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What is my risk for secondary asbestos exposure?

Although the toxicity of asbestos has been known since the early 1930s, industrial hygiene was not a priority for asbestos companies. Thereby, secondary asbestos exposure was a common occurrence.

answered by Wendy Garmon

Roughly 8% of mesothelioma patients are women, many of whom developed it as a result of past secondary asbestos exposure

In the heyday of asbestos, companies were rarely concerned about the safety of their employees. People who were directly working with asbestos would not be provided with appropriate protective equipment and they were not required to change their clothes after their shift ended either. Asbestos fibers would inevitably be carried home by workers on their clothes, skin, hair, and shoes. Some former employees, who subsequently developed mesothelioma as a result of prolonged asbestos exposure, remember coming home covered in asbestos dust. Thus, considering the astounding extent to which this toxic mineral was present in occupational settings, it is probably not surprising that the families of workers were often exposed to asbestos indirectly, by simply coming in contact with their loved ones.

While occupational asbestos exposure occurred primarily among men, as they represented the majority of industrial workers, women were at high risk for secondary exposure. Ultimately, the entire household was prone to inhaling or ingesting asbestos, since the microscopic size of fibers allows them to spread very easily in the environment. Some of the most common ways in which secondary asbestos exposure would happen are:

  • Washing contaminated work clothes. The wives of asbestos workers were perhaps at the highest risk of secondary asbestos exposure, as they would often handle their husbands' work clothes and wash them by hand. If the clothes were being washed together with other family members’, asbestos fibers could also attach to those. Moreover, some women would shake asbestos dust off of clothes, which would only contribute to further contamination of the house.
  • Contact with asbestos-tainted furniture. Secondary asbestos exposure would also happen when family members were sitting on chairs, couches, beds, or carpets with asbestos fibers embedded in them. If asbestos workers would not change their clothes after arriving home, toxic fibers could easily attach to the piece of furniture they were sitting on. Similarly, when these items were being cleaned up or disturbed in any other way, exposure could occur as well. According to a study conducted by Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City on the health of asbestos workers' families, sources of exposure were still present in the homes of former factory employees 20 years later.
  • Hugs. Family members who would greet asbestos workers by hugging them when they returned home could have inhaled carcinogenic fibers as well by coming in contact with contaminated clothes.

What diseases can secondary asbestos exposure cause?

Mesothelioma is not the only disease secondary asbestos exposure can lead to. However, it is the most serious and aggressive. There are numerous other diseases secondary asbestos exposure may result in, most of which affect the lungs and the airways. Following inhalation or ingestion, asbestos fibers can easily travel through the bloodstream and reach various organs and tissues in the body, where they will gradually cause inflammation and scarring, thereby giving way to a disease within 20 to 50 years from the first exposure. The following are the most common diseases which stem from secondary asbestos exposure:

It is worthy of note that diseases, which develop as a consequence of secondary asbestos exposure have a long latency period. For this reason, it was only recently that people, especially women, who were injured by secondary asbestos exposure began taking legal action against the companies for which their family members worked. Although in rare cases, children also came to struggle with a disease as a result of secondary asbestos exposure, since they lived under the same roof as a family member who directly handled asbestos on their job. Consequently, any family member of a worker who had direct contact with asbestos can develop a disease several decades later.

Which occupational groups were responsible for secondary asbestos exposure?

Because it has so many convenient properties, such as resistance to fire, electricity, and various chemicals, and was also cheap, asbestos was employed in tremendous amounts as a raw material by numerous industries during the last century. It is estimated that over 75 occupational groups were exposed to asbestos before 1980. However, certain industrial workers were at higher risk for asbestos exposure, as they would directly handle asbestos, without the necessary protective equipment, and at the end of their shift, they would end up covered in asbestos fibers, which they would subsequently bring home. These were the workers who were unknowingly responsible for secondary asbestos exposure among their family members:

Can someone claim financial compensation in the case of secondary exposure?

The victims of secondary asbestos exposure are also eligible for compensation. Although the legal process is more challenging, a lawyer specializing in asbestos cases will be able to help you greatly.

Asbestos litigation is a very complex and demanding area of practice, which requires solid knowledge and vast professional experience. While filing a claim with asbestos trust funds can be incredibly difficult even for the most experienced legal team, recovering compensation for people who were injured by secondary asbestos exposure is even more challenging. However, with the legal representation of a lawyer who specializes exclusively in asbestos litigation, your chances of recovering the financial compensation you deserve are high.

Since their illness is not the consequence of direct contact with asbestos, individuals who were injured by secondary exposure need to provide additional evidence to support their claim. In order to successfully pursue a secondary asbestos exposure case, the attorney will need:

  • the work records of the family member who was directly exposed to asbestos on the job
  • the medical records of the injured person, clearly stating their diagnosis, from the treating hospital or physician
  • social security records from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • military records, if applicable

The legal team will subsequently conduct extensive research to ensure sufficient proof is gathered for your lawsuit. Afterward, your lawyer will attempt to reach a settlement with the liable asbestos company. If this is not possible, your case will go to trial, which will prolong the legal process considerably. Nevertheless, only 10% of personal injury cases go to trial, so you will most likely receive compensation within one year.

Choosing a lawyer with relevant experience in asbestos litigation is vital if you are a victim of secondary exposure, as these cases are extremely difficult to manage. Within the past decades, asbestos victims in the U.S. who filed a lawsuit have received over $70 billion from the responsible parties. Working with a legal team who focuses exclusively on asbestos litigation is guaranteed to ensure a positive outcome for your case.

Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. also provides legal representation for the victims of secondary asbestos exposure. If you suffer from mesothelioma or lung cancer and have a family member who worked with asbestos, there is a high chance your disease is the consequence of secondary exposure. Please contact us and our highly skilled layers will promptly help you recover financial compensation for your injury.

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