Children more Vulnerable to Asbestos than Adults

Asbestos exposure attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report of a recent article by BBC News highlighting the immense risk asbestos poses to children. A government-funded cancer committee reported that a five-year-old is five times more likely to develop mesothelioma than a 30-year-old adult.

Mesothelioma is cancer of the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen, and is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. The risk of mesothelioma development is five times higher in young children because the disease takes between 20 and 50 years to develop in the mesothelial cells (the layer lining protecting the internal organs).

Biologically, mesothelioma is caused by neoplastic transformation of mesothelial cells; this transformation is caused by inhaled asbestos becoming lodged in the mesothelial cells, leading to permanent injury and impaired healing. The longer the asbestos fibers remain in the mesothelial cells, the more likely one is to develop mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, or other asbestos-related illnesses.

The report by BBC illuminates one of the, if not the most prominent, public health problems for children around the globe: that asbestos is present in most schools.

Campaigners in the U.S., England, and Australia are calling for asbestos to be removed from all schools, however, the removal of asbestos is highly regulated by law, and becomes extremely expensive when abated in large amounts. Most school districts simply do not have the funding to perform such a large-scale project.

The mineral is present most often in basements, piping, and ceiling and floor tiles, used in adhesive, insulator, or fire-proofing applications. The current mode of handling this issue is to simply leave it be – asbestos is only carcinogenic when it is damaged or disturbed, when it becomes airborne and easily inhaled.

The study mentioned by BBC was requested by the Department for Education and conducted by the Committee on Carcinogenicity, an independent entity which advices the British government on cancer. Its final report affirmed that five-year-old children have a 3.5 times greater risk of development mesothelioma compared to an adult first exposed at age 25, and about five times greater than an adult first exposed at 30.

Study authors note that children are not intrinsically more susceptible to asbestos, merely that the likelihood of them to develop mesothelioma from asbestos exposure is heightened due to the increased life expectancy of children compared to adults. The Department of Education stated that it was working in accordance with the Health and Safety Executive to ensure asbestos is managed properly in schools.

Across the pond, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released horrifying documents from an assessment of the San Francisco Housing Authority (SFHA). According to the review, the majority of the Authority’s properties are plagued by asbestos, toxic mold, and bed bugs.

More than 31,000 San Francisco residents live in over 6,000 public housing units throughout the metropolitan center, even though the agency scored 54 out of 100 in its most recent audit. These problems, of course, affect real people and families, one of whom, Maria, was recently interviewed by KQED.

Maria has lived for seven years in the Sunnyvale complex in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood. Her problem with bed bugs took two years to resolve (eventually she had to take care of it on her own), however, the asbestos problems are what cause her the most worry. One day on her attic door she noticed the name of an asbestos company. Concerned, she brought a flashlight up to her attic and found piles of loose asbestos covering the floor from deteriorating insulation.

She told the Housing Authority about it immediately, and years later, still nothing has been done. A spokesperson for the SFHA stated that many of its buildings have asbestos, which it hires specialists to address. Maria has several children, and has been sick many times since she moved to Sunnydale. She is currently trying to negotiate a transfer for her and her family.

Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm will continue to report on asbestos-related studies, reports, and audits to keep the public informed and aware of this public health safety issue. If you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos and developed a related illness, you may be entitled to significant compensation for past and future medical bills, lost wages, and emotional distress, and should contact a skilled attorney as soon as possible.