Rhode Island Asbestos Exposure

Rhode Island industries and their employees are just as high a risk for asbestos exposure as those in any other state. Even though there is no local asbestos manufacturing industry or other obvious hazard, the largely service-driven economy’s traditional cost-saving practices led to the cheap material being used in a variety of common applications until 1980.

The father of the US asbestos industry, Henry Johns, was eventually killed by his own product, succumbing to asbestosis around 1900, but the dangers of asbestos exposure were not truly well understood until 1930. Even so, it took about 50 more years of use before any legislation was enacted to prohibit the use of this extremely hazardous material or protect state workers and residents.

During those five decades, asbestos containing materials (ACMs) were installed virtually everywhere, and Rhode Island’s residential areas were no exception. As an easily-formed industrial material that could be shaped, sprayed, glued or painted, heat-resistant asbestos was used in tiling, insulation, wallboard, building adhesives, piping, bricks and ventilation components. This last application, in the HVAC systems that controlled office and home climates, was of great note, because the majority of malignant asbestos exposure is due to airborne particle inhalation.

A widely recognized source of asbestos exposure in Rhode Island is the power industry. These workers are historically at the greatest risk for asbestos disease, as the material was used to reduce the risk of electrical fire, as well as create important electrically insulated partitions inside equipment or between panels. Naval shipyard workers received regular exposure in their wartime jobs building vessels before 1980, where asbestos pipe insulation and cargo ship components were common.

Even though ACMs were not made as loose-fiber containing substances, they do wear down over time, releasing asbestos into the air. According to the Center for Health Statistics, mesothelioma deaths account for 3% of all work-related fatalities, meaning that the corporate owners of the older buildings and equipment that still contain asbestos need to be responsible for completely removing these hazards from their workplaces.

Because asbestos exposure effects are directly related to the concentration of asbestos one was exposed to, workers from industries where asbestos was applied in loose forms are at higher risk. Even though these sources of exposure have been eliminated in modern times, the fact that asbestos related health problems can hide symptoms for decades means that cases still occur with some regularity.