Low levels of asbestos are present in the air, water and soil. The effects of asbestos exposure become most dangerous, however, when individuals have regular or prolonged exposure to the toxic fibers. This most often occurs at the workplace.
In the past, certain occupations including U.S. Navy members, boilermakers, railroad workers and oil refinery workers were exposed to high levels of asbestos by working with asbestos products on a regular basis. Even though asbestos is not fully banned in the United States today, regulations have decreased the exposures among certain occupations. There are a number of workforces, however, that remain at risk.
Many times firefighters may enter a building that was constructed with asbestos and is on fire, full of debris, or crumbling to the ground. High temperatures can cause asbestos fibers to deteriorate even further, resulting in the decomposition of the fibers and their subsequent release into the air. If firefighters inhale these airborne fibers, they may be at risk for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Today there are more than 1.3 million construction and building and equipment maintenance workers in the United States. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, approximately two-thirds of asbestos still produced in the U.S. is used in the construction industry. Current construction workers may still be at risk for dangerous asbestos exposure, making proper protective gear even more important.
Though their occupational risk is often downplayed, mechanics are in considerable danger of asbestos exposure as they perform hands-on work grinding and refitting distressed and worn automobile parts. In spite of studies1 that demonstrate the hazards of asbestos for automobile mechanics, a number of automobile parts manufacturers continue to defend asbestos as safe if properly controlled. Worse, these manufacturers continue to put mechanics at risk by releasing this toxic material on the open market in products such as brake pads, brake linings, clutch facings and gaskets.
Asbestos was used in the construction of school buildings for decades. According to the United Federation of Teachers, approximately 3.5 million tons of asbestos products were installed in schools and other public buildings in New York City alone prior to 1970. Today, many school buildings built during this time are deteriorating and undergoing renovations. While proper asbestos removal measures should be taken, teachers are at risk of exposure to the airborne fibers in schools.
Mesothelioma has a long latency period of anywhere from 20 to 30 years, meaning the disease may take years to develop. Stay informed and learn more about who is at risk for asbestos exposure now.
1 Source: Lemen RA. Asbestos in brakes: exposure and risk of disease. Am J Ind Med 2004;45:229–237. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajim.10334/abstract