This past Friday, September 7, 2018, was the memorial service for Michael “Mick” Harwood, beloved uncle of the SCM Gantt family. Mick was a carpenter for most of his 78 years. In the last few months of his life, Mick was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that forms in the thin layer over most of our internal organs. For Mick, it was in layer that covered his lungs, which is referred to as pleural mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is often associated with long-term exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring silicate mineral. The fibers are inhaled as they are disturbed. As a carpenter, that was an occupational hazard for Mick. Asbestos exposure is also a hazard for those who work in shipyards and jobs that break or crush rock or disturb soils that contain the fibers. Because of its’ fire resistive properties, asbestos has also been used in vehicle brake linings. The potential for exposure is fairly wide-spread.
Mick did not realize he had contracted the disease until it was too late. Because of the aggressive nature of the disease, the Mayo Clinic recommends that you see a doctor if you have any signs or symptoms, even if you are unsure whether you have been exposed to asbestos; be sure to tell your doctor if you suspect you have been exposed. Other diseases that are common to asbestos exposure are asbestosis and lung disease. Similar issues are known to be related to exposure to silica. The signs and symptoms of mesothelioma are:
- Chest pain under the rib cage.
- Painful coughing.
- Shortness of breath.
- Unusual lumps of tissue under the skin on your chest.
- Unexplained weight loss.
Asbestos fibers, once they are lodged in your lungs, cannot be removed. The damage is done. For this reason, prevention is crucial. Eliminate the potential for exposure whenever possible. Make use of engineering controls such as ventilation and wetting down any areas that are suspected of containing asbestos. Use personal protective equipment (PPE) as a last resort.
Other things you can do to reduce your likelihood of contracting any of the asbestos related diseases are:
- Having regular medical exams.
- Getting regular vaccinations against flu and pneumococcal pneumonia.
- Quitting smoking (which can synergistically increase the potential for contracting an asbestos-related disease).
- Avoiding further asbestos exposure.
- Even if your exposure to asbestos is minimal, get training. There are many levels of training required. Please review the regulation to make sure you get the right one.
Mick Harwood was a kind, gentle and hardworking man who, more than anything, would not want anyone to suffer as he did his last days. If you may be exposed to asbestos, silica or any potentially harmful materials, please take the time to learn how to prevent exposures. Learn the signs and symptoms of related diseases. Contact your physician and get tested. That is what Mick would want
Mayo Clinic on Mesothelioma
CDC: About Asbestos
29 CFR Part 1910.1001: Asbestos Regulation