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Asbestos and Prevention: Who Is At Risk?

Exposure to asbestos is much more common than believed. Although certain industries and workers are much more likely to have occupational asbestos exposure, not only blue collar trades are at risk of asbestos-induced mesothelioma. Many people in "safe" occupations and individuals who do not believe themselves to be at risk may well be on track to developing mesothelioma in the future. Even if asbestos is someday banned in the United States, the problem will continue. All individuals who have already been exposed and those who will continue to be exposed to the asbestos already present in our environment will remain at risk of mesothelioma. It is important to learn about the dangers of asbestos, who is at risk, and where it is present in order to prevent exposure.

Mechanical, Construction, and Ship Building Industries

Due to its properties of heat resistance and impermeability, asbestos use tended to focus heavily in the mechanical, construction, and ship building industries.

Asbestos and construction: The construction industry has the largest number of trades involved with past or current exposure to asbestos. At-risk construction trades include:

Plumbers
• Electricians
• Roofers
• Pipe fitters
• Sheet metal workers
• Masons
Carpenters
Factory Workers

• Drywallers
• Painters
• Tile setters
• Plasterers
• Insulators
• Laborers
Miners 
• Boilermakers

Asbestos and shipbuilding: The shipbuilding industry and the Navy, which used the ships, are where most military personnel were exposed. Shipbuilding trades at risk for asbestos exposure include:

• Steamfitters
• Ironworkers
• Welders
• Boilermakers
• Ship fitters

• Machinists
• Electricians
• Mill Wrights
• Operating Engineers

Secondary Exposure: No Level of Asbestos Exposure is Safe

While it may effectively help to illustrate the scale of the problem, the above is hardly an exhaustive list.

Hardest to accept is the fact that no level of exposure is deemed safe when dealing with asbestos. Consequently, a significant cadre of patients has appeared in the category of secondary, or stealth, asbestos exposure. For example, family members of asbestos workers are exposed through contact with contaminated clothing or tools brought home from work.

The general laborer category fails to adequately identify those casual, summer, or part-time workers who assisted the principal trades. They would be cleaning up work sites, removing debris, or doing light, unskilled labor in a contaminate environment. This often took place without adequate or even any protective equipment.

Asbestos in Office Spaces, Schools, Businesses, and Homes

A substantial number of white collar workers who work in contaminated office spaces, schools, or businesses have also developed mesothelioma. This group includes teachers and other office workers no associated with industrial or work-related asbestos exposure.

The stealth element comes from the lack of understanding of where and why asbestos was used in construction. Many of the buildings containing asbestos remain standing today. Since 2000, many cases of stealth exposure have been in the news. As an example, school workers in Texas were exposed while re-glazing school windows where asbestos laced putty had been used. In this case, not only the workers, but also students and teachers using those classrooms were exposed to asbestos dust and debris without any protection whatsoever.

New sources of asbestos exposure are being identified constantly, such as environmental exposure. In certain areas of the world, asbestos occurs naturally and can be found on the surface where it is easily disturbed. Examples of problems are the growing expansion of the population and new housing development that has followed. Sometimes this has encroached upon heavily asbestos-contaminated soils, potentially exposing the future residents to long term, low level amounts of asbestos.

The tainted vermiculite problem is another issue where millions of homes have been insulated with vermiculite filler that will release asbestos when disturbed. Home renovations, new wiring, or furnace repairs may all cause unwitting workers to release clouds of asbestos dust that will expose both themselves and the building occupants. Learn more about the danger of asbestos in the home.

Asbestos Exposure in Veterans

Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. Armed Forces took advantage of the fire-proofing capabilities of asbestos by using it in many materials. Because of this, many current Armed Forces veterans were exposed to high levels of harmful asbestos fibers and are now dealing with lung conditions such as mesothelioma.

Before the extreme dangers of asbestos were well known and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos could be found all over materials, equipment and buildings used by the Armed Forces including:

• Aircraft brakes, gaskets, engine shields and cargo bays
• Trucks
• Tanks
• Military barracks
• Mess halls
• Administrative buildings
• And more

Asbestos Exposure Among Armed Forces Veterans

Since asbestos substances were often used in common construction materials like cement, vinyl, floor tiles, insulation, roof shingles, drywall and more, current Armed Forces veterans were once exposed to levels of asbestos almost on a constant basis.

Due to the long latency period of the disease, these veterans are just now beginning to experience mesothelioma symptoms or symptoms of other lung diseases resulting from the asbestos exposure while they served in the military. Although the use of asbestos in such common products is now regulated, the effects can’t be reversed for veterans already exposed. Learn more about asbestos exposure in the Navy, Army, and Coast Guard.

Asbestos Exposure from 9/11

When the twin towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, a giant cloud of dust and debris formed over lower Manhattan. The layers of dust and rubble that remained were filled with toxic fumes and particles that, after mixing with the air, were inhaled by survivors and first responders in the area.

For days after, firemen, medical personnel, policemen and volunteers sifted through the rubble at Ground Zero searching for survivors or bodies. Unbeknownst to them, they were inhaling harmful particles that lodge into the lining of the chest and lungs and, years down the road, can cause mesothelioma or other lung diseases.

It’s estimated that 400 tons of asbestos were used to construct the World Trade Centers. More than ten years later, health concerns among 9/11 first responders and other people who were there that day are rising, especially when it comes to conditions of the lungs.

Asbestos Exposure and the 9/11 Health Care Law

In June 2012, a ruling by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health included mesothelioma into a health and compensation fund for those involved in 9/11. Mesothelioma is one of 50 different cancers covered in the fund.

Some of the other cancers include lung cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, melanoma, ovarian cancer, and more. The ruling allows all first responders, volunteers, firemen, policemen, medical personnel and local residents of lower Manhattan to qualify for free medical treatment if they developed one of the 50 cancers after September 11, 2001.

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