Poor ventilation - one of the main causes of asbestos exposure for industrial workers

Treven Pyles

By Treven Pyles

Posted on June 16th, 2019

As the ventilation systems were often poor in plants and factories between 1920 and 1980, most workers were at high risk of inhaling and ingesting asbestos dust. As a result, a large number of former industrial workers have later received an asbestos-related diagnosis, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Ventilation is the mechanical system in a building designed to bring in fresh outdoor air and remove the undesirable contaminated indoor air. In the workplace, ventilation is used to reduce worker exposure and provide a healthy and safe working environment by controlling the build-up of airborne contaminants, such as dust, fumes, and vapors.

Because in the past plants and factories often had poor ventilation systems, that prevented airborne asbestos fibers from being evacuated from the workspace, employees were inhaling and ingesting large amounts of asbestos. In addition to the lack of adequate protective equipment such as respirators and overalls, industrial workers were exposed to asbestos due to their work environment. By working in such environments for several years in a row, a person is very likely to develop a serious disease such as lung cancer or mesothelioma decades later.

The activities in industrial environments that created the potential for releasing asbestos fibers in the air between 1920 and 1980, when the mineral was highly used, include:

  • Smelting steel or copper in industrial furnaces
  • Extracting metals from ores
  • Stamping or mechanically cutting metals
  • Casting liquid materials
  • Forging metals with heat and hammers
  • Sandblasting
  • Vacuum metalizing products as a finishing mechanism
  • Refining oils

Why was poor ventilation harmful?

Over the past few decades, there has been a decline in occupational exposure to the carcinogens of asbestos. However, exposure to indoor air pollution still exists and can cause serious diseases. For example, for PCBs exposure, there is evidence of melanomas, liver, gall bladder, biliary tract, gastrointestinal tract, and brain cancer effects. According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, in the most recent year for which there was available data, there were between 45,872 and 91,745 newly diagnosed cancer cases caused by past exposure on the job.

Poor ventilation allows for harmful physical effects on workers due to the accumulation of contaminants. Poor ventilation in industrial workspaces can result from:

  • Cutbacks. Resource cutbacks compounded by the lack of workspace cause overcrowding of workplaces.
  • Overcrowding of workplaces. More workers in less space lead to them not getting adequate amounts of clean air.
  • Substandard ventilation systems. Poor ventilation can result from systems that are misused and operate at substandard levels due to employer control.

Occupations at the highest risk for asbestos exposure

Poor ventilation systems in industrial spaces led to asbestos fibers circulating in the air for long periods of time, which increased workers' risk of occupational exposure.

While the problem could have been solved by employers providing workers with respirators and overalls and installing better ventilation systems, there were no such measures taken back in the day.

Furthermore, besides being inhaled, asbestos would stick to workers' clothing, hair, and skin. Because industrial asbestos workers were not required to change their equipment or shower after their shift, asbestos fibers would end up in their homes as well, subsequently leading to secondary exposure, as family members would inhale and ingest the asbestos carried home by their husbands or fathers.

Some of the occupational groups at high risk of asbestos exposure were the following:

Our experienced team can help you recover compensation

If you, or a family member, are an industrial worker who handled or was surrounded by asbestos or other substances that have been found to be carcinogens, we encourage you to undergo periodical medical examinations to make sure toxic substances have not affected your health.

Those who intend to file a claim should know that only malignant diseases stemming from asbestos exposure make them eligible, as there is a strong association between cancer and asbestos exposure.