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Asbestos Exposure Risks, Asbestos-Related Disease and Occupation

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Asbestos Exposure Risks, Asbestos-Related Disease and Occupation

Asbestos Exposure Risks

There is no amount of exposing oneself to asbestos that is safe out there, note that asbestos  normally has the worst effects whenever a person is physically contacted to an intense concentration of it or wherever they are exposed to it on a frequent basis for so long.

Asbestos stores in the body system with every little exposure and there is no stated method to reverse the harm and damager it causes.

Fibers are easily sniffed and inhaled once they become airborne. It is essential to keep away from disturbing products that might have asbestos in it. Moreover, humans who live near naturally occurring asbestos deposits should keep away from disturbing soil that mat have been contaminated or polluted.

Most patients with asbestos-related diseases are men in the age range of 0s and older and this is because asbestos-related disease have a long latency period often taking longer to grow, develop and start showing its effects. They usually trace back to occupational exposure at workplaces historically staffed by men.

Asbestos-Related Diseases

Studies from scientists has shown and proven that exposure to asbestos is connected to various diseases including the major one which is cancers.

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer almost particularly caused by asbestos exposure. The mineral also causes asbestos-related lung cancer, ovarian cancer and laryngeal cancer.

Other Asbestos-Related Diseases Include:

  • Asbestosis
  • Pleural effusions
  • Pleural plaques
  • Pleuritis
  • Diffuse pleural thickening
  • COPD

The Faces of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos kills almost 40,000 Americans each year from malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and other related diseases. The U.S. is the only developed country that has not fully banned the carcinogen.

Asbestos-Related Occupations

Asbestos-related occupations is the number one cause of Mesothelioma. Working around asbestos puts people at risk for several types of cancer and serious pulmonary diseases. While asbestos was majorly used, some occupations have higher risks of exposure to asbestos in the workplace.

The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry reveals that about 27 million workers were exposed solely to aerosolized asbestos products between 1940 and 1979. Currently, about 1.3 million workers in construction and general industry remain at risk of asbestos exposure.

Regulations have reduced the risk of exposure to the minimum in the workplace, but a degree of risk remains for many occupations. Certain jobs that were historically high risk still present a serious risk of exposure to asbestos today.

Asbestos Manufacturing High-Risk Occupations

HISTORICALLY HIGH RISK STILL HIGH RISK
Mining Automotive Repair
Construction Chloralkali Production
Manufacturing Building and Equipment Maintenance
Shipbuilding Renovation and Demolition
Electricity Generation Firefighting
Heavy Industry Sheet Gasket Use
Military Service Oilfield Brake Block Repair

The U.S. military used asbestos extensively from the 1930s to the 1970s, especially on Navy ships, causing veterans to bear a disproportionate burden of asbestos-related disease.

Family members of veterans and other asbestos industry workers also have an elevated risk of developing an asbestos-related disease because of secondhand exposure (secondary exposure).

Living in the vicinity of an asbestos-contaminated mine or processing facility puts individuals at risk of environmental exposure. Asbestos industry work sites have existed across the United States, such as in the town of Ambler, Pennsylvania, and at landmarks such as Grand Central Terminal in New York.

For example, decades of vermiculite mining near the Superfund site at Libby, Montana, caused one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. The ore contained traces of asbestos that contaminated the surrounding area for miles, eventually causing the deaths of hundreds of Libby residents.

Asbestos Exposure at Work

Asbestos is still located across the country in buildings, roads, homes, schools, factories, ships, trains and automobiles. It’s regulated in the U.S., but it is not banned. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is presently looking for ways to address risks from new and legacy asbestos products.

An astonishing number of products are still made with asbestos, including automobile brakes and clutches, roofing materials and gaskets. Asbestos was used almost everywhere in America. It is a mineral that exists naturally in a fibrous form and is resistant to heat, water, chemicals and electricity.

Throughout the 20th century, asbestos was incorporated into thousands of construction, commercial and household products. These products include fireproof coatings, concrete and cement, bricks, pipes, gaskets, insulation, drywall, flooring, roofing, joint compound, paints and sealants. Asbestos also exists in electrical appliances, plastics, rubber, mattresses, flowerpots, lawn furniture, hats and gloves.

Occupational Exposure Facts

  • Asbestos exposure is the number one cause of work-related deaths worldwide.
  • More than 39,000 American lives are lost to asbestos-related disease every year.
  • About 1.3 million U.S. workers are potentially at risk of exposure at their workplaces.

