Healthy Lung Month is Here!
Created by Emily Walsh, edited by Hannah Marie Webb
Let’s take a look at lung disease and how it is linked to common household hazards.
October is National Healthy Lung Month in the USA, where a staggering number of Americans suffer from lung disease. Statistics from 2016 show that about 10 million adults are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis each year, 4.7 million others have been diagnosed with emphysema and about 25 million people live with asthma. Rates of occupational lung diseases are also worryingly high and are estimated to cost $150 billion in treatment annually. With chronic obstructive pulmonary disease currently standing as the nation’s third-leading cause of death, it is an important time to take stock of the things in our environment that can contribute to poor lung health. At this time of year, communities and organisations push to raise awareness about diseases, such as pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer and emphysema. Emily Walsh is the Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. She worked with us here at the Cambridge Mask Company to contribute to our blog and help spread the word about threats to look out for and their link to these diseases.
Asbestos is naturally occurring and composed of six different minerals. It was favoured in residential construction up until the 1980s due to its extreme durability and resistance to fires and high temperatures. Asbestos use dates back thousands of years and has retained its ancient Greek name meaning “inextinguishable”, so it is no wonder that most homes and workplaces installed such a hard, and miraculous seeming material. Many countries now regulate or ban the use of asbestos, although it is not yet fully banned in the USA. Countries upholding the asbestos ban, such as the UK and Australia, still face the huge problem of dealing with the existing asbestos installed in many older buildings.
Asbestos can usually be found hiding in these household and industrial structures.
Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some point in time because low levels of the mineral are ever-present in the air, water, and soil. Thankfully, most of us will not contract an asbestos-related disease despite this exposure. People who suffer the adverse effects of asbestos usually come into contact with it on a regular basis, due to an occupation that demands to work directly with the material or by way of substantial environmental contact. When properly surrounded by pipe, walls and construction, asbestos is generally a safe material. However, wear and tear over time can cause particles to become airborne in the home or building and that is when it causes harm.
In the USA, it is actually inexpensive (as low as $200) to call out an inspector to check for asbestos in your environment. They will come to your building to check the spaces where asbestos exposure can occur and run thorough tests to ensure that any asbestos in your home or workplace is safe and not airborne. If you do need asbestos removed from your home or building, you’ll need to be prepared for a rather expensive operation. Trained, licensed professionals using proper safety equipment (full hazmat suits, respirators) should always be employed to remove the hazardous material. However, it’s important to remember whatever one pays for removal or inspection of asbestos, their family’s safety from cancer outweighs any cost.
Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer directly linked to asbestos exposure. When asbestos fibres become airborne, they can be inhaled or swallowed by people inside the building or home. Since asbestos fibres are so strong, they do not break down and become lodged in areas like the lining of the lungs. Scar tissue and cancerous cells can form in the lungs, causing pleural mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma has a poor prognosis, survival rate and life expectancy. Symptoms do not fully show themselves sometimes up to 20-40 years after a person was exposed to asbestos, so the average age of a diagnosis of mesothelioma is between 71-74.
• Chest pain
• Shortness of breath
• Fluid buildup in chest and lungs
Unfortunately, after diagnosis, most people with mesothelioma only live between 12 to 21 months, as there is no cure. However, there have been a few successful treatments to prolong life expectancy.
Estimates from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) state that more than 75 occupations in the U.S. expose workers to asbestos. A large percentage of all mesothelioma cases involve military veterans and those working in the construction industry, such as plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters and electricians. If you’re concerned about the dangers of asbestos due to your occupation or work environment in the USA, you can read about the type of occupations most likely to be affected here.
Formaldehyde is also naturally occurring and smaller amounts of the chemical are present in all wood species. It can be found in many products containing composite wood, such as all that handy, cheap flatpack furniture, kitchen cabinets, flooring, picture frames and wooden children’s toys.
EPA regulations aiming to reduce formaldehyde exposure will ensure that new all products shall contain less of this chemical, which has been called a carcinogen and can cause cancer. However, these new standards are not coming into effect until December 12, 2018. To offset any formaldehyde exposure that could have a negative effect on short and long term health, you might want to consider investing in some air purifying plants or products for your home. You can prevent possible injury to your lungs when cutting into formaldehyde products by taking the highly recommended steps of wearing a mask and working in a well-ventilated space. The use of air conditioning and dehumidifiers is also vital since heat accelerates the rate at which the chemical is released.
• Ventilation when cutting into wood products containing formaldehyde
• Dehumidifiers and air conditioning to reduce the rate of release
• Wear a mask to limit the amount of the chemical breathed in
Dust is impossible to avoid especially during a remodelling project. Usually containing waste from small animals, bugs and silica in drywall, too much exposure to dust can result in illness or lung problems in the distant future.
If you’re about to delve into some serious home DIY projects, seriously consider investing in power tools that have dust extractors attached. They might set you back a little extra but you cannot put a price on your health or wellbeing. Items like air scrubbers can easily be found at any home improvement shop and inexpensive plastic barriers can be hung to prevent the amount of dust becoming airborne during construction.
• Wear a mask to limit the amount of dust breathed in
• Invest in air scrubbers and power tools with dust extractors attached
• Put up dust barriers to limit the spread
Radon is another naturally occurring substance and is released during the decay of the elements uranium, thorium, and radium in rocks and soil. The worry with radon is that it is an invisible, odourless, tasteless gas. Even though it exists in low levels outdoors, without proper indoor ventilation systems people can be exposed when it seeps through cracks in floors, walls, foundations and collects over time.
These radioactive particles can damage the lungs when breathed in, which causes its direct link to lung cancer. Checking and testing the radon levels in your home is easy, as most home improvement stores stock simple kits that anyone can use. You can also invest in both short and long-term tests of radon, which will provide you with a clearer picture of how much of this hazardous gas exists in your living spaces.
Emphysema, or COPD, is a disease caused by a restriction of the airways. The main cause of emphysema is long-term exposure to airborne irritants, including:
• Tobacco smoke
• Marijuana smoke
• Air pollution
• Chemical fumes and dust
Here is a very good overview of the disease, causes, and treatment.