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Asbestos was used for decades in construction and shipbuilding. If you or someone close to you has worked as a drywaller, pipefitter, or in the Navy, you may have been exposed to harmful asbestos fibers. Learn more >

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Workers at Risk from Asbestos

What do fifth graders in Liberty City, Missouri, a man who worked at Buckingham Palace, and office workers in an Australian immigration office have in common?

All of them face a heightened risk of developing one of the deadliest forms of cancer, mesothelioma, because of exposure to asbestos.

Contrary to what most people believe, the risk of exposure to asbestos still exists – and with it the risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, colon cancer, pleural plaques and other asbestos-related diseases. These new exposures add to the millions of people all over the world who have been exposed to asbestos over the past decades.

Asbestos is a mineral that separates into long fibers which can be woven into cloth or paper, pressed into boards, or mixed with other substances in sprays and paints. Known for its fire-retardant and insulating properties for centuries, asbestos was widely used in ship-building, manufacturing, transportation, construction and consumer products despite evidence that inhaling or swallowing dust and fibers from the asbestos caused a range of deadly diseases.

These diseases include mesothelioma, a malignant type of cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs, heart, and abdomen. While the majority of people with mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos daily in the course of their work for years, there are cases of mesothelioma and asbestosis that resulted from a very limited exposure. Researchers have concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.

It’s generally known that particular groups of people are likely to have been exposed to asbestos. They include:

  • Shipbuilders who worked with asbestos regularly as insulation for boilers
  • Construction workers who were exposed to asbestos tiles, flooring, paneling, pipe insulation and house insulation
  • Railroad workers who worked around boilers and furnaces
  • Maintenance engineers and janitors who may have been exposed to asbestos linings, insulation or other building materials in the course of their work
  • Auto mechanics and auto workers who were exposed to asbestos in brake linings
  • Miners who mined vermiculite and asbestos
  • Factory workers who worked in plants where products were made using asbestos
  • Demolition workers who may be exposed during the demolition of a building that was built using materials made with asbestos
  • Drywall removers who are exposed when removing sheets of asbestos drywall, or insulation containing asbestos
  • Firefighters who may be exposed in the course of fighting fires in buildings with asbestos
  • Family members of people who worked with asbestos
  • People living in communities close to factories, mines, mills or industries that manufactured products with asbestos

The risk of exposure to asbestos has been noted in the following types of workplaces:

  • Asbestos mining, milling and product manufacturing (building, insulation, roofing)
  • Automotive repair (brakes and clutches)
  • Chemical plants
  • Construction sites
  • Foundries
  • Navy ships
  • Paper mills
  • Power plants
  • Refineries
  • Shipyards and ships
  • Steel mills

This is only a partial list. Asbestos was used in as many as 3,000 products between the 1930s and the 1980s, and is still used today. Anyone who worked in a job where they regularly dealt with any of the following products may have been exposed to asbestos regularly:

  • Construction products – Sheetrock, plaster, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, gaskets and packings, adhesives, caulking, fire-retardant paints or coatings, patching tape, garden products containing vermiculite, plastics
  • Insulation products – Boilers, pipe insulation, table pads, heat mats, under-flooring, electrical wire insulation, firebrick, gunnite, block insulation, industrial filters for beverage products, transite siding
  • Asbestos cement sheet and pipe products – Pipes for sewage or water supply, electrical switchboards and components, building materials, fire retardant materials, roofing and siding
  • Friction products – Clutch facings, brake linings, gaskets, and industrial friction materials
  • Asbestos textile products – Roofing materials, heat- and fire-resistant fabrics (including blankets and curtains), and felt

In addition, the family members of people who worked in those industries or with those products are likely to have been exposed to asbestos dust and fibers carried home on the clothing and hair. There’s also a higher potential for exposure for people living in communities where those plants and factories were located.

Historically, asbestos was widely used in construction, including the construction of private homes and public buildings, and much of that asbestos remains in place. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the safest way to deal with asbestos is to cover it rather than attempt to remove it. That’s because asbestos is only dangerous when it is friable – that is, breaks down to produce dust or fibers small enough to be inhaled or swallowed. There have been cases where water or other damage has exposed underlying asbestos products and exposed workers, families and schoolchildren to asbestos dust.

In fact, the insurance companies estimate that there are potentially millions of people who have been exposed to asbestos – and many of them don’t know it. If you know that you’ve been exposed to asbestos, your health routine should include regular screening for lung conditions that result from it. If you ever become ill, you may also want to consult Williams Hart Law Firm about legal recourses to be sure that you receive any compensation that you deserve.

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