Working with asbestos products puts your health in danger. Asbestos exposure is proven to lead to cancer and other serious diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and asbestosis. If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, it is important to consult a doctor specializing in your specific diagnosis.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an estimated 27 million workers were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1979 and could be at risk for developing mesothelioma and other serious asbestos-related diseases. Regulations have reduced the risk of exposure in the workplace, but a degree of risk remains for many occupations.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, exposures to asbestos above the recommended limit declined from 6.3% of workers between 1987 and 1994 to 4.3% from 2000 to 2003.

Most Risk Occupations for Asbestos Exposure

Construction Worker:

  • Roofing and flooring materials are still made with asbestos. This places current construction workers on new projects at risk of exposure.
  • Demolition crews and home renovators are among the most at risk of exposure.
  • Thousands of construction products contained asbestos before the 1980s.

Firefighter:

  • Despite the fact that asbestos was used as a fireproofing material, fires can still damage asbestos products, causing the fibers to become airborne and possibly inhaled.
  • Asbestos was used to make protective firefighting clothing, helmets and boots.
  • Many firefighters were exposed to the toxic mineral during and after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Power Plant Worker:

  • A study found nearly 33% of power plant workers had asbestos in mucus samples.
  • Cutting old asbestos pipes remains an exposure threat to power plant workers.
  • Heat-resistant products were the most common sources of asbestos exposure. Examples include fireproofing spray and pipe insulation.

Shipyard Worker:

  • Nearly 30% of mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by Navy veterans and government shipyard workers.
  • Demolition, repair and decommissioning shipyard workers face the highest risk of asbestos exposure in shipyards today by handling old materials. Construction workers and boiler workers experienced high exposures in the past.
  • Juries awarded shipyard workers multimillion-dollar verdicts in lawsuits against asbestos product manufacturers.

More Occupations at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

In addition to the top five occupations listed above, there are more occupations related with high, medium and low levels of asbestos exposure. The risk of mesothelioma increases with higher levels of exposure.

High-Risk Occupations:

Workers in high-risk jobs tend to work around asbestos in high concentrations on a regular basis. They handle a variety of asbestos-containing products, including construction materials, insulation, gaskets, packing, brake pads, clutches and other industrial materials.

Mining: 

Asbestos mining is the occupation with the greatest potential for dangerous asbestos exposure. Mining for asbestos in the U.S. ended in 2002, but many miners have been exposed since then because certain minerals, such as talc and vermiculite, are contaminated with asbestos. Additionally, the equipment miners use contains asbestos insulation and asbestos gaskets.

The most notorious incident occurred in W.R. Grace and Co.’s vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana. Beginning in the 1900s, hundreds of vermiculite miners and their families died of asbestosis and mesothelioma because the mine was contaminated with asbestos. The R.T. Vanderbilt talc mines in upstate New York are another example. These mines had dangerous levels of tremolite asbestos interlaced with the extracted minerals.

U.S. Navy Veterans: 

Asbestos was commonly used in the building of U.S. Navy ships throughout most of the last century. A large number of Navy veterans were exposed to the carcinogen as shipbuilders or sailors.

In fact, all divisions of the U.S. armed forces used asbestos in the construction of buildings, aircraft and automobiles. Asbestos exposure was also a hazard for sailors of the Merchant Marine.

In June 1999, the Navy Public Works Center Lead and Asbestos Abatement Team began reducing the presence of lead and asbestos in shipyards using ice blasting technology. This technique is favored in the cleaning of historic structures. It decreases the amount of hazardous waste produced and minimizes dust.

Demolition Crews:

Asbestos remediation and decontamination also places workers at risk of exposure. Older buildings have asbestos in walls, floors, attics, ceilings and roofs. When these buildings are torn down, exposure becomes a risk. Demolition crews, bulldozer and crane operators and other laborers can become exposed to asbestos dust.

