Because low amounts of asbestos can be found throughout the environment -- in the water, soil and air -- nearly everyone will experience some casual asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a mineral that has been mined for thousands of years for use in industrial, manufacturing and building construction work.
How and Where Asbestos Exposure Can Occur
Secondary exposure to asbestos can occur if you live in a home that was built prior to the 1970s, which is when the United States government finally enforced asbestos exposure limits. Older homes used asbestos extensively in the insulation of pipes, water lines and electrical wires, drywall, carpeting, roofing, as well as in many adhesives and surface finishes.
Casual asbestos exposure has further been documented when someone who has had first-hand exposure in the workplace brings home residual materials lodged in their clothing, hair or skin. The secondary exposure happens when another person comes in contact with the asbestos dust or fibers.
Not everyone who experiences secondary exposure will contract mesothelioma cancer. Most who become ill are those who have repeated contact with the mineral, usually in their workplaces.
Many blue-collar jobs exposed workers to asbestos during the first three-quarters of the 20th century. According to the National Cancer Institute, typical jobs that show a large number of workers developing asbestos-related cancer include:
- Asbestos mining and milling
- Manufacturing of asbestos textiles (such as fireproof suits for race car drivers) or other products containing the mineral
- Building construction
- Demolition workers
- Drywall, carpet and roof removers
- Asbestos abatement workers
- HVAC technicians
In addition, asbestos was used in just about all the branches of the U.S. military, but especially in the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy. Because of its resistance to heat and fire, asbestos was used in more than 300 products and parts in shipyards and on naval ships.
Asbestos-Containing Products and Materials
There are more than 3,000 products known to contain asbestos, and not all of them are banned. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns on its website that workers should exercise extreme caution when repairing or removing the following items in older homes because they may release asbestos fibers:
- Steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts
- Resilient floor tiles
- Cement sheet, millboard
- Door gaskets
- Soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings
- Patching and joint compounds
- Asbestos cement roofing, shingles or siding
- Artificial ashes and embers used in gas-fired fireplaces
- Vehicle brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets
How Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma
Naturally occurring asbestos does not pose a high threat to humans. However, if it becomes less durable and more breakable, it becomes extremely dangerous. It can release tiny, sharp fibers into the air. These fibers, which tend to look like a fine dust, can then be ingested or inhaled. Once inside the body, the fibers embed themselves in the lining of vital organs and eventually can cause a number of diseases. Repeated exposure to asbestos, especially to high amounts of it, can lead to the development of deadly diseases, such as mesothelioma.