Where Was I Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos is a group of minerals widely used for their versatility, including insulation and fireproofing. Construction, shipbuilding, and several other industries took advantage. During the 20th century, some experts believe nearly every American experienced asbestos exposure in some way.
While it usually takes multiple exposures to asbestos to develop health issues, coming into contact with any amount can be harmful. It’s important to learn about where you could have been exposed and know your risks. People who work in occupations involving asbestos have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma.
Asbestos Exposure in the United States
Asbestos likely existed in structures built before 1980. Locations near asbestos mines, large asbestos manufacturers, and states that receive large shipments of the material have the highest risk.
Asbestos Mining in Libby, Montana
Libby, Montana and other places across the country mined asbestos. The small town in Montana contains toxic amounts of the mineral. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Libby contains the highest concentrated levels of vermiculite and asbestos. Companies mined asbestos in Libby for over 70 years. The whole population of up to 60,000 came into contact with asbestos. Schools, homes, and community buildings contained asbestos for decades. There has been over 2,400 cases of asbestos-related diseases in Libby.
Asbestos in the Workplace
The strength and insulation purposes of asbestos once made the material a good fit for workplaces. It was commonly used in industrial buildings for several decades. After the EPA declared asbestos a carcinogen in 1970, which reduced exposure in some industries. However, certain jobs like insulators and pipefitter still required constant asbestos exposure.
Multiple jobs could have come into contact with asbestos dust during the peak of its exposure:
- Auto mechanics
- Asbestos plant manufacturers
- Boiler workers
- Brick masons
- Construction workers
- Demolition workers
- Drywall workers
- Factory workers
- Industrial plant workers
- Machine operators
- Mill workers
- Military personnel and veterans
- Power Plant workers
- Railroad workers
- Shipyard workers
- Steel mill workers
- Tile setters
Asbestos forms in underground deposits in mountainous regions. It’s not dangerous when undisturbed but can run off into water and soil. Once exposed, asbestos fibers can become hazardous. Nearby air, vegetation, and water can contain asbestos fibers.
Secondary exposure occurs when someone becomes exposed through airborne asbestos attached to clothes, skin, or hair. Secondhand exposure can cause the same asbestos-related diseases as first-hand exposure. Through other people, mesothelioma patients could have ingested or inhaled asbestos fibers from family members or friends. Many women develop mesothelioma as a result of secondary exposure.
9/11: The World Trade Center Attack in New York
We will never forget the tragedy our country experienced on September 11, 2001. On that day, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. The City of New York has since rebuilt from the damage. However, many people are still suffering today.
When the World Trade Center plummeted to the ground, a large plume of dust covered the city, and exposed millions of people. The dust was made up of over 900,000 asbestos, mercury, lead, and other toxic materials built into the World Trade Center. People who lived or worked near Ground Zero around that day are still being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Asbestos in the Military
Nearly a third of all mesothelioma patients are veterans who came into contact with asbestos during their service. The United States Military relied on asbestos to insulate military barracks, vehicles, aircraft, and ships. Asbestos is durable and lightweight, making it the perfect material for military bases at the time. Asbestos was used in a majority of military buildings, and can still be found in military shipyards:
- Air ducts
- Around boilers
- Ceiling tiles
- Cement roofs
- Gutters and pipes
- Loose-fill insulation
- Panels in fire doors
- Partition walls
- Sprayed ceilings, walls, columns, and beams
- Water tanks
From the 1930s until the late 1970s, military property heavily contained the toxic and exposed service members to varying levels of asbestos dust. The military began cutting back on its use after it started being regulated in the 1970s. For decades, thousands of veterans were exposed to toxic amounts of asbestos.
Health Risks of Exposure to Asbestos
Today, the dangers of asbestos exposure are well known. The carcinogen can cause serious or fatal illnesses, including mesothelioma. Once asbestos fibers get inhaled or ingested, they cannot be removed. Over time, the fibers can cause healthy cells to turn cancerous. It can take up to 60 years for symptoms to show after exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos-related diseases kill up to 15,000 United States citizens each year. Signs of an asbestos-related can include difficulty breathing, chest pain, and a combination of other cancer symptoms. Asbestos exposure can lead to the development of several cancerous and noncancerous diseases, including:
- Diffuse Pleural Thickening
- Laryngeal Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Ovarian Cancer
- Pleural Effusion
- Pleural Plaques
If you were exposed to asbestos, it’s important to visit your doctor or another medical provider. Your doctor will collect a detailed medical history of your exposure and perform a physical exam. Further testing may be done to start the diagnostic process.
Preventing further harm to the respiratory system may lower the chances of developing or progressing an existing disease. Extra preventative care can be beneficial in detecting health problems and improving life expectancy. Start by taking the following steps:
- Avoiding further asbestos exposure
- Getting regular vaccinations against flu and pneumococcal pneumonia
- Having regular medical exams
- Quitting smoking
Getting Help for Asbestos-Related Disease
Treatment options are available to patients with asbestos-related illnesses. While there is no cure for mesothelioma, advancing treatments can improve prognosis and quality of life. Your doctor can create a multimodal treatment plan that suits your individual illness.
Additionally, monetary resources are available to victims of asbestos exposure. Entitled compensation can pay for treatment or loss of income. Learn more about mesothelioma lawsuits, and how you can start the legal process.