Occupations with a high risk of asbestos exposure: 

Below are some examples of high-risk occupations:

  • Asbestos Mining: No occupation carried a higher risk of asbestos exposure than mining asbestos-containing ore.
  • Asbestos Plant Workers: Arguably the second-most dangerous job that put workers at risk of asbestos exposure was manufacturing asbestos products. The risk of these asbestos plant workers dying from throat or lung cancer was 244% higher than the general population.
  • Boiler Workers: Boiler workers were exposed to high levels of asbestos in small spaces. As a result, they suffer higher rates of mesothelioma and asbestosis from exposure to asbestos insulation, gaskets and valves on boilers.
  • Construction Workers: Construction jobs are a major source of asbestos exposure in the U.S. About 25% of people who die of asbestosis worked in the construction industry, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Some of the most at-risk jobs include building inspectors, excavators, floor coverers, painters, road construction workers, tile setters, sawyers, contractors and building managers.
  • Firefighters: Firefighters can encounter dangerous levels of asbestos when responding to fires and natural disasters. Firefighters are more than twice as likely to develop mesothelioma than the general population.
  • Industrial Workers: The types of asbestos products used in industrial job sites often contained high amounts of asbestos to prevent fires, which exposed workers to dangerous levels of asbestos. Machinists, mixing operatives and maintenance workers faced some of the greatest exposure.
  • Insulators: Considered one of the most dangerous jobs for high levels of asbestos exposure, insulators are more than 10 times as likely to develop mesothelioma compared to the general population.
  • Factory Workers: The risk among factory workers varied depending upon the type of factory in which they worked. Factory workers endured a high level of exposure, including brake and clutch factory workers, glass factory workers, rubber factory workers, and packing and gasket manufacturing workers.
  • Power Plant Workers: Power plants contained many different types of asbestos products, such as asbestos cement and insulation, that put workers at constant risk of exposure.
  • Shipyard Workers: Both civilian and U.S. Navy shipyard workers faced high levels of exposure working in shipyards. Longshoremen and other workers suffer higher rates of mesothelioma as a result of past asbestos exposure in shipyards.
  • Steel Mill Workers: Asbestos was used all throughout steel mills because it helped control the extremely high temperatures required to produce steel. Data from Belgian steel mill workers found they were three times more likely to die of mesothelioma than the general population.
  • Textile Mill Workers: Asbestos was considered a valuable insulation and fire prevention material in textile mills. Because mill machinery operated at high temperatures, there was an increased risk of fire. Textile mill workers such as weavers, job and die setters and protective clothing manufacturers suffer higher rates of asbestosis and mesothelioma as a result of past asbestos exposure.

Medium-Risk Occupations:

Average-risk jobs includes direct or indirect work with asbestos materials. The concentration of asbestos fibers can range from low to high and may vary day by day and job site.

Some jobs in this category expose workers to low levels of the mineral, but the frequency is enough for workers to inhale or ingest harmful amounts of asbestos over time. Other jobs may not often expose workers to high levels of asbestos.

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These workers controlled various asbestos-containing products such as automobile parts, construction materials, insulation, friction materials, machinery parts, pipes and repairing compounds. The products were produces by some of the biggest asbestos companies, including Johns Manville, Celotex, National Gypsum Co., Owens Corning and W.R. Grace & Co.

Occupations with a moderate risk of asbestos exposure:

Below are some examples of Average-risk occupations:

  • Agricultural Workers: Farmers and agricultural workers encountered asbestos products in farm equipment and machinery, and some brands of fertilizer were contaminated with asbestos. Farmers who worked land that contained asbestos in the soil were exposed to higher levels of asbestos.
  • Auto Mechanics: Auto mechanics encounter low to high levels of asbestos exposure depending on the kind of work they perform. Brake mechanics face the highest risk of exposure because of the amount of asbestos dust generated when changing brakes.
  • Blacksmiths: Blacksmiths used asbestos-containing gloves, aprons, blankets and welding rods that presented a moderate risk of asbestos exposure.
  • Carpenters: Carpenters directly handled asbestos products and worked around asbestos construction materials, which put some of them at a moderately high risk of exposure. Those who worked with insulation faced higher levels of exposure.
  • Cement Plant Workers: Cement plant workers faced a moderate to high level of asbestos exposure when making asbestos cement blocks and other asbestos cement products.
  • Chemical Plant Workers: Chemical engineers, technicians and maintenance workers worked around asbestos laboratory equipment, including asbestos ovens, asbestos lab countertops and asbestos insulation. They faced a low to moderate level of exposure.
  • Engineers: Engineers of all types, including civil, environmental, construction, aerospace, mining and more, have worked at job sites where asbestos products are common. Some mechanical engineers directly handled asbestos parts. Exposure varied from low to moderately high.
  • HVAC Mechanics: HVAC workers installed, repaired and removed asbestos-containing ductwork and worked around asbestos construction materials. Some workers also encountered asbestos furnace cement and asbestos insulation. Their exposure level was moderately high.
  • Electricians: Electricians directly handled asbestos products and worked with asbestos construction materials. Their career exposure level can vary from relatively low to moderately high.
  • Linotype Technicians: Old printing machines contained asbestos insulation and other asbestos parts that exposed linotype workers. Their exposure level went from moderately low to moderate if they worked in a building that contained other asbestos products.
  • Metal Workers: Different types of metal workers, such as tinsmiths, blacksmiths, welders and metal manufacturing workers, encountered varying degrees of asbestos exposure throughout their careers. Metal workers used asbestos-containing welding rods, blankets, gloves and aprons on a regular basis.
  • Oil Refinery Workers: Oil refinery workers came into contact with a lot of asbestos-containing insulating materials, including packing material and pipe wrap insulation. Asbestos gaskets, valves and pumps were common sources of exposure. Some workers faced low exposure, while maintenance workers faced higher levels of exposure.
  • Paper Mill Workers: Machinists and maintenance workers in paper mills directly handled asbestos products, including packing material, gaskets and insulation, which led to relatively high levels of exposure for these workers. Other paper mill workers were exposed to moderate levels of asbestos found throughout mills.
  • Plumbers: Plumbers encountered a moderate level of exposure through asbestos cement pipes, asbestos insulation and repairing compounds.
  • Railroad Workers: Railroad maintenance workers and engineers faced a moderate level of exposure to asbestos in railway brakes and clutches, furnace cement, boiler parts and asbestos insulation.

