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Non-Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Key takeaways: Although asbestos exposure happened most frequently in occupational contexts, non-occupational exposure (and consequent disease) still occurred. The global incidence of mesothelioma is decreasing, but non-occupational asbestos exposure hasn’t decreased accordingly. There are several subsects of non-occupational exposure: environmental, home, and second-hand.

Non-Occupational Asbestos Exposure vs. Occupational Exposure

In most conversations around asbestos exposure and consequent mesothelioma diagnoses, the workplace is often centered as the site of exposure. This is for good reason: for the better half of the twentieth century, asbestos dominated construction sites, industry and factory work, steel mills, shipyards, and more. While occupational exposure to asbestos was much more common, non-occupational asbestos exposure was (and still remains) an issue for policy makers, doctors, and people living in high-risk areas. Given the high concentration of airborne fibers, temporally extended exposure, and lack of education/general knowledge about the dangers of asbestos, employees that worked around or with asbestos remain at a higher risk for developing asbestos-related diseases. That being said, though, the amount of patients with no occupational history of asbestos exposure–but that still present with asbestos-related diseases–certainly isn’t negligible. As the global incidence of mesothelioma decreases–due to widespread efforts to curb asbestos use–the specific incidence of non-occupational exposure leading to mesothelioma hasn’t decreased. More than ever, it’s imperative to spread awareness about non-occupational sources of asbestos exposure and how to mitigate them.

Environmental Exposure

People that live near natural asbestos deposits, like the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, are at risk of asbestos exposure. When these deposits were mined, millions of asbestos fibers were released into the air. Libby, Montana is an excellent example of this: the town was situated next to an asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine. Even the citizens that didn’t directly work in the mines suffered a significantly higher instance of asbestos-related diseases relative to the general population.

Home Exposure

Up until the early 1980s, millions of homes in the U.S. were insulated with contaminated vermiculite insulation. These homes were also outfitted with asbestos-supplemented vinyl flooring, painted with asbestos-based paint, and adorned with gardens and flower beds that contained asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. Because asbestos isn’t as dangerous when it’s contained versus when it’s airborne, home exposure wasn’t necessarily an issue unless people were directly handling, removing, or remodeling their homes. Regardless, any exposure to asbestos is dangerous, especially when it’s in the home. If your home was constructed prior to 1980, do not handle the insulation or remove the paint (especially if it’s textured) before consulting an asbestos abatement specialist.

Second-hand (Domestic) Exposure

Second-hand exposure to asbestos is the most common medium of nonoccupational exposure. When an employee that directly handles, maneuvers, and transports asbestos comes home, there are thousands of airborne fibers on his clothes, hair, and skin. If and when these fibers become dislodged, they pose a serious risk for anyone in his vicinity. Taking off clothes, washing clothes, taking a shower–all of these normal household activities were increasing his and his family’s risk of an asbestos-related disease. A study conducted in Italy tracked the mortality rate of 2,000 asbestos workers (at the Casale Monferrato asbestos cement factory) and their wives. Considering the wives weren’t directly handling asbestos, the researchers projected that their mortality rate would be about 1.2. To their surprise, the mortality rate was actually 21; obviously, this was significantly higher than their estimates. (Plus, their mortality estimates were already higher than they would be for a traditional population.) Learning about the potential sites of asbestos exposure–especially when they’re not as common as occupational exposure–is critical for spreading awareness about mesothelioma and its risk factors. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please call The Halpern Law Firm at 1 (800)-505-6000. We are here to help you navigate the legal process of filing a claim to receive compensation for your cancer diagnosis. We help mesothelioma victims and their families in Pennsylvania. Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3499908/ https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12940-018-0431-9 Written By Carina Filemyr
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