Long-term asbestos exposure is the leading cause of the deadly cancer mesothelioma. And, while asbestos exposure is most often work related, it can also occur in the home or in the natural terrain of certain areas.
Work-Related Risk Factors
In the U.S., workers in certain industries and jobs were more likely to experience higher levels of asbestos. For people working in manufacturing, construction, trades, and industry, the possibility of exposure to asbestos-containing products was a part of life. As the result of inhaling asbestos fibers, workers in this group of industries are more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma. However, that doesn’t make other risk factors less significant; there’s no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Here are some of the occupations in which workers have been—and in some cases still are—exposed to asbestos:
- Demolition workers
- Auto mechanics
- Floor covering manufacturers / installers
- Maintenance workers
Military Risk Factors
There is an established history of asbestos exposure in military service, and elevated risk of mesothelioma in the military population. In fact, 33% of mesothelioma cases involve Navy or shipyard exposures.
To protect naval workers, the federal government ordered the elimination of most uses of asbestos on ships in 1978. However, because asbestos was used in so many areas of ships built before the 1970s, current workers in U.S. Navy shipyards may still be at risk for asbestos exposure. Both the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strictly regulate the use of asbestos-containing materials in the workplace.
Risk Factors in the Home
If your house was built before the 1970s, it’s likely that asbestos was used in its construction. Asbestos-containing products—known for affordability, strength, and fire resistance—were used in houses from top to bottom in floor tiles, clothing dryers, insulation, roofing shingles, and more. Even houses built in more recent decades may have asbestos-containing products in some areas.
Second-hand exposure is another way in which people come in contact with asbestos in the home. There are several cases in which wives who laundered their husbands’ asbestos-tainted work wear have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Geographical Risk Factors
Exposure to low levels of naturally-occurring asbestos happens in some areas when asbestos-containing rocks are eroded and release fibers into the air. The greater the asbestos content of the rocks, the greater the risk of exposure. Some water supplies also become tainted with asbestos through erosion, corrosion of asbestos cement pipes and even through the transport of disintegrated roofing materials through sewer systems.
There are also “manmade” geographical risk factors. When ores and rocks containing tremolite asbestos (such as vermiculite and talc) are mined, milled, or used in manufacturing, nearby residents may be exposed to higher levels of airborne asbestos.
Mesothelioma and Smoking
Smoking does not cause mesothelioma. However, smokers who are exposed to high levels of asbestos are at a higher risk for developing this incurable disease.