Low-Risk Occupations

Low-risk jobs occasionally place workers at risk of asbestos exposure. The concentration of toxic fibers in the workplace may be low or moderate. It may spike if a more dangerous project, job site or product is experienced. Even low-level asbestos concentrations can cause mesothelioma if exposure occurs more often for years.

Workers were exposed to asbestos in insulation, appliances, brake pads, construction materials and repairing compounds. Producers of these products range from big asbestos companies such as Honeywell and GAF Corp., to smaller companies, including Abex Corp. and the Flintkote Company.

Occupations with a low risk of asbestos exposure:

Below are some examples of low-risk occupations:

  • Aerospace Workers: Asbestos insulation was used on spacecraft that maintenance workers and engineers had to repair.
  • Aircraft Mechanics: Both private and public sector aircraft mechanics were exposed to asbestos in electrical equipment, heat panels and insulation.
  • Appliance Installers: Older appliances, including ovens, toasters and irons, contained asbestos insulation that appliance installers and repairers encountered through their work.
  • Bakers: Ovens once contained asbestos insulation that presented an exposure risk to professional bakers.
  • Chimney Sweeps: Chimney sweeps and workers who build fireplaces have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing products, including firebricks, furnace cement, asbestos flues and asbestos insulation.
  • Hairdressers: Hairdressers have been disproportionally diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases because of exposure to asbestos insulation in hairdryers and asbestos-contaminated talcum powder.
  • Teachers: School teachers in private and public sectors at every level of education cope with slightly higher rates of mesothelioma because school buildings are likely to contain old asbestos construction materials.
  • Toll Collectors: Toll collectors have slightly higher rates of asbestos-related diseases because of exposure to asbestos in brake pads and other automobile parts.
  • Warehouse Workers: Warehouse buildings were often insulated with spray-on asbestos insulation, and they were likely to contain other asbestos construction materials such as pipes, floor tiles, cement and panels.

Control Of Asbestos in the Workplace

Asbestos has been controlled since the 1970s, with progressively stringent managements added over time. In June 2021, a U.S. District Court judge in California ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must improve its data collection on asbestos imports, some of which could cause danger in the workplace.

The EPA completed Part 1 of its risk evaluation of chrysotile asbestos in December 2020, and found unreasonable risks to workers. Several other sources of occupational exposure were recognized, including aftermarket brakes, brake linings and gaskets. Part 2 of the final risk evaluation is underway and could lead to increased control.

In February 2020, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration made a request for public comments about safety measures related to asbestos in the workplace. The goal was to understand what measures companies are taking to protect workers.

The result was an updated version of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which included an expanded list of requirements that companies must follow to protect the health of their workers.

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Among the requirements:

  • Closer asbestos exposure monitoring, giving every employee the right to know what their exposure level is.
  • A compliance program designed to more aggressively limit employee exposure to asbestos.
  • Respiratory protection to better protect employees exposed to potential airborne contaminants.
  • Protective work clothing and equipment, along with maintenance and disposal procedures to prevent anyone from coming in dangerous contact with them.
  • Better communication of hazards to employees, including warning signs and labels at place of work.
  • A medical surveillance program to monitor employees who are exposed to airborne contaminants.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, OSHA progressively lessen permissible asbestos concentrations in the workplace. These measures assisted to limit the risk of workers developing related diseases. But the outcome of poor control are still risking workers’ lives because it takes time for asbestos-related diseases to develop. This is known as the latency period.

