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Asbestos Exposure and the Body: What Happens

We know that when asbestos fibers are released into the air and are inhaled, they can lead to serious diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis. But what happens in between that inhalation and the diagnosis of a disease? How do those fibers cause mesothelioma?


Learn more about asbestos.

When a person inhales asbestos fibers, they are deposited in the upper and lower respiratory tracts, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Click to Tweet] Because the fibers are so durable, they can hold up for long periods of time in lung tissue and other parts of the body.

Ironically, inhaling larger asbestos particles imposes less of a risk of depositing in the lungs. This is because larger particles often settle on the nasal mucosa or the oropharynx, where they are then sneezed out or swallowed, and therefore never touch the lungs. Smaller particles, however, are often deposited on the surface of the larger airways or even further down in the lung.

The CDC states that the size of asbestos fibers determines “how far into the lungs it is likely to be deposited and how quickly it is cleared.” [Click to Tweet] Even though larger fibers are more likely to be cleared, it’s important to note that all levels of asbestos exposure are dangerous, regardless of the size of the fibers.

Once inside the lungs, while the body tries to get rid of the foreign substance, it’s not always successful. Asbestos fibers can easily make their way to the lungs and remain there for years. [Click to Tweet] Sometimes fibers can migrate towards the pleural and peritoneal cavities, where they can become lodged. This can lead to pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma.

The half-lives of asbestos fibers can vary, but some are retained in the lungs for decades. Asbestos in the lungs can lead to inflammation as well as cell and tissue damage, which can lead to non-malignant and malignant diseases like mesothelioma. This correlates with the latency period of mesothelioma, as some people are exposed to asbestos 20, 30 or even 40 years before they are diagnosed with the disease.

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. [Click to Tweet] Protect yourself and your family. Learn more about asbestos exposure and mesothelioma today.

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New Estimate Shows Asbestos Kills More Americans Than Previous Estimates Showed

We know that mesothelioma is diagnosed in 3,000 Americans every year. We also know that there are many other diseases caused by asbestos – including asbestosis, lung cancer and others. In the past, the EWG Action Fund estimated that about 10,000 Americans died from asbestos exposure every year. A new analysis, however, found that the actual number is up to 15,000 Americans per year.

asbestosexposureAnother important takeaway from the analysis was that even after 50 years of known medical research linking asbestos to toxic diseases, the American government still can’t completely predict the number of people who die from exposure.

The analysis was taken by EWG Action Fund’s researchers who analyzed Centers for Disease Control death records between the years 1999 to 2013. The researchers identified all deaths that were attributed solely or in part to mesothelioma or asbestosis – two diseases caused by asbestos exposure. The researchers also estimated how many Americans die from asbestos-triggered lung cancer using a special formula developed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Final results showed that asbestos exposure was responsible for the deaths of 12,000 to 15,000 Americans every year for a fourteen-year period. That’s anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 more deaths than previous estimates.

“Clearly, asbestos kills more Americans each year than we thought,” said Sonya Lunder, a senior research analyst with EWG and EWG Action Fund, on the EWG Action Fund website. “The fact that it is still legal and used in the United States is an outrage.”

Even though asbestos use is banned in 55 countries, it is not banned in the U.S. About 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Certain occupations are at higher risk for exposure, especially firefighters, construction workers, auto mechanics and teachers. This is because asbestos was often used in products and materials they come in contact with, including insulation, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, decorative paints, brake pads and more. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

What can be done to lower the number of Americans who die from asbestos exposure every year? Some would argue the best option is to fully ban the toxic mineral.

“The only way to see the numbers of asbestos-related fatalities significantly decline among Americans is for our elected leaders to adopt an outright ban on the deadly substance,” said Lunder.

Learn more about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, or contact us if you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure.

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Asbestos Occupation Spotlight: Construction Workers

The construction industry is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. In 2013, one in five worker deaths were in construction on the job site, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).


While many of the hazards associated with construction are self-evident, the risk of being exposed to asbestos is not always as obvious for workers, but can be just as deadly.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was used in building materials and found at construction job sites from the 1920s and into the 1980s. As early as the 1930s, its use was linked to serious lung diseases like mesothelioma, an aggressive lung cancer that is often fatal.

Construction workers who built structures decades ago when asbestos use was at its height have an increased risk of being diagnosed with mesothelioma. During those years, few precautions were taken to protect workers from asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, so workers who were exposed to asbestos 20, 30, or even 40 years ago are only just now beginning to experience mesothelioma symptoms.

