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Mesothelioma Information > Asbestos Exposure at Work

Asbestos Exposure at Work

Asbestos is everywhere, and nearly everyone is exposed to low levels during the course of a lifetime. While the specific amount of exposure that it takes to result in asbestosis or mesothelioma has not been determined, asbestos-related diseases are rare, and people who are casually exposed to asbestos present everywhere in nature do not generally get sick. The people at greatest risk for asbestos-related diseases are those who work in specific occupations or live with people in those occupations, were present at certain types of events, or live in highly contaminated areas close to asbestos-producing mines.

Risky Occupations

Mesothelioma often develops in those who work or have worked around asbestos for an extended period of time. Since it can take many decades before asbestos-related conditions develop, the exposure can be in the distant past.

From about the 1940s to the 1970s, asbestos was as common as wood in building materials. Asbestos is an amazing, albeit deadly, material. It is plentiful, lightweight, and indestructible by any known means. It will not degrade, burn, or melt. Except for the fact that it can cause life-threatening illnesses, it is ideal. Manufacturers embraced it, and building materials, like siding, insulation, wallboard, carpet, tile, roofing materials, and even adhesives were full of it. It can also be found in brakes, boats, and heavy machinery – millions of everyday products full of a deadly fiber. And yet most of us, even though we may be surrounded by this material, are perfectly safe because the fibers are bound to other materials and sealed inside solid structures. The tiny fibers are only dangerous when they are in the air.

That means that every person who ever worked for a manufacturer that produces products that contain asbestos is at risk. Miners who dug the material, or a related material like vermiculite, are at risk. People who work in construction, around heavy machinery, at auto plants or brake manufacturers, or at shipyards are at risk. Demolition workers, asbestos removal workers, roofers, heating and air conditioning workers, janitors, and firefighters who enter burning or demolished buildings are at risk.

Military Exposure

A whopping 17% of all mesothelioma cases are either retired military or civilians who worked in Navy shipyards. A survey conducted in 1984 revealed that 79% of workers at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia had signs of asbestos-related lung disease, and 8% to 9% of workers wives’ also showed signs of asbestos disease. Asbestos is still heavily used in military ships and submarines.

Event-related Exposure

Events can trigger special high-risk circumstances. The attack on the World Trade Center is a good example. Rescue workers, policemen, firefighters, paramedics, survivors, volunteers, and people who lived or worked nearby were exposed when tons of asbestos was dispersed into the air during impact. The true measure of this tragedy may not be fully realized for decades.

Any kind of building demolition or explosion that causes dust can put those nearby at risk. The risk increases over time, but mesothelioma cases have been documented following short-term asbestos exposure. All exposure is considered dangerous.

Second-Hand Exposure

Evidence suggests that the family members of workers who are exposed to asbestos on the job are also at risk. Asbestos fibers stick to clothing, shoes, hair, and skin. Today’s strict laws limit the exposure for both workers and second-hand family members, but it may be many decades before the number of new cases of mesothelioma are on the wane.

Recent News

  • Over 700 New York City Schools Contaminated with Asbestos

    While attempting to remove PCB lighting, city workers discovered that 772 schools in New York City have asbestos wiring. Asbestos is a mineral that was widely used in pre-1970s construction. Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of a fatal cancer, mesothelioma.

    The lighting in the school will remain in place until an asbestos plan can be implemented. Asbestos materials must be handled according to laws designed to protect workers, school children, employees, and the neighborhood. The asbestos wiring is no danger to anyone if left undisturbed.

    To read more about this story, please visit: Workers Compensation

  • Minnesota Building Inspector Dead from Mesothelioma a Month after Diagnosis

    Russell “Russ” Wahl was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, on February 17, 2011. Just over one month after diagnosis, he died on March 25. He was 82 years old. Wahl worked as a building official and inspector in the Mendota Heights of West St. Paul for many decades. …MORE

  • Greed Often the Motivator for Asbestos Violations and Other Environmental Crimes

    The defendant in a recent environmental crime case admitted to Justus Derx, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criminal investigator that he was motivated by greed. The admission came as no surprise to Agent Derx, who chases down environmental offenders every day. To date, he’s participated in over 100 cases involving asbestos violations alone. …MORE

  • NF2 Cancer Treatment Shows Promise for Mesothelioma Treatment

    According to researchers at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, the results of a gene study could lead to a therapeutic target for a group of related cancers including Neurofibromatosis Type 2, an inherited cancer disorder, and mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure. …MORE

  • Ann Arbor Police Department Rife with Asbestos and Radon

    Officer Dawn King, the former vice president of the Ann Arbor Police Officer’s Association, filed a whistleblower lawsuit regarding toxic exposure in city hall. Radon levels seven times higher than the federal safety threshold were present in the basement of the building, along with asbestos, a cancer-causing material commonly found in buildings erected prior to the late 1970s. …MORE

  • 9/11 First Responders Bill Finally Passed

    After nine long years, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, also known as the “9/11 First Responders bill,” finally passed though Congress. The act is intended to provide medical services, including monitoring and care, for people who worked at Ground Zero, inadvertently exposing themselves to toxic dust that contained tons of asbestos, in addition to benzene and other chemicals characteristic of jet fuel. During the approval process, concessions were made that diluted the efficacy of the bill, but proponents hope it will result in early detection of mesothelioma, a deadly disease that can cake decades for symptoms to show. There is no cure for mesothelioma, but early detection greatly increases the treatment options. …MORE


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