Indirect Asbestos Exposure
Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma were exposed directly to asbestos in some way. Cases are diagnosed due to contact with the deadly substance through the workplace, also referred to as occupationally. Workers in asbestos mines, Navy crew members and shipbuilders, and those in the construction industry were all very likely to have direct exposure to the material. In addition, tradesmen in milling, plumbing, electrical work, and those in steel mills were also at a high risk.
Other individuals, however, can be at risk even if they do not work in the aforementioned occupations, through indirect asbestos exposure. There are several ways one may be indirectly exposed to asbestos fibers. When asbestos is handled or otherwise disturbed, it easily breaks apart and releases tiny needle-like particles into the atmosphere. When inhaled, these tiny fibers imbed themselves in the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen, acting as a human carcinogen. This carcinogenic effect eventually develops into malignant tumors.
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Workers in close proximity to those who are using asbestos are at risk of what is called indirect occupational exposure. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry has explained that asbestos exposure takes place frequently in this manner to those who are not directly handling the asbestos, but are in attendance at the worksite. Many of the workers where this type of exposure happens are drywallers, carpenters, boilermakers, bricklayers, electricians, furnace workers, auto mechanics, demolition workers, glazers, painters, plasterers, roofers, furnace workers, asbestos product manufacturing plant workers and, of course, asbestos removal workers.
Asbestos dust clung to the hair and clothing of workers, historically men, who handled the substance at the worksite, and then brought it into the home. Although companies were aware of the health risks associated with the substance for some time, employers typically did not provide facilities for them to launder their clothing before returning home. Therefore, the fibers were carried home with them and imbedded themselves into carpets, bedding, upholstery, drapes, generally wherever it landed. Normally, women or family members laundered their husband’s clothes, putting them at great risk from handling clothing containing asbestos fibers and dust.
Bringing these particles into the home put all family members at risk of developing asbestos related diseases such as asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma. According to recent studies, domestic exposure is responsible for at least fifteen percent of all mesothelioma cancers, and another study places this number even higher, at twenty-six percent.
Environmental Asbestos Exposure
Residents living near facilities that manufacture or mill asbestos, or in towns such as Libby, Montana, that made vermiculite, are at risk from atmospheric contamination. Mesothelioma and other lung diseases have been found in children who played in the slag piles near the mill. The vermiculite from the Montana mines was distributed to twenty-eight sites worldwide.
Passive Asbestos Exposure
Because of the widespread use of asbestos material at its peak in the middle of the twentieth century, many buildings such as residential and commercial buildings, as well as other public facilities, may house the substance. For example, one estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency states that as many as 107,000 public schools in America contain asbestos material.