When discussing the risk factors for malignant mesothelioma, a rare and fatal form of cancer, researchers often point to high levels of exposure, usually from occupational settings. As a result, air quality standards have been established, indicating levels at which mesothelioma and other diseases are considered a risk. But now researchers from Montana State University are raising a warning flag about much lower levels of exposure: their recent study indicates that even small doses of asbestos fibers in the lungs can lead to significant pleural disease.
The goal of the study was less about the risk of mesothelioma than about related illnesses that might impact residents of the western states where naturally occurring asbestos has been identified. A few years back, two geologists from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas identified amphibole asbestos in the air near a proposed construction site, and concerns about the dust that would be raised by that project brought the work to a standstill. Samples from that site, as well as from Libby, Montana were gathered and injected into mice by researcher Jean Pfau.
Ms. Pfau’s research focused on the immune system reaction to minute quantities of asbestos, and the results of her study were alarming. All of the mice that were injected with asbestos showed inflammatory responses and increased autoimmune reaction, including scar tissue in the lungs. Specifically referencing mesothelioma, she said that though the condition has generally been used as a benchmark for dangerous levels of asbestos, that pleural disease might be a better measure because it is more common. Speaking of her findings, she said, “Low exposure caused health effects in mice, suggesting that we cannot dismiss low environmental exposures. We can no longer say there is no health risk.”
The damage that has already been done by asbestos companies that knowingly exposed people to asbestos is immeasurable: tens of thousands have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and died of the disease. As scientists continue to work to understand the impact of this deadly material, those who have already been affected need and deserve justice. If you have been affected by asbestos and need answers, contact us today at 1-800-966-2244.