Non-occupational asbestos exposure is of great concern to public health agencies. Although asbestos exposure in the workplace is well documented, information about non-occupational exposure is a bit harder to find. In either instance, elevated exposure to asbestos, a known carcinogen, can result in asbestos cancer and life-threatening lung diseases. Tens of thousands of people are expected to require treatment for asbestos-caused diseases in the coming years, whether from a work history with asbestos or because of non-occupational exposure.
Asbestos Is Everywhere
It should be kept in mind that at least a low level of asbestos is present in almost all environments, since asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found in the soil and water. As asbestos mining increased in the 1900s, the mineral started being used as a component in thousands of products. Consequently, the levels of asbestos exposure to human beings skyrocketed, and workers who dealt with asbestos on a regular basis developed lung cancers, asbestosis, and mesothelioma cancer at alarming rates.
In Homes, Schools, Public Buildings
At the same time, non-occupational asbestos exposure at dangerous levels was occurring in schools, public buildings, and homes across the United States, due to the widespread use of asbestos in building materials such as insulation, plumbing, and fire-resistant cloth. Individuals who have not been exposed to asbestos as part of their employment have developed asbestos cancer diseases, such as mesothelioma cancer, and it is apparent that occupational-level asbestos exposure is not required for an individual to develop an asbestos-related disease.
Cases of serious secondhand (or secondary) exposure to asbestos have been documented all over the world. The incidence of mesothelioma cancer (a cancer whose sole known cause is asbestos exposure), asbestosis, and lung cancer due to secondhand asbestos exposure is steadily increasing. The onset of these diseases is often decades after the asbestos exposure, and the cases arising now are often due to asbestos exposure from many years ago. Secondhand asbestos exposure generally occurs in one of two ways: living near a source of asbestos, and living with a person who was working with asbestos products.
Secondary Exposure from a Nearby Source
Thousands of Americans have spent years living in towns located near asbestos mines or companies that manufactured products containing asbestos. The levels of asbestos in the air, soil, and water of such a community can be extremely hazardous. A notorious example is Libby, Montana, a town of about 12,000 people where a vermiculite mine was located. The mineral vermiculite had high levels of asbestos. Hundreds of Libby residents have developed asbestos cancer diseases, and more than 200 residents have died of diseases caused by their exposure to the hazardous mineral.
Shipyards, steel mills, rail yards, power plants, and refineries are also possible sources of asbestos. The high volume of asbestos in many of these facilities reached beyond the boundaries of the facility and the asbestos may contaminate a community’s water, air, and soil.
Secondary Asbestos Cancer Exposure
Family members of asbestos workers are also among the many victims of non-occupational asbestos exposure. The tiny fibers can cling to the clothing, shoes, hair, and skin of people working with asbestos, traveling home with them and exposing family members and pets to dangerous levels of asbestos cancer. Repeatedly laundering work clothes that were laden with asbestos dust is a documented source of secondhand asbestos exposure, but even hugging an asbestos worker could have exposed children and spouses to a dangerous level of asbestos. Federal safety laws now require that employees who must work with asbestos limit the possibility of taking asbestos home with a variety of precautions:
- Showering after work at the workplace
- Storing street clothes in a separate locker at work
- Changing clothes before leaving the workplace
- Laundering clothes at the workplace
- Washing work clothes separately at home
- Symptoms of Asbestos Cancer Disease
If you are having any of the following symptoms and you suspect that you may have been subjected to non-occupational asbestos exposure, see a doctor:
- Shortness of breath, hoarseness or wheezing
- Persistent and worsening cough
- Blood in fluid coughed up from the lungs
- Pain or tightening in the chest
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swelling of the face or neck
- Fatigue or anemia
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Questions about Asbestos Cancer Exposure
To learn more about non-occupational or secondhand exposure and about the resources available to victims of mesothelioma cancer, contact mesothelioma treatment centers today. In addition to medical information, an important step is consulting with a qualified attorney to understand your options. The right lawyer can help ensure you receive your rights. We’re happy to answer your questions.