Secondary Exposure

While scientific evidence suggests intense, prolonged direct asbestos exposure poses the greatest risk of disease, mounting evidence indicates secondary exposure can also have lethal consequences. Unfortunately, this means many additional individuals suffered asbestos exposure, including the families of those who underwent direct exposure. Though less intense, this exposure can present all the same negative consequences that direct asbestos exposure causes.

What enables individuals to suffer secondhand exposure is the material’s friable nature and tendency to attach to hair and clothing. It is that presence on clothing that put so many women at risk. Because women were generally responsible for cleaning these asbestos-coated clothes, they generally took the brunt of this source of asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, these fibers remain invisible to the human eye, which made it nearly impossible for these women to recognize the danger they were in.

Asbestos in Jobsites

Past jobsites frequently provided no facilities for employees to clean themselves or change, meaning they had no choice but to bring home these dangerous toxins to their families. In many blue collar employment areas, both the mother and daughters of these men have developed mesothelioma or another related disease after undergoing this exposure. Sadly, this disease appearance can come as an even greater shock for women who had no idea their daily activities exposed them to dangerous materials. Like other patients, women typically see a latency period of 20 to 50 years before asbestosis or mesothelioma development.

Other Secondary Asbestos Exposure

However, it was not only through the washing of clothes that women underwent secondary asbestos exposure. Another way individuals might develop asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, is through living in close proximity to a mine or company that manufactures or produces asbestos or products containing asbestos. One such town infamous for its impact on residents is Libby, Montana, which held one of the world’s leading vermiculite mines.

Unfortunately, this material was also tainted with lethal asbestos fibers. W.R. Grace, the company that owned the mine, allowed this exposure to continue even after evidence of its mine’s danger began to appear. Today, the EPA has adopted this town’s cause and made its cleanup a central mission in the region. Hundreds have already succumbed to diseases related to this secondary asbestos exposure, regardless of sex.  However, this town represents another instance where countless women underwent dangerous secondary asbestos exposure as a result of the material’s dangerous indirect presence in their lives.


  • EPA
  • Schneider, Andrew. (November 29, 2010) “‘In Libby, There Was No Maybe’ About Dangers.” Retrieved on April 12, 2011 from AOL News.
  • Williams, Sally. (May 18, 2004) “The Long Goodbye.” Retrieved on April 12, 2011 from The Guardian.