Indirect Asbestos Exposure

Most people diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma have been in some way exposed directly to asbestos. They may have been involved in either the mining or transportation of the dangerous mineral or in the production of the main products that contain asbestos. They may also have been exposed through its many uses in such industries as shipbuildingconstruction, or engineering.

However, it is also possible to develop malignant mesothelioma through indirect contact with asbestos workers or from being in contact with friends or family members who have been exposed and carried the material with them on their hair and clothing. In fact, there are several ways that people can be indirectly exposed to asbestos.

Bystander Exposure

Bystander exposure is also referred to as indirect occupational exposure. This type of exposure can happen when working close to those who have been using asbestos, like insulators or those whose job it was to mix asbestos. Below are some of the bystander exposure sites where the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry explains asbestos exposure frequently takes place:

  • Asbestos removal workers
  • Workers at exfoliation facilities where vermiculite ore from Libby, Montana, was processed
  • Demolition workers
  • Workers at asbestos product manufacturing plants
  • Auto mechanics
  • Boilermakers
  • Bricklayers
  • Building inspectors
  • Carpenters
  • Drywallers
  • Electricians
  • Floor covering manufacturers or installers
  • Furnace workers
  • Glazers
  • Grinders
  • Hod carriers
  • Insulators
  • Iron workers
  • Laborers
  • Longshoremen
  • Maintenance workers
  • Merchant marines
  • Millwrights
  • Operating engineers
  • Painters
  • Plasterers
  • Plumbers
  • Roofers

The Center for Disease Control recommends individuals who have worked in such occupations and environments consult a medical professional experienced in the handling of asbestos-related diseases to ensure they receive the evaluation and management information they need.

Domestic Exposure

Asbestos dust commonly settled on the clothing of men who worked with the toxic substance. Because these companies generally did not provide an on-site location for these men to launder their clothing, this dust was carried home, embedding in upholstery, drapes, and carpet. Historically, women who did the laundry for their husband were at the greatest risk as they handled these clothes that were thick with asbestos dust. As a result, family members were also put at risk for developing malignant mesothelioma. In fact, according to one study this domestic exposure accounts for nearly 15 percent of all mesothelioma cases, while others have shown this number to be as high as 26 percent.

Environmental Exposure

This type of exposure occurs in the areas around facilities that mill or manufacture asbestos. An example of this is the town of Libby, Montana, which at one time mined vermiculite. It was discovered later that the vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos. Children who used to play in the slag heaps around this town have since developed mesothelioma and other diseases related to asbestos. There are 28 sites around the world that used most of the vermiculite from those mines in Montana.

Passive Asbestos Exposure

Although asbestos use was mined and used commercially since the late 1800s, its use peaked during the middle of the 20th century, as construction and the U.S. economy flourished. It was used in the building of innumerable commercial, residential, and public buildings. The EPA estimates that asbestos materials sit in approximately 733,000 public and commercial buildings. Furthermore, the organization estimates that most of the approximately 107,000 primary and secondary schools in the United States housed asbestos-containing materials. As a result, millions have undergone passive exposure to asbestos.

The risk of developing mesothelioma and other related conditions from passive rather than direct exposure is far lower, with the possible exception of housewives and homemakers. However, one CDC study found that in 1999, only about two to three percent of deaths from malignant mesothelioma were attributed to professions involving high asbestos exposure rates, like carpenters, electricians and plumbers.

Consumer Products

Many consumer products in the past were made using asbestos, with quantities that varied from as little as one percent to 100. In fact, the EPA explains it is actually still legal to manufacture, process and import most asbestos products, despite the complete ban the European Union, Japan and other developed nations have over the material. The EPA reports that estimates place the number of different commercial products that contained asbestos at 3,000. Some of the types of products guilty of exposing individuals to asbestos in the past include:

  • Electric blankets
  • Curling irons and hair dryers
  • Heat guns
  • Deep fryers
  • Toasters
  • Slow cookers
  • Insulation for wrapping pipes
  • Patching material for dry wall
  • Heat proof protection for walls and floors

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