Lung Cancer

Exposure to Occupational Toxins Increases the Risk for Lung Cancer

Learning about lung cancer risks is important. An issue that needs more awareness is occupational exposure to harmful chemicals and the negative effects such exposure has on our health.
April 2021 Vol 7 No 2
Treven Pyles
Administrative Director, Environmental Litigation Group, P.C.
Birmingham, Alabama

Cancer is a public concern; therefore, it’s imperative that anyone diagnosed with any type of cancer knows where to go for information and support. Raising awareness about lung cancer is vital in making people aware of the impact that occupational exposure to chemicals can have on their health.

Less-Known Risk Factors

Although many people still associate lung cancer with smoking, there are several other risk factors, some very familiar to the general public, others less so. Occupational lung diseases, including lung cancer, affect many Americans, which is why it is one of the major concerns in occupational health and control measures.

Lung conditions, such as lung cancer, can be caused by a variety of chemicals and substances, including asbestos; perfluorinated compounds; and solvents such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and perchloroethylene.

Lack of screening tests and poor testing accuracy greatly affect the ability to diagnose lung cancer at an early stage, when it is more treatable. The use of screening tests to detect lung cancer early provides opportunities for patients to obtain effective and efficient treatment.

If you have a history of toxic occupational exposure, and you are experiencing increasing shortness of breath or persistent cough, you should contact your primary care doctor who will refer you to a pulmonary specialist.

Lung cancer is often first detected when abnormalities are seen on a radiograph of the chest, usually in the form of shadows or spots.

Exposure to Toxic Chemicals in the Military

Lung cancer is among the most common form of cancer associated with occupational exposure, which also affects people in the military, and is therefore covered by trust funds set up specifically for such payouts. Currently, there are more than 60 trust funds in the country related to asbestos injuries. For veterans, the Veterans Affairs (VA) also provides disability compensation for those diagnosed with lung cancer, if their records demonstrate exposure to toxic chemicals in the military. The VA Disability Compensation Rates vary from $145 for a 10% disability to $3,146 for a 100% disability.

In addition to the known threats of combat, military members who have served in the US Army faced many silent health risks because of their exposure to harmful chemicals as part of their military service. These people carry an elevated risk of illness simply because of toxic exposures in their daily activities.

Even for those who have never been in combat, the risk of exposure to toxic substances is very real, and this exposure may result in illness that does not develop until much later in life.

About 10 to 40 years after their military service, many veterans face lung diseases, including cancer, because of the military’s extensive use of a wide range of hazardous substances throughout much of the twentieth century. Too many of them are left frustrated, disillusioned, and some are dying prematurely from the long-term exposure to these cancer-causing chemicals.

Many veterans are unaware of the benefits to which they may be entitled if they can prove that their condition resulted from exposure to toxic chemicals during their active duty. These benefits can provide financial and medical support to veterans, particularly when former members of the military suffer service-related injuries or disabilities.

How Do You Put a Value on Life?

If we compare the increased costs of finding safe substitutes for dangerous chemicals in the workplace with the costs for medical treatments for people who are affected by being exposed to such toxic chemicals, excluding the additional costs of pain, suffering, and welfare losses—the medical costs are far higher than substituting dangerous chemicals with safe chemicals. This begs the question: How do we put a value on human life and suffering?

P. William, Veteran and Lung Cancer Survivor

P. William’s case is a good example of someone who had served in the military and was later diagnosed with lung cancer. This is how Mr. William tells his story:

“A few years ago, I thought I had months left to live. With a diagnosis like this, you either keep fighting, or give up. Several white spots showed up on a routine chest x-ray. The radiologist said to me, ‘Willie, I see something on your lung that I’m really concerned about.’ After undergoing further testing, the doctor advised that I take a watch-and-see approach to monitor the tumors. My reaction to the news was like a kind of internal emptiness, just blank.

I honestly had never thought about any lung injury. I quit smoking 12 years before that time, and had no shortness of breath or coughing. The doctors theorized that it may have come from my time in the Navy as a young man.

Apparently back then, to reduce fire risk, they sprayed asbestos above the bunks in ships, above where sailors slept. According to the docs, I had the right age and enlistment window for this set of circumstances.

I decided to seek legal assistance, hoping that I would recover financial compensation for my illness. They managed to get me compensation through both asbestos trust funds and VA benefits that enabled me to pay for treatment I couldn’t normally afford.

Currently, I receive a CT scan every 3 months, and spend my time advocating for others affected by lung cancer. Whether it’s at events, the lung cancer survivor wellness retreat, or standing in line at the grocery store, I always share my story of hope with others.

Every day is a gift from God. With strong support during the process from family and friends, I continue to thank God for giving me new grace and mercy daily.”

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Last modified: March 10, 2022

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