Specific types of construction workers and other workers who have an increased risk of experiencing occupational exposure to asbestos include:

  • Renovators of old buildings
  • Demolitionists
  • Installers of flooring or roofs
  • Drywaller hangers and plasterers
  • Plumbers and pipefitters
  • Insulators
  • Electricians
  • Boilermakers
  • Carpenters
  • Welders
  • Brick layers

Many of these construction workers shared common areas at job sites. Asbestos dust could spread easily from worker to worker, so even workers who did not directly handle asbestos could have been exposed. Construction workers could have also brought asbestos dust home on their clothes, in their hair or on their tools, placing their families at risk of secondary asbestos exposure.

While asbestos use is still legal in the United States, OSHA has established regulations dealing with asbestos exposure on the job that employers are required to follow to increase worker safety.

Even with these regulations in place, construction workers who were exposed decades ago are still at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.

Want to find out more about why construction workers were exposed to asbestos in the workplace? Click here to read about the asbestos corporate cover up. 


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Asbestos Occupation Spotlight: U.S. Navy Veterans

More than 30 percent of Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma were navy_ship-200x300first exposed to asbestos during their time in the military. While veterans from all branches of the military were exposed to asbestos, Navy veterans account for an unusually high number of mesothelioma victims.

Nearly every ship and shipyard built by the U.S. Navy was constructed with asbestos materials. Asbestos was so common on navy ships and submarines because of its strength and heat-resistance properties – properties ideal for engine and boiler rooms that generate excessive amounts of heat.

More than 300 asbestos products and materials were used in the United States military. Asbestos covered the pipes, pumps, and motors that helped run the ship. Listed below are just a few of the asbestos products used on seagoing vessels:

  • Boiler insulation
  • Deck coverings
  • Cables
  • Grinders
  • Valves
  • Gaskets
  • Tubes
  • Pumps
  • Distillers
  • Cement
  • Fireproof doors and hatches
  • Adhesives
  • Packing material

Navy veterans who frequently came into contact with these materials during ship construction or routine maintenance may have been exposed to asbestos. Navy veterans working in these areas were at an especially high risk if asbestos fibers were disturbed and made airborne.

The Navy stopped building ships with asbestos in the early 1970s, but the vessels that already had asbestos still remained in use for many years after.

Given mesothelioma’s latency period of about 20 to 50 years, many Navy veterans are still being diagnosed with the horrible disease today. It is important for veterans to understand the risks asbestos exposure posed during their service, so they can be prepared to take action now.

Simmons Hanly Conroy has been working with Navy veterans affected by mesothelioma for over a decade. We are familiar with the laws specific to military veterans, and we use our experience to fight for your rights. If you are a Navy veteran battling mesothelioma, please contact us today for a free case consultation.

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How to Keep a Lookout for Asbestos During Spring Cleaning This Year

As a homeowner, you may be getting ready to start your spring cleaning for the year. This may include general home maintenance, like washing windows, cleaning out your garage, or getting your carpets professionally cleaned. For some people, however, spring cleaning may include more thorough projects like home renovations or repairs.

asbestos exposureIf your home was built prior to the 1990s, it’s important to know where you might come into contact with asbestos as you spring clean. Here are a couple of examples to keep in mind:

  • Cleaning out the attic
    Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation, and that insulation can often be found in attics. Asbestos insulation was often used in attic floors and walls and was usually sold under the brand name Zonolite. In older attics today, you may still come across asbestos insulation, and disturbing it by shifting boxes or attempting to remove it yourself can put you at risk for mesothelioma.
  • Outdoor home renovations
    Asbestos siding was once very popular because of its fire-resistant capability. If your home has older siding and you’re going to be tearing it down this spring, be aware that it might contain asbestos and therefore require removal from a certified asbestos professional. Even if you’re not positive whether the siding contains asbestos, do not take it down on your own.
  • Indoor cosmetic changes
    Spring is the perfect time of year to freshen up the inside of your home, as well. For older homes, interior renovations could result in toxic exposures. For example, many older homes may contain textured ceilings (also known as popcorn or cottage cheese ceilings) that have asbestos. Asbestos may be present in textured paint and patching compounds used on walls and ceilings. Its use in these products was banned in 1977, but it may still exist in homes built prior to this date.
  • Home maintenance
    You may be needing to replace some of the bigger necessities in your home, like water heaters or the furnace. Remember that hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material. Additionally, oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.

As you spring clean your home, take into consideration the age of your home and the different areas you are cleaning, renovating or maintaining. Could it contain asbestos? If the answer is yes or maybe, do not hesitate to seek help from an experienced asbestos removal professional. All asbestos products need to be properly disposed of to prevent exposure and the distribution of fibers throughout other areas of your home.

For more information, visit the asbestos exposure section of our website.

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