of California’s 58 counties have naturally occurring asbestos.

Mesothelioma most often occurs after occupational exposure to asbestos, and in California there have been ample opportunities. There are over 20 major shipyards in the state where asbestos was often used. The oil industry and power plants tended to take advantage of asbestos’ heat resistant properties, and California mines typically contain the toxin.

What to do After Exposure?
If you feel your children, or any family members, may have been exposed to asbestos, it’s best to immediately talk with a medical professional. Having a note in your file can expedite the diagnostic process if years later you begin to show symptoms. Due to the rarity of mesothelioma, many physicians are not attuned to the diseases intricates, but California has some of the best mesothelioma specialists and cancer centers. Specialized care can be sought at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Salk Institute, Stanford Cancer Institute, UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion, and the University of California Irvine Medical Center, among others.

Being aware of the potential risks surrounding asbestos exposure can ensure that your children can play safely, and prevent an unnecessary battle with cancer later in life.

Ed’s Note: Rachel Lynch is the press and media coordinator at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

 


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