Maine has a long history of thriving shipbuilding and paper industries. These two industries are known for the industrial use of asbestos, which is associated with a high rate of health problems such as mesothelioma. In the two decades between 1980-2000 there were 387 fatalities from asbestos poisoning, from both asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that arises in the mesothelium, a layer of tissue that is found inside human bodies, covering internal organs. It is aggressive and it is deadly. Work-related or occupational exposure to asbestos puts workers at high risk for mesothelioma.
How does exposure to asbestos trigger cancer? Asbestos occurs naturally and microscopic fibers of it can become lodged in the mesothelium, often the mesothelium covering the lungs. Over time these fibers can result in the development of cancerous tumors. Exactly how this process occurs is still being researched. One theory is that the asbestos fibers cause cells in the mesothelium to become irritated. This leads to cellular damage giving rise to cancer. Another theory is that the fibers enter the mesothelial cells. This disrupts the ordinary cellular division and causes genetic changes leading to cancer. Still another theory is that free radicals are produced by asbestos exposure. Free radicals are molecules that damage DNA and trigger mutation in otherwise healthy cells.
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