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Asbestos now suspected of causing auto-immune diseases

Asbestos has long been known to residents of North Carolina as the cause of several kinds of disabling and fatal diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. A new study now links asbestos to a series of autoimmune disorders that affect the lungs.

The study focused on the population of Libby, Montana, a town whose residents suffered a variety of asbestos-related diseases caused by airborne fibers from a nearby asbestos mine. The mine began operations in 1916 and produced asbestos fibers, called Zonolite by the mine’s owners, for over fifty years. Many of its residents suffered from, and died due to asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos fibers are classified as either “serpentine” or “amphibole.” Most studies of the link between asbestos and cancer have focused on the serpentine fiber called chrysotile asbestos, but the researchers conducting the study of Libby residents found that amphibole asbestos fibers activate the body’s immune system, and is associated with the production of autoantibodies, which attack healthy cells. The researchers were able to isolate a group of victims from Libby who have developed very severe and aggressive pulmonary illnesses other than cancer as the result of asbestos exposure. Many of these persons succumb to respiratory infections and not cancer.

The fact that the research has focused on a group of victims who live in Montana does not mean that persons who live elsewhere are not at risk for developing the new auto-immune disease. Zonolite asbestos was incorporated into the manufacture of thousands of asbestos-containing products that were used all over the world, thus potentially exposing many thousands of persons to the new auto-immune disease being studied.  Persons who suffer from an auto-immune disease caused by inhalation of amphibole fibers can now be added the thousands of persons who suffer from cancer caused primarily by chrysotile asbestos fibers.

Like sufferers from mesothelioma and asbestosis, these persons may have a claim for damages against the manufacturers of these products. These persons should consider consulting a physician knowledgeable about respiratory diseases and an attorney who is experienced in asserting these claims for an evaluation of their own case.

Source: MedPage Today, “Asbestos Revisited: A new Autoimmune Disease,” Nancy Walsh, July 29, 2014

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