Since the 1800s doctors have seen a link between exposure to asbestos in the workplace and lung disease. It wasn’t until the 1970’s and the Industrial Revolution that the EPA issued warnings about exposure to asbestos in the workplace, but at this time of growth and prosperity, many employers and employees ignored those warnings and continued to handle asbestos-laden materials without the proper protection. It was not until the Environmental Protection Agency started placing bans on the use of asbestos materials that the true threat of asbestos was heard.
Exposure to airborne asbestos can cause a form of cancer known as mesothelioma. This cancer can affect the lining of several internal organs and is only treatable in certain cases. Those employees exposed throughout the last two decades to asbestos in the workplace are often stricken with asbestos-related diseases. As asbestos was used so regularly prior to the 1970s, it can still be found in many materials from building materials on older homes like shingles, insulation and flooring, on automotive parts such as brakes, and as insulation in many operations that required a high heat-shielding material. Due to the widespread use of asbestos and the isolated continued usage of this hazardous material, asbestos still poses threats to many in the workplace.
There are many careers that carry a risk of asbestos exposure, and although not all employees in these fields experience asbestos-related disease, there are several occupations that carry a higher risk factor than others. Mine workers who have excavated vermiculite and talc have often been exposed to airborne asbestos and, of course, those employees of plants that produce asbestos products are at a constant risk of exposure. Steel mills, oil refineries and power plants that required insulation products with high heat and fire resistance used many asbestos products as thermal insulators. Railroads and shipyards used asbestos materials for many purposes, and repairs to such materials were usually done by hand and with no protection from the airborne particles that cause mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. Most construction workers were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis as most building materials from drywall and stucco to shingles and flooring contained amounts of asbestos that could be harmful. These risks extend to demolition crews hired to tear down older buildings. Automotive repairmen also run the risk of exposure, as many brake pads and drums were constructed of asbestos material.
Today one job that still encounters the high risk of asbestos exposure every day is the life of a firefighter. Homes and businesses built before the ban of asbestos materials burn like any other, and firefighters come to the rescue with each flame. Each time a firefighter responds to a fire at an older building, they are running the risk of being exposed to asbestos fibers in the building materials. In order to conduct fire control techniques, firemen must chop through walls, ceilings and floors: and with each swing of the ax in an older building; more asbestos could possibly be escaping into the air. Most firemen wear protective masks when inside of a building, but there really is no stopping these materials from escaping into the outside air when a building collapses. The irony of the firefighter’s career is that most of the protective gear they wear is made from asbestos material because of its heat and fire-resistant properties. Firemen are trained on the dangers of asbestos exposure, and most wear facial masks with HEPA filters to reduce their risk of exposure.
Although bans have been placed to restrict the use of asbestos, and regulations must be posted in workplaces where exposure to asbestos is still a possibility, the threat of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma still exist for many of today’s laborers. Before making your next career choice or planning your next big job change, make the proper inquiries about your risk of exposure to asbestos in the workplace.