Machine operators played an important role in the industrial age of the United States. The pay was good and the work was steady. Most operators were happy with their job. What they didn’t realize was that the dust they encountered in the machine shops could eventually result in a life-threatening diagnosis.

Most grinding machine operators, particularly the ones who worked in smaller shops, were responsible for several different jobs. Their duties included setting up the machines, reading blueprints, preparing materials, and operating the grinding machine. Some even cleaned up the machine shop before calling it a day.

Asbestos Exposure

Prior to the 1980s, most grinding machines had at least some parts that were coated in asbestos fibers. These fibers not only reduced the odds of the machine shop catching on fire but also resisted corrosion. It wasn’t until the middle of the 1970s that the medical and scientific communities realized that the asbestos dust that was created each time the grinding machine operator used their equipment was responsible for both mesothelioma and asbestosis. Once the link was made, measures were taken to remove asbestos from machine shops. For many grinding machine operators, it was too late. Their lungs were already full of the deadly fibers.

The machinery wasn’t the only source of asbestos the grinding machine operators were exposed to. Most also wore protective clothing that had bits of asbestos fiber woven into the material. When the clothing was in good shape, the operator had nothing to worry about, but whenever the clothing snagged or tore, the operator was exposed to even more deadly asbestos dust.

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How the Asbestos Fibers Attack the Body

Asbestos fibers themselves aren’t deadly to humans. The problem is that there’s no way for the body to expel them. Once the fibers embed themselves in the lungs, pericardium lining, and stomach lining, either scar tissue or cancerous cells can form around the asbestos fibers. These cells can lead to mesothelioma, a particularly difficult to diagnose and aggressive form of cancer.

Asbestos-related diseases have a long latency period, which can last anywhere from 20 to 50 years. This makes diagnosing mesothelioma, asbestosis, and asbestos-related lung cancer difficult since the onset of the illness is so far removed from the asbestos exposure. In addition, many workers are not aware that they were exposed to asbestos and have not sought out screening for asbestos-related illnesses.

Secondhand Asbestos Exposure

Grinding machine operators weren’t the only ones connected to the metal shop that were exposed to the asbestos fibers. Everyone who spent any time in the shop, even if the only thing they did was handle the blueprints for the parts the operators made, would have inhaled a lot of asbestos fibers as they can remain in the air for a very long time.

It’s likely that even the grinding machine operator’s loved ones could develop health problems as a result of asbestos exposure. Trace amounts of the fibers were often carried home from the shop on the operator’s clothing and hair. Once introduced into the house’s ventilation system, the fibers circulated and were inhaled by everyone who lived there.

Anyone who worked as a grinding machine operator prior to the 1980s or who lived with one should make a screening for mesothelioma a regular part of their life. This can help ensure early detection and allow for a treatment plan that can extend a patient’s life.

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