Your father says, "It's just a bad cough," but it seems like he's had it for a long time, without much improvement. He's never smoked, but his health has been steadily declining. He spent most of his work years in the shipbuilding industry. Maybe you're wondering: could he have been exposed to asbestos? Is that why his lungs aren't functioning well?
We know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) now have extremely strict standards for protecting workers and the public from exposure to asbestos. But what about your father, mother or grandparents? What about other baby boomers and "the greatest generation"? Often their hard work was done in the era before the dangers were known, when asbestos was used in many materials. Any symptoms they're having now may be related to their previous line of work, even if it's been years since they retired.
According to the Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America, the federal government put a stop to production of asbestos-containing products in the early 1970s, but they were still being used well into the 1980s. Did your father work in any of the following industries?
- Shipyards: renovating or demolishing ships, and cleanup from these activities
- Auto repair: brakes and clutch work in particular
- Maintenance and/or manufacture of asbestos-containing products
- Construction: renovations and pursuant cleanup
Washington is in the top 10 states nationally for asbestos-related deaths, with over 1,500 fatalities from 1999 to 2013, the latest data. Still, mesothelioma isn't common. Many symptoms aren't specific to the disease and could be related to other lung issues. The only way to determine whether it's mesothelioma is for a surgeon to do a biopsy and remove a tissue sample from the affected area (lungs and/or abdomen) for testing. Other tests may be needed as well to make the correct diagnosis.
It doesn't hurt to ask
You might have to strongly encourage your father to seek help; after all, self reliance is a character trait of the older generation. Assure him that you'll stand by him and that there are many others who want to help. If he was harmed by exposure to asbestos because of his work, he has rights. A lawyer with experience handling these complex cases can advocate for him-and you can focus on supporting him and his health.