Who is at Risk for Asbestos Exposure?
While individuals who work with asbestos-containing materials have the highest risk, their families and communities are also at risk
Although asbestos use has scaled back dramatically in the US since the 1970s, when a general ban on asbestos was adopted by the legislature, many possible sources of asbestos contamination remain. When people experience high asbestos exposure—either through a single concentrated dose or smaller repeated exposures over months or years—serious, life-threatening illnesses can result. Lung cancer and mesothelioma are perhaps the most dangerous consequences of inhaling asbestos dust and asbestos fibers. Anyone who comes in contact with a damaged asbestos-containing material could potentially be at risk, including the following groups.
Many industries continue to utilize asbestos in some form. For example, asbestos is a common ingredient in brake shoes, boiler & pipe insulation, and electrical fittings. Though most of these materials contain only a small amount of asbestos, over time they can still potentially do damage. The following types of workers are typically at the highest risk for asbestos exposure:
- Boiler and furnace technicians
- Car mechanics
- Construction workers
- Navy shipyard workers
- Pipe fitters
- Railway workers
- Workers in factories producing asbestos-containing materials
These types of employees must be given proper safety equipment and asbestos awareness training at work in order to help mitigate the risks they face.
The families of asbestos workers are also at higher risk for asbestos exposure and asbestos-related diseases. There have been many cases of spouses of asbestos workers successfully suing their partner’s employer to recover damages for cancer or other illness developed as a result of handling their partner’s asbestos-contaminated work clothing. Today most employers take better precautions such as using disposable coveralls and decontaminating workers before they leave asbestos-contaminated areas in order to reduce this risk. Consultants like H2 Environmental can assist with this process, helping companies to set up proper protocols to help prevent the spread of asbestos contamination from one part of the work site to another or from the work site to the community.
Entire communities may also be at risk of asbestos exposure in certain situations. For example, the mining town of Libby Montana suffered community-wide exposure due to asbestos mining activities conducted nearby from 1923 to 1991. Communities can also become exposed when building demolitions are not handled properly, or when natural disasters or terrorist attacks destroy buildings without warning. For example, the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 released huge clouds of asbestos-laden dust that sickened many first-responders.