What Was the Risk of Secondary Exposure in the Past?

by Mark L. Rowe on July 19, 2018

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.

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 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.

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 at (205) 328-9200 and our highly skilled layers will promptly help you recover financial compensation for your injury.