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Understanding Sources of Asbestos Exposure

By Treven Pyles

Posted on March 15th, 2019

Once you develop a lung disease and receive a diagnosis of a serious respiratory disorder, it is important to try to remember and recapture your past and see if you have been exposed to deadly asbestos where you have worked in the past.

It is up to you to connect the dots and understand the connection by identifying the link between working in a dusty environment without protective masks and your current diagnosis. As we know that asbestos exposure poses a serious threat to our health by causing severe respiratory disorders such as asbestosis, pleural plaques, pulmonary fibrosis, throat cancer, esophageal cancer and lung cancer, understanding more about the sources of this kind of exposure is quite helpful. Asbestos exposure is known to have occurred when you have inhaled asbestos fibers on a daily basis and got these fibers entrapped in your lungs eventually. The worksite was the most common place where you might have been exposed to asbestos, but, it was also common in the military.

Major Sources of Asbestos Exposure

You are likely to have been exposed to asbestos if you have

Occupational Exposure Is the No.1 Source of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos fibers have been utilized in the manufacturing of several domestic, commercial, as well as industrial products due to its unique property of heat insulation and fire retardation. It can be found in insulation, ceilings, roofing and flooring tiles, cement, paint, and drywall. As a result, millions of workers were put at risk of asbestos exposure. Workers at factories, shipyards, and occupations involving manual labor in construction or other trades are more likely to have been exposed to asbestos on the job. As the US military relied on asbestos products, particularly on Navy ships, the veterans are at equally high risk of having been exposed to asbestos during their service.

Top 7 Occupations at High-risk for Asbestos Exposure

  • Construction workers: Before the 1980s, most products used in construction contained asbestos, therefore, building demolition crews and home renovators are at risk of asbestos exposure. Current workers who are working on new projects are also at risk of exposure as flooring and roofing materials are still made from asbestos. According to the estimates from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, nearly 25% of people who died from asbestosis had jobs in the construction industry. Thus, construction jobs form one of the major sources of asbestos exposure in the US.
  • Industrial workers: Industrial workers include foremen, chemical workers, mechanics, trade laborers, and machinery operators. These workers were at risk of asbestos exposure in the paper industry, textile mills, and factories that manufacture gaskets, insulation, and fireproofing.
  • Power plant workers: The most common sources of asbestos exposure were heat-resistant products such as pipe insulation and fireproofing spray. Cutting old asbestos pipes posed another threat for asbestos exposure in power plant workers. Nearly 33% of power plant workers had asbestos in their mucus samples, according to a study.
  • Shipyard workers: Boiler workers and people working at the construction, demolition, and rebuilding of vessels were highly exposed to asbestos.
  • Miners: Asbestos mining in the United States was terminated in 2002, but miners and asbestos plant workers have been exposed to high concentrations of asbestos regularly as certain minerals namely talc and vermiculite contains asbestos. In addition, miners use equipment that contains insulation and gaskets made up of asbestos. Thus, people with mining as their profession were at the greatest risk of asbestos exposure.
  • Veterans: All branches of the US Armed Forces have widely used asbestos in the construction of buildings, automobiles, and aircraft. Operators of military vehicles and aircraft as well as people on US Navy ships between the years 1900 and 1970 are at high risk of being exposed to asbestos. Throughout most years of the past century, asbestos was used in the building of Navy ships. Thousands of veterans who worked on battleships, cruisers, submarines, destroyers, auxiliary vessels, and frigates have developed asbestos-related diseases because of exposure to the carcinogen during their service as sailors or shipbuilders.

