How can someone get an asbestos-related disease without being directly exposed to asbestos?

Since they were not required to wear any protective equipment on the job, many engineering, manufacturing, maintenance workers, and military veterans were exposed to asbestos unknowingly or inadvertently while performing their everyday duties on the job.

answered by Gregory A. Cade

Millions of Americans are unwittingly exposed to asbestos in the workplace

Thirty to forty years ago workers weren’t told that asbestos is dangerous. Thus, many industrial workers and military veterans were exposed to asbestos while performing their everyday duties on the job.

By handling asbestos-containing products in maintaining, repairing, or assembly operations, asbestos fibers are unavoidably released in the air, from where anyone who is nearby the source can inhale or ingest them. In many cases, workers were not protected from inhaling asbestos fibers and were never warned about the potentially fatal effects of exposure to asbestos. We also heard disturbing information that some of the companies that manufactured asbestos products, were aware of the hazards associated with asbestos exposure but did little or nothing to control its use or to inform and protect their employees until many years later.

In our experience, workers who came into contact with asbestos - whether they knew it at the time or not, and later developed asbestos-related conditions, often include these job positions:

Even though asbestos is not used today, we should be aware of its possible presence

Asbestos exposure can occur anywhere in the workplace, in homes, and throughout the community. Everyone is exposed to asbestos at some point in their lifetime. Low levels of asbestos can be found in the environment such as in air, soil, and water. However, it is uncommon for people to become ill from limited exposure.

Most people that become sick are usually exposed to asbestos while performing their everyday duties on the job, like industrial workers, and military veterans.

Notable industries that have used asbestos for a variety of processes, putting their employees at risk of exposure:

  • Shipyards
  • Metalwork factories
  • Power plants
  • Oil refineries
  • Chemical plants
  • Mining and milling

Indirect asbestos exposure – effects on the spouses and children of occupational workers

Asbestos workers unwittingly took home small particles of asbestos on their skin and work clothes. Today, this is known as secondary or take-home asbestos-exposure. Secondary exposure, or indirect exposure, occurs when a person who does not work with asbestos comes into contact with the toxic substance through the environment or through another person, often a family member. The mere contact with asbestos workers' clothes represents the most common secondary exposure to asbestos.

The effects of indirect asbestos exposure are equally harmful as in the case of primary exposure to asbestos, leading to cases of asbestos-induced pulmonary diseases among women and children. Airborne asbestos fibers can be easily inhaled and exposure can remain unidentified or unsuspected until a family member shows symptoms. For many years, manufacturers of asbestos-containing products have escaped such liability, yet, progress has been made.

It can often be difficult for doctors to diagnose spouses and children of workers with asbestos-related disease because these people, when asked, may remember the dust that came home on their loved one’s clothing but may not have known at the time that it was asbestos dust. Additionally, the latency period for asbestos-related diseases - the time it takes for the diseases to develop - is anywhere from 10 to 50 years, depending on the disease.

It is important for family members to be alert to the warning signs of asbestos disease, which may include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • persistent cough
  • hoarseness
  • recurrent build-up of fluid in the lungs
  • anemia
  • weight loss
  • persistent tiredness

Another way one can experience secondary asbestos exposure is by living in close proximity to a construction or demolition site, as structures that were built before 1980 contain asbestos and, by disturbing it, exposure is bound to occur.

Direct and indirect asbestos exposure in the military

The military is notorious for having employed tremendous amounts of asbestos during the last century, particularly the U.S. Navy. Over 300 different asbestos products were present aboard each ship before 1980 when proper regulations concerning asbestos use finally came into effect.

Thereby, veterans were heavily exposed to asbestos if they had to work with the mineral themselves. Today, approximately 30% of veterans struggle with a disease as a result of military asbestos exposure.

Since asbestos is an easily-crumbled fiber, it can quickly become airborne if disturbed – making it much more harmful than its dormant state. Anyone who comes into frequent contact with service members who work around asbestos may be at risk for indirect exposure. This includes other veterans and service members, spouses, children, additional close family members, and friends.

However, there are numerous veterans who have not worked with asbestos products themselves, yet still developed a disease as a consequence of asbestos exposure. These veterans were the victims of secondary asbestos exposure which, in the military, would occur when a person was spending a lot of time nearby people who directly handled asbestos. For example, on Navy ships, the heaviest asbestos exposure occurred in the damage control room, the pump room, the engine room, and the propulsion room. Whether one was performing work tasks involving asbestos or was just present in one of these areas of the ship, exposure was bound to occur to a certain extent.

We can help industrial workers and military veterans who came into contact with asbestos

If you were exposed to asbestos while serving our country, and have developed an asbestos-related disease such as lung cancer, bronchial cancer, mesothelioma, colon/rectal cancer, throat/esophageal cancer, plus many other types of pulmonary issues, you may be entitled to compensation.

All branches of the U.S. Armed Forces used asbestos until the late 1970s in many different applications which created a wide variety of opportunities for asbestos exposure to those serving in the military.

Exposure to asbestos for veterans typically came as a result of living in barracks, spending significant time in older buildings, or while maintaining or repairing vehicles or vessels. Therefore, many veterans who served between 1930 and 1980 are at a significantly higher risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces may file a claim with the Veterans Affairs for developing an asbestos-related disease during military service. Veterans may file an Application for Benefits, along with supporting medical documentation proving they are suffering from an asbestos-related disease.

With over 25 years of experience in providing legal assistance to victims of asbestos exposure, our attorneys specialize in toxic exposure cases and will help you file a claim with the asbestos trust fund of the company for which you worked. Furthermore, if more than one employer was responsible for your asbestos exposure, we will file a claim with each of their asbestos trust funds to obtain the largest sum of money you qualify for. It is important to keep in mind that asbestos exposure cases have a statute of limitations of 3 years in the majority of states, so it is a good idea to take legal action as soon as you receive your diagnosis, otherwise you may lose your right to seek financial compensation.

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