What is Mesothelioma


What is Mesothelioma and Where Can I get it?

The mesothelium is a monolayer membrane that covers internal organs and serous cavities; it forms the peritoneum in the abdominal cavity, the pleura in the thoracic cavity and the pericardium covering the heart. Mesothelial cells produce a lubricant that reduces friction between internal organs. Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer affecting the mesothelium that is caused by environmental exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is a mineral that exists as bundles of fibers composed of oxygen, silicon and an admixture of other elements. The two main forms of asbestos are:

  • Amphibole: have needle-like fibers, include amosite, tremolite, anthophyllite and crocidolite.
  • Serpentine: have curly fibers e.g. chrysotile

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they stick to the mucus, causing irritation. Amphibole fibers are more likely to slow find their way down to the alveoli, where they tear through the pleural lining and damage pleural mesothelial cells triggering mesothelioma. Occasionally, asbestos fibers pass through the gastro intestinal tract, tear through the lining and cause damage leading to peritoneal mesothelioma.  The image below shows common infection points.Signs of malignant mesothelioma


Figure 1: Common Sites of Malignant Mesothelioma: Courtesy of Mesotheliom.com

The exact mechanism of how asbestos causes mesothelioma is unknown, but a recent publication postulated that cells killed by asbestos fibers release the HMGB1 protein, which initiates an inflammatory reaction that results in the release of tumor growth promoting factors and mutagens, leading to the development of cancerous cells.

Malignant mesothelioma has a long latency period, about 20-50 years. In the US, 14-30 individuals out of every million are affected by mesothelioma annually, and an average of 2000 cases are diagnosed annually. The Map below shows mesothelioma deaths in from 1999 to 2005.

Mesethelioma malignant death rate per 1 million population

Figure 2: Courtesy of Asbestos.com

Common Sources of Asbestos on several Eastern States

Most victims get asbestos from exposure in their workplace, followed by exposure in the home environment.  These sources will be examined state by state.


Factories where you will definitely be exposed to asbestos include:

  • New England Shipbuilding Corp. (in Portland)
  • Brunswick Naval Air Station
  • Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (in Kittery)
  • Bath Iron Works
  • International Paper Company (in Androscoggin)
  • Yankee Nuclear Power Plant (in Wiscasset)
  • Oxford Paper Company (in Rumford)
  • Rumford Paper Mill
  • Loring Air Force Base (in Limestone)
  • New England Insulation Company (in Bangor)
  • Great Northern Paper Company (in Lincoln)
  • United Chemicals Company (in South Hope)
  • Dow Air Force Base (in Bangor)
  • Central Main Power Plant (in Lewiston)
  • Sanford Textile Mill (in Sanford)

The decommissioned Forester Manufacturing company in Wilton was in 2011 also found to have unacceptable levels of asbestos; its partial demolition released a lot of asbestos fibers, making the area an asbestos exposed site.

New Hampshire

Most landfills in this state have dangerous levels of asbestos. Nashua also has levels of asbestos because it was the city in which one of America’s largest asbestos factory, Johns-Manville, was established. The list of asbestos contaminated sites increases every day, and includes:

  • New Hampshire Plating Company
  • Majestic Heights
  • Holman Athletic Stadium
  • New England Telephone Company
  • Suncook Village


A thriving ship industry means that this state ranks highs on mesothelioma deaths. Other companies such as W.R. Grace, an automaker, Tyco Group, and Pilgrim Power Plant have also been known to have asbestos.


Even though Vermont has natural asbestos deposits in Mt. Belvidere, exposure has been kept to a minimum


The state has abundant asbestos deposits, which have been mined for centuries now. As of 2001, Pennsylvania had the 3rd highest number of deaths resulting from mesothelioma.


The sources of asbestos exposure are numerous, so to be on the safe side follow the following assumptions; factories build before the 70s are likely to contain significant quantities of asbestos, any area with mining activity is to be considered a possible asbestos containing location, most shipyards, power plants, auto parts, and landfills are likely to be contaminated with asbestos. These assumption may reduce your chances of developing mesothelioma.