If you’ve been exposed to asbestos, it’s vital that you understand the health risks associated with this dangerous mineral. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare and fatal form of lung cancer. Many workers in plants, factories, auto shops, and on ships unwittingly ingest asbestos fibers, or bring them home and expose their families. People who have been exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma may be owed compensation.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral with heat-resistant, fire-resistant, and insulating properties. These and other qualities made it a favored building and manufacturing material for hundreds of years. It has been used in everything from insulation and automobile brake pads, to paint and floor tiles, to cement and plastics.
Unfortunately, when asbestos products deteriorate or are broken open, the asbestos fibers become airborne and can be easily inhaled or swallowed. These fibers can eventually cause serious health problems, such as mesothelioma, for the workers who ingested them.
Though suspicions arose as early as the late 1800s that asbestos could pose grave health concerns, it was not until 1989 that the United States enacted a partial ban on the manufacture and import of some asbestos products.
Why Asbestos Exposure Is So Dangerous
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they travel into the lungs and stay there. The same properties that make asbestos durable and ideal for construction materials also, tragically, make it nearly impossible for the human body to process and eradicate.
As asbestos fibers settle and lodge into the tissue of the lungs, they can cause chronic inflammation and scarring, which can lead to serious, even fatal health problems. However, because the damage gradually occurs over a long period of time, most asbestos-related diseases — such as mesothelioma — take 15-to-50 years from the time of exposure to the onset of symptoms.
Thankfully, many people who are diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease are able to recover significant compensation from the company or companies responsible for their exposure. Contact us to see if you qualify for compensation.
High-Risk Asbestos Exposure Occupations
Due to the wide range of products made with asbestos, there are many occupations that carry a higher risk for dangerous asbestos exposure.
Occupations and industries that both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) list as having an increased risk of asbestos exposure include:
- Asbestos abatement
- Asbestos mining, processing, and manufacturing
- Auto mechanics
- Cement workers
- Construction workers
- HVAC workers
- Insulation manufacturers and installers
- Sheet metal workers
- Shipbuilders and shipyard workers
- Waste workers
In the U.S., starting in the late 1980s, regulations were enacted to create safer work environments and healthier asbestos-handling practices. However, for those who were in the workforce before these laws were passed, the risk of asbestos exposure and related disease could remain high.
Additionally, for people who regularly work with building materials manufactured before the 1980s, the risk of new asbestos exposure is still very real, especially if they don’t practice safe handling and removal procedures.
High-Risk Job Sites
Job sites that pose the greatest risk of exposure to asbestos include:
- Asbestos mines
- Construction and renovation sites
- Demolition sites
- Mechanic shops
- Power, chemical, and industrial plants
- Structures built before the 1980s, especially those with decay or broken/compromised materials
Materials with the highest levels of asbestos include:
- Auto parts (brake pads, clutches, gaskets, hood liners, and valves)
- Ceiling tiles
- Floor tiles
- Talcum powder
Though regulations are in place preventing many newly developed products from containing asbestos, materials produced before the late 1980s were not subject to these laws.
Contrary to popular belief, and despite asbestos being a known carcinogen, asbestos use is still legal in the United States.
Asbestos Health Risks
Asbestos carries a number of serious risks for workers who have been exposed to it, and for their families.
The most common asbestos-related health conditions are:
- Mesothelioma, an often-fatal cancer of the lining of the lung (pleural), abdomen (peritoneal), or heart (pericardial)
- Other lung cancers, such as adenocarcinoma
- Pleural disorders like pleural plaque (affecting the membrane around the lung), pleural effusions (collection of excessive fluid between tissue layers lining the lungs and the chest cavity), and pleural thickening
- Scar tissue and inflammation in the tissue lining the chest cavity and lungs, resulting in coughing, shortness of breath, heaviness in the chest, and/or asbestosis
Asbestos and Mesothelioma
Of the potential health risks resulting from asbestos exposure, mesothelioma, is the most lethal. Around 3,000 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
To date, asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. If you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos, and you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you may qualify for compensation to help pay for medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses. Contact us for a free consultation to learn more.
Less Common Health Risks
In addition to the more commonly encountered health risks listed above, studies have also linked the following potential health risks to asbestos exposure:
- Cancer of the larynx
- Cancer of the ovaries
- Increased risk and frequency of laryngitis
- Immune system suppression and autoimmune disorders
While many homes and buildings in the U.S. still contain asbestos-laden materials, most people are not at risk for significant, life-threatening asbestos exposure.
Factors Affecting Asbestos Exposure Risk
Studies suggest that a person’s health risk varies based on the length, frequency, and nature of their asbestos exposure, as well as individual and genetic factors.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a person’s risk level depends on the following variables:
- The concentration or dose of the asbestos
- The frequency and length of the exposure
- The type of asbestos fibers they were exposed to (amphibole fibers, which are short and straight, are believed to be more dangerous than chrysotile fibers, which are long and serpentine)
- Individual risk factors such as a history of smoking, pre-existing lung disease, etc.
Those who were exposed to a higher concentration of asbestos for a longer period of time, or who were exposed to asbestos on multiple occasions, are thought to have a higher risk for asbestos-related diseases than those exposed to lower concentrations for a briefer period.
That said, scientists have determined that there is no safe type of asbestos fiber or safe level of asbestos exposure. Even secondhand exposure to asbestos can have deadly consequences in the long run.
Asbestos Exposure Types
Primary exposure is when a person comes into direct contact with asbestos fibers or asbestos-containing materials. People who have worked in construction, at a plant, or on a ship may have had primary exposure to asbestos.
Through handling or working near an asbestos-laden product, an individual inhales asbestos fibers, which can settle in their lungs and cause future health problems.
Secondary or Take-Home Exposure
Secondary or take-home asbestos exposure occurs when someone is exposed to asbestos through another person — often a spouse or parent — who encountered the asbestos directly.
For example, when a demolition worker goes home after work, his clothes and hair may be covered in asbestos fibers. When he hugs and spends time with his family, the asbestos fibers can become airborne, exposing his family members to asbestos fibers, which they too can inhale.
Many women and children have ingested asbestos fibers through take-home exposure, eventually developing serious asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.
Exposed to Asbestos? Pursue Compensation
If you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos, and you’ve developed mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you could be owed compensation from the company that made or distributed the asbestos products you were exposed to.
Our team has recovered over $4.8 Billion for people who were exposed to asbestos and were injured as a result. No matter where your asbestos exposure occurred, our nationwide team may be able to help you pursue the compensation and justice you deserve.
American Cancer Society. “Risk Factors for Malignant Mesothelioma.” Accessed September 24, 2021. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/malignant-mesothelioma/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. “Asbestos – Health Effects.” Accessed September 24, 2021. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/asbestos/effects.html
Luus, Kristina. McGill Journal of Medicine. “Asbestos: mining exposure, health effects and policy implications.” July 2007. Accessed September 24, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2323486/
National Cancer Institute. “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk Fact Sheet.” Accessed September 24, 2021. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestos/asbestos-fact-sheet