Monday, February 21, 2011

Asbestos Dangers in the Entertainment Industry

By Eric Stevenson

Asbestos, a thread-like mineral once prized for its ability to add heat resistance, strength, and durability to the materials it was combined with, was used throughout the mid-twentieth century in everything from construction materials to protective clothing to household appliances.

Of course, by the 1980s, it became widely known that this mineral could cause serious health problems, including symptoms of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer of the lining of the chest and abdomen.

When the materials containing asbestos become worn or damaged, they release tiny fibers into the air where they can be breathed in and become lodged in the lungs or other body tissues.

While asbestos was most common in factories, as well as the construction and shipbuilding industries, it could be found wherever flammable materials or extreme temperatures were an issue.

This included theaters as well as television studios and film sets, since the hot lights and crowded indoor areas made fire a dangerous risk. The safety curtains required for theaters, after a series of fires in the early 1900s, contained large amounts of asbestos, as did the modeling clays and decorative plasters used to make props and sets.

Most famously, artificial snow used to be made primarily of asbestos, and can supposedly be seen in films like Holiday Inn and The Wizard of Oz. Additionally, since asbestos has excellent insulation properties, it could be found in many of the acoustical panels and finishes used in theaters and on sets.

Trade unions have been absolutely instrumental in protecting the safety of their workers once the dangers of asbestos were commonly known. These unions were also integral in getting compensation for those workers who had already become sick through the negligence of their employers.

Internal memos from as far back as the 1930s show that many employers knew of the dangers of asbestos long before their workers became aware of them and failed to provide proper protective equipment to their employees.

Mesothelioma life expectancy is tragically low – only around 10% five years after diagnosis – so those who believe they may have been exposed to asbestos in the course of their jobs should consult a doctor if they experience any lung-related symptoms. Asbestos is now widely recognized as one of the primary causes of occupational disease, and those in the broadcast and entertainment industries in the middle of the twentieth century were not safe from its dangers.

Broadcast Union News Note: If you work in an area in which you, or others, are tearing down old buildings or restoring them, you should know how you protect yourself from exposure to asbestos.

Today, you may not work with, or near, new materials that contain asbestos, but if you are involved in working with old buildings, like TV or film production studios, you risk being exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos is particularly dangerous when it is moved, so if you are involved in restoring old TV and film studios, you are at risk and need to take precautionary measures. This includes the correct gloves, clothing to protect your skin, eyewear and breathing masks. The less you expose your skin or lungs to the disrupted asbestos, the less your chances are of suffering from asbestos-related side effects.

If you work in or around an area with asbestos and your employer is not providing you with the correct protective gear, you need to report this to your union shop stewards immediately. This is for your safety and your co-workers' safety. Many people are involved in the demolition of old buildings, and many of these are infested with asbestos.

You can also report suspected Asbestos contamination to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at

You can call the Asbestos Ombudsman Hotline:

1-800-368-5888, 202-566-1970 (Washington, DC Area Local), 202-566-1505 (fax)

The assigned mission of the Asbestos Ombudsman is to provide to the public sector, including individual citizens and community services, information on handling, abatement, and management of asbestos in schools, the work place, and the home. Interpretation of the asbestos in schools requirements is provided. Publications to explain recent legislation are also available. Services are provided to private citizens, state agencies, local agencies, local public and private school systems, abatement contractors, and consultants.

Many TV and film studios are having asbestos removed, without stopping production. As crews begin to clean and remove the debris from remodeling spaces containing asbestos, the asbestos can be toxic not only to those who are removing the pieces, but to those people working in areas around the construction site. This is why it is vital that you are provided with the proper gear to protect you so that you are not exposed.

According to the  American Lung Association; Asbestos fibers can have serious effects on your health if inhaled. There is no known safe exposure to asbestos. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

The amount of time between exposure to asbestos and the first signs of disease can be as much as 30 years. It is known that smokers exposed to asbestos have a much greater chance of developing lung cancer than just from smoking alone.

Asbestos can cause asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs that leads to breathing problems and heart failure. Workers who manufacture or use asbestos products and have high exposures to asbestos are often affected with asbestosis.

Inhalation of asbestos can also cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the chest and abdomen lining. It may be linked to cancer of the stomach, intestines, and rectum, as well. (American Lung Association)

When working in areas where there is a risk of possible asbestos contamination, it can seem like a hassle to wear protective gear, but think about the alternatives. Many people today are living with cancer, heart disease and respiratory illnesses that have been linked to their exposure to asbestos.

If you have already been exposed and were not wearing the proper gear, you need to have yourself regularly screened for various diseases linked to asbestos. Catching these diseases early can help your quality of life and help you live a longer and healthier life.

For more information call the American Lung Association at 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872).

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