Although statistics show a growing number of people who have never worked directly with asbestos are suffering with an asbestos-related disease, most documented cases are caused by occupational exposure to the toxic mineral. This is due to the likeliness of repeated exposure, which occurs through standard operations in a variety of industries and job sites.
A History of Exposure
Multiple job sites such as asbestos mines, processing plants and manufacturing plants where asbestos products were made are synonymous with high occupational exposure. However, there are many other job sites, such as shipyards, auto-manufacturing plants, metalwork, oil refineries, power plants and chemical plants that also share a long history of asbestos exposure among workers.
Employees working at any of these job sites throughout the 1900s were probably exposed to several asbestos-containing products and are at risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestosis, or other lung diseases related to asbestos exposure. Workers at these high-risk job sites also brought home asbestos fibers that clung to their hair, skin and clothes, unintentionally exposing their friends and family to asbestos. This is called secondary exposure.
Certain occupations carry a higher risk of asbestos exposure. Because asbestos was used in several types of commercial and domestic products, several people working in these occupations were more likely exposed to the mineral. For example, because asbestos was integrated in both plumbing and electrical materials, often as insulation, both plumbers and electricians have an increased risk of exposure to asbestos.
Firefighters are also at a heightened risk of exposure. When responding to house fires, especially in older houses, damaged asbestos-containing products, such as insulation, could become airborne and inhaled. The first responders at the World Trade Center Attacks, for example, were exposed to a great deal of asbestos dust that covered Ground Zero. There are several other occupations with a higher risk of asbestos exposure, including construction workers, railroad workers, auto-mechanics, shipbuilders, and factory workers.
Moreover, asbestos products were commonly used by every branch of the U.S. military, mostly as insulation for buildings, vehicles, and vessels. However, the Navy used asbestos the most, finding hundreds of uses for asbestos in vessels and shipyards from the 1930s through the 1970s. Throughout the 1900’s, thousands of shipyard workers and Navy veterans stationed on contaminated vessels were heavily exposed to asbestos, usually in small places with little to no ventilation.