In recent news, a San Francisco-based chemical risk assessment company claims that the United States Navy was ahead of the game when they attempted to protect veterans and civilians from mesothelioma back in the 1960s. At that time, US Naval ships were heavily laden with asbestos, making Navy servicemen among the most common victims of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the mesothelium, which is a protective layer surrounding the organs of the body. It has since been determined that there is a direct correlation between asbestos exposure and a person's likelihood of developing mesothelioma.

Understanding the Risks Associated with Asbestos

Researchers, Kara Franke and Dennis Paustenbach, examined dozens of published and unpublished documents on asbestos knowledge between the years of 1900 to 1970, and were able to determine that the Navy actually understood the health hazards of asbestos as far back as the 1930's. However, despite the known risks and dangers of asbestos, the Navy continued to require its use on ships. The Navy also recommended that certain precautions be taken in order to handle asbestos-laden materials more carefully. After mesothelioma was clearly linked to asbestos in the 1960's, the ChemRisk researchers claimed that the Navy “attempted to implement procedures that would minimize the opportunity for adverse effects on both servicemen and civilians.”

Too Little; Too Late

Permanent precautions taken by the US Navy, countless US Naval veterans have partially developed mesothelioma. Part of the inherent danger associated with mesothelioma stems from its latency period where it can take as long as 40 years to even become symptomatic after asbestos exposure. For many Naval veterans, this meant that they had already set them up for the likelihood that they would develop mesothelioma based on their previous asbestos exposure during the 1940's and 1950's. In addition, thousands of people working in other non-Naval industries were also exposed to asbestos and have the potential to develop mesothelioma either because their employers were unaware of the dangers, or simply because they deliberately chose to ignore the growing evidence of the material's toxicity and carcinogenicity.

The results of Franke and Paustenbach's study was published in the journal Inhalation Toxicology, and described that, by as early 1930, “It was clear that occupational exposure to asbestos caused a unique disease (asbestosis)”. Understanding of asbestos increased steadily between 1938 and 1965 during which time “a significant amount of exposure and epidemiology data was collected” by private and government scientists. Franke and Paustenbach's study was recently presented at the 21st annual International Society of Exposure Science meeting in Baltimore. Maryland.

Treating Mesothelioma in the US Today

Today, in the United States alone, more than 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year. And while the treatments for some forms of cancer are improving, the prognosis for those who are diagnosed with mesothelioma is still challenging. Today, multi-modality treatments, immune therapies and gene therapies are being investigated as potential therapeutic modalities for mesothelioma victims.

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