Top 8 Occupations at Moderate-risk for Asbestos Exposure

  • Automobile mechanics: Most parts of automobiles such as brakes, heat seals, and clutches contain asbestos and when these parts are disintegrated, asbestos fibers become airborne and even settle on the clothes of auto mechanics. Repair stations often have very poor air circulation, which makes it even more dangerous as these free-floating asbestos fibers get easily inhaled by auto mechanics.
  • Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) mechanics: HVAC mechanics are frequently involved in changing filters and checking furnaces during normal maintenance. They could disturb and inhale asbestos settled inside the compartments and panels when they open it to perform the tasks.
  • Carpenters: Carpenters who were involved in construction projects done before 1980 had to handle asbestos sheets and cut them into sizes required for various applications. They were also involved in the remodeling of old houses and commercial buildings that were constructed using asbestos structures, which released a lot of asbestos dust into the air.
  • Engineers: Engineers were usually exposed to asbestos indirectly while supervising the workers involved in installing the asbestos products in their designs.
  • Electricians: Electricians get exposed to asbestos fibers during the repair of electrical appliances that have asbestos or while drilling walls to install new wires.
  • Oil refinery workers: These workers were often involved in handling equipment used in the process of crude oil refining and tend to inhale asbestos fibers released from the damaged portion of their protective clothing.
  • Plumbers: Plumbers come in contact with asbestos fibers when they cut or drill into pipes having insulation made of asbestos. Other insulated products such as ducts, tanks, and boilers may contain asbestos and can release asbestos fibers during maintenance.
  • Railroad workers: Employees working in and around railroad shops or repair shops were likely to inhale asbestos dust as asbestos-containing materials were cut or smoothened releasing the dust onto their clothes. Even railroad workers who were not involved in repair tasks were likely to have been exposed as asbestos was widely used on trains.

Top 3 Occupations at Low Risk for Asbestos Exposure

  • Aircraft mechanics: Aircraft mechanics directly handle products installed in aircraft that contain asbestos usually during the routine repair process.
  • Teachers: Schools that were built before the 1980s are likely to have construction materials made of asbestos. Most of the schools in the United States were built between 1950 and 1969.
  • Chimney sweeps: They are at risk of asbestos exposure when they service the old fireplaces.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure

Sometimes, people can develop asbestos-related conditions without working around the dangerous mineral. This is referred to as secondary asbestos exposure or indirect exposure and happens when an asbestos-exposed worker takes home asbestos fibers that have settled on work clothes, hair, and skin. This is as harmful as firsthand exposure. During the past century, men worked directly with asbestos products while doing labor jobs. Women, who washed their husband's work clothes, as well their children were more likely to fall sick because of secondary exposure.

What If You Have Been Exposed to Asbestos on the Job?

If you have been involved in any of the occupations known to cause asbestos exposure, you need to be vigilant and look for any signs of deteriorating health as you age, specifically chest or abdominal pain and shortness of breath. Studies have confirmed the link between asbestos exposure and diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, heart, stomach, and testicles, and is respectively called pleural mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and testicular mesothelioma. Lung cancer is most commonly diagnosed among people exposed to asbestos. Other asbestos-related cancers include colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer, and throat cancer. Apart from malignant diseases, benign conditions such as asbestosis, pleural plaques, pleuritis have been attributed to asbestos exposure and are more prevalent than asbestos-related malignant conditions.

If you are experiencing symptoms such as chest/abdominal pain, persistent cough, shortness of breath, and weight loss or loss of appetite, you need to consult your doctor immediately. Let your doctor know about your past exposure to asbestos.

Even if you do not have any of these symptoms, but you have a history of asbestos exposure, it is always recommended to have annual chest X-rays and CT scans in order to monitor asbestos-related diseases.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is always better to seek a second opinion, preferably from a mesothelioma specialist as your symptoms and test results can be examined more thoroughly. Sometimes, you may not receive a diagnosis of mesothelioma and may be diagnosed with a less serious condition instead, which is referred to as misdiagnosis and is quite common with mesothelioma.

Claiming Compensation for Asbestos-related Diseases

It is important to note that workers who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer or any other asbestos-related disease are eligible to seek compensation from asbestos product manufacturers. If the company you have worked for in the past is found liable for the asbestos-related disease you have been diagnosed with, then you will be able claim compensation. There are four different ways of claiming compensation, which include:

  • asbestos trust fund claims
  • lawsuits that result in verdicts/settlements
  • VA claims
  • worker's compensation

While a few manufacturers have set up their asbestos trust funds, others will handle lawsuits through trials or settlements. At Environmental Litigation Group, P.C., our legal team comprising of experienced asbestos lawyers will thoroughly evaluate your case and check whether you qualify to file a claim. If you are found eligible for compensation, our team will take care of the further steps throughout the legal process including preparation and submission of the required documents so that you can totally concentrate on your health. Our law firm has successfully recovered compensation of over $1.4 billion for asbestos victims so far and will certainly be of help to you, too.
Our standard fee is a 40% contingency fee. Which means we only collect the fee when we are able to collect settlements or claims for a client. If we do not collect anything, our clients are not out any money out of pocket.