OSHA passed laws in 1997 that further limited the level of asbestos to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter at any job site. Employers are required to provide safe working conditions. They’re also required to provide protective clothing and equipment to employees who work around asbestos.

You can file a report if you suspect an employer isn’t providing safe conditions to protect workers from asbestos exposure. File a complaint with OSHA by calling or visiting a local OSHA office.

How to Reduce the Dangers of Asbestos

Federal, state and local laws are in position that need employers to protect workers from asbestos exposure in the workplace.

Agencies have created laws and regulations making sure that employers are to provide safe working conditions and proper training and safety equipment to prevent asbestos exposure. These agencies include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

For example, the EPA approved the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, better known as AHERA, to regulate asbestos in schools to protect students, teachers and administrators. It is part of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which lists asbestos as a toxic substance.

OSHA created laws and regulations specifically for asbestos in the workplace, including unique requirements for the construction industry.

List of organization to Contact if Workplace Asbestos Exposure Is Suspected

If you are worried about asbestos exposure at your job, you may file anonymous complaints with OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Other agencies provide resources, education and training to protect workers from occupational asbestos exposure.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):

Workers may file an anonymous complaint with OSHA if asbestos exposure is suspected. The administration monitors asbestos in the workplace, issues fines and may shut down operations if asbestos rules are violated.

OSHA Complaint Line: 800-321-6742 (OSHA)

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA):

Miners bothered about asbestos exposure in mining operations may file anonymous complaints with the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The administration has the authority to conduct inspections and issue citations and fines for asbestos violations.

MSHA Complaint Line: 800-746-1553

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

The EPA sets federal asbestos regulations, issues fines and enforces criminal penalties for violating asbestos laws. The EPA’s Asbestos Ombudsman provides information to the public on the handling, abatement and management of asbestos in homes, schools and the workplace.

EPA’s Asbestos Ombudsman Line: 800-368-5888

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):

The institute, also known as NIOSH, helps define asbestos rules and regulations but has no enforcement power. It offers education and training to workers on the dangers of asbestos and proper safety procedures involving abatement.

NIOSH Information Line: 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)

The Reward for Workers Who Develop Occupational Exposure to Asbestos

Workers who develop mesothelioma or any other asbestos-related disease may be entitled for reward.

Types of legal reward/compensation for mesothelioma include:

  • Trust fund claims
  • Lawsuits that result in settlements or verdicts
  • VA claims
  • Workers’ compensation

Compensation is sought from asbestos producers who made asbestos products. These producers are held responsible for the diseases their asbestos products caused. Some of the producers have set up asbestos trust funds, while others handle legal claims through settlements or trials.

Workers who develop an asbestos-related illness should find an expert mesothelioma lawyer to put them through the legal process.

Navy veterans were exposed to so much asbestos while serving that they make up nearly 30% of all mesothelioma lawsuits. Veterans also have the option of filing VA claims to access mesothelioma compensation. The VA offers disability compensation, aid and attendance, health care and other benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q) About Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Question: What occupations are most at risk for asbestos exposure?

Answer: The occupations most at risk for developing malignant mesothelioma disease after asbestos exposure include firefighters, construction workers, industrial and power plant workers and shipyard workers. These workers regularly handle asbestos-containing materials in high volumes.

Question: What should I do if I think I have been exposed to asbestos at work?

Answer: If you suspect you have a history of occupational asbestos exposure, speaking with a top mesothelioma doctor is the first step to diagnosis and treatment. Pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma doctors specialize in advanced treatment options to limit the spread and progression of this rare disease.

Question: Is it dangerous to work in a building with asbestos?

Answer: No amount of asbestos exposure is safe. However, one-time exposures or short-term asbestos exposures do not present a significant risk. Long-term work in a building with asbestos may lead to repeated and cumulative exposures, which can increase the risk of developing mesothelioma years later.

Question: Can I claim compensation against a past employer for asbestos exposure?

Answer: If a past employer neglected to protect you from asbestos exposure, you are likely eligible to file a legal claim for asbestos compensation. Payment from a legal claim or settlement varies by case but is sometimes available within months of filing. A lawyer or mesothelioma law firm that specializes in asbestos litigation can help you file a claim.

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