Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Farmers Health

With November being Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we often find ourselves reading content that discusses more common lung ailments; however, when it comes to farming, a particular type of cancer that targets the agricultural community is mesothelioma. This cancer primarily affects the lungs and is caused by exposure to a dangerous carcinogen known as asbestos.

Photo of farmer in field taking breath.  Reads "Blog Post: Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Farmers' Health".

What is Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is directly related to contact with asbestos, a deadly mineral that was used predominantly from the 1930s to the 1970s. Before the U.S. began regulating asbestos, nearly 2.78 million farmers had already been exposed to it. Currently, only 1% of this carcinogen is legally allowed in products, which doesn’t eliminate mesothelioma completely, although it is an entirely preventable cancer.

Though rare, mesothelioma is a lingering concern for farmers. Since asbestos is microscopic, it can be easily inhaled and enter the body. If this happens, the fibers can stick to organs and create tumors. Not only is mesothelioma not typically discovered until the late stages, but it is also highly aggressive. Most patients have an average life expectancy of 12-21 months after an initial diagnosis from several imaging tests.

Pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of a patient’s lungs, makes up 80-90% of the population of the disease. This is why Lung Cancer Awareness Month is even more significant to farmers who are still at risk for developing this specific cancer.

Farmers and Mesothelioma

Farmworkers who are vulnerable to mesothelioma include sharecroppers, dairy farmers, agricultural equipment mechanics and operators, poultry farmers, sheep, goat, and cattle farmers, farmhands, and ranchers. Even more, second and third-wave exposure means that friends and family of farmers may also be impacted.

When asbestos is transferred onto clothing and disturbed, it can pollute the air and cause these different waves of exposure. Due to this, farmers could put others in danger by coming home or leaving a place with asbestos on them. Asbestos may be picked up by the public, even if it was previously isolated, which is why farmers should be careful about how they handle this toxicant.

Below are several tools, products, and ways farmers may be unknowingly exposed to asbestos:

  • Brakes, brake pads, and brake linings
  • Insulation
  • Gaskets and valves
  • Seals
  • Clutches
  • Engine parts
  • Mechanical components made for high heat, fireproofing, durability, and friction
  • Replacing and/or repairing operational components
  • Barns and farmhouses
  • Cement
  • Floor tiles
  • Roofing
  • Siding
  • Paint
  • Piping

If you think you may be in an environment or around materials that contain asbestos, there are opportunities to educate and protect yourself.

Protecting Yourself

You should not handle any kind of product that you think could contain asbestos. If you are doing demolition to a farm building, repairing a tool, or replacing a part, you should first contact an asbestos abatement specialist.

The best thing to remember is that any amount of asbestos is potentially harmful. The agricultural industry follows laws implemented by the National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollution (NESHAP). This provides standard regulations for how to deal with asbestos in buildings.

Lung Cancer Awareness Month keeps farmers in check with their health. Though you may be physically and mentally in control, there are still hazards to watch out for. Being aware of serious conditions such as mesothelioma is another way to defend your health and prolong your life. Often, farmers are concerned about issues such as on-the-job injuries, accidents, and slips, but it is just as critical to understanding toxins that are equally detrimental.

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