Artist James Howie of Scotland has died recently from a pulmonary embolism and rare cancer mesothelioma. After years of using a unique method in his artwork, it has been suggested that Howie’s habit of sanding paint may have led to his development of mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to toxic chemical asbestos, which has been used in the past as a paint stabilizer. According to Scottish news source Daily Record, Howie’s widow, Joyce, said “He had mesothelioma, which he could have contracted at any time during his work. He used to do layer upon layer of paint, always scraping, sanding, cutting it back to paint over it again and again in order to create a certain effect. He would keep repeating this process until it resulted in the thing he was looking for. Although we have the death certificate, we’re still awaiting the results of a final autopsy.”
Known for it’s durability and fire resistance, asbestos was heavily mined, bought, sold and shipped around the world through the last century. Asbestos has been used in countless avenues of industry, manufacturing and construction. Everything from power plant insulation to underground water pipes were constructed with asbestos though the 1900s. Countless homes, municipal buildings and facilities around the world now hold asbestos containing materials. Once safe, these products will wear over time, creating opportunity for toxic fibers to be released into the air.
Several decades ago health and safety regulators in more than a few countries began monitoring the use of asbestos more strictly, aware that respiratory illness, such as malignant mesothelioma, could be caused by the material. Today asbestos is a controversial item; relatively safe when contained in an intact product, asbestos fibers, once releases and inhaled, can lead to fatal disease.
Malignant mesothelioma affects an estimated twenty thousand people worldwide each year. This number is considered to be lower than the actual, as cases in many developing countries often go unrecognized and unreported.
Mesothelioma is specifically a cancer of protective organ lining. Once tumor development begins, mesothelioma spreads through the surrounding tissues of lungs, diaphragm and other abdominal organs. Mesothelioma is characterized by a long latency period during which symptoms do not demonstrate. Only after twenty to fifty years do symptoms typically show up, mimicking those of bronchitis and pneumonia. Mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose and considered fatal. There are mesothelioma treatments available, but no known cure.