Is every instance of exposure to asbestos dangerous? That’s a question many people have asked over the years after learning about mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. After all, when it comes to our health, it’s human nature to fear the worst when we learn that we have been exposed to any potentially dangerous substance – or worse, when we exhibit unfamiliar symptoms that might suggest illness. Even young medical students often admit that for a time they fear they are exhibiting the symptoms of many of the unusual diseases they study.
In other words, sometimes fear is justified and sometimes it isn’t. In this article, we’ll discuss the dangers of asbestos and who faces the greatest risk of harm.
How Dangerous Is Asbestos?
According to the American Cancer Society, asbestos, which actually refers to a group of six minerals, has been determined to be carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Thus, there’s no doubt that asbestos can cause great harm to humans and that contact with it should be generally avoided. Asbestos exposure can increase the chances of developing mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural thickening, and pleural plaques.
Not All Exposure to Asbestos Causes Disease
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), almost everyone will have some exposure to asbestos during their lifetimes, and most people with limited exposure will not suffer illness as a result. This is especially true when the exposure occurs to asbestos in its natural state, as opposed to after it has been mined, processed, and incorporated into products. Notwithstanding the fact that many people have been exposed to asbestos without developing illness, some research warns that there is no safe level of exposure.
Who Faces the Greatest Danger of Exposure to Asbestos?
Those who work with or around asbestos in their jobs face the greatest risk. People who have frequent and long-term exposure are more likely to develop disease.
Asbestos becomes particularly dangerous once it is friable. That means it can be easily crushed or crumbled. At that point, the particles of asbestos can become airborne and inhaled. Disturbing the asbestos with activities such as sawing, sanding, grinding, and hitting allows the particles to become airborne. The inhalation of such particles, particularly over a long period of time, can result in disease.
Below are some examples of occupations and industries that have had higher levels of exposure to asbestos. Keep in mind that it can take many years to develop illness related to asbestos exposure. Therefore, even older asbestos-based products that no longer exist could have harmed workers. These older products can also still be present in older buildings.
- Building and construction industry – Many products in the construction industry have contained asbestos through the years, including roofing materials, insulation, drywall, bricks, floor tile, and tape, just to name a few. While many of these products are no longer permitted, there were once thousands of construction products containing asbestos.
- Demolition workers – Obviously, if buildings contain asbestos, tearing them down can cause a release of the fibers and present a danger to workers.
- Custodians and others who make repairs to buildings may cause asbestos to be released.
- Shipbuilding industry, merchant marines, and other sailors
- Automotive industry
- Railroad workers
- Industrial workers, including HVAC workers, pipefitters, and boilermakers
Take Steps to Protect Yourself
If you work around asbestos, make sure to follow all OSHA and employer-mandated safety precautions. And if you are concerned you might have an asbestos-related illness, confer with a medical professional who can assess your condition. Finally, studies suggest that smoking is particularly dangerous to those who have been exposed to asbestos.
Call with Questions
At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we have experienced attorneys who have dealt with many cases involving asbestos and mesothelioma. We will be happy to take your phone call and answer any questions you might have. We believe that those in industries that have taken advantage of workers by exposing them to dangerous work environments must be held accountable under the law. That’s the only way to make sure that future generations will be provided with safe working environments and treated fairly.