Asbestos

Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos was commonly used in numerous industries and in many capacities. Many workers were unknowingly exposed to this toxic mineral every day.

Asbestos was commonly used because of the mineral's natural resistance to heat and fire danger. While alternatives to asbestos existed, they were more expensive and difficult to use. Although the health effects of asbestos were well known by 1930, corporations that profited from asbestos worked very hard to conceal this information from the public. By the late 1970s however, the cat was out of the bag as those who had worked with and around the substance became sick in abnormally high numbers - and a litigation attorney who was representing an asbestos victim discovered almost-forgotten documents in a closet in a CEO's office proving that a criminal cover-up had existed for over four decades.

Despite a ban on most forms of asbestos in the 1980s, chrysotile - "white" asbestos - continued to remain legal in the U.S. and Canada, where it is still touted as "safe." Then, in 1999, journalist Andrew Schneider revealed the tragedy of the asbestos miners of Libby, Montana to the public.

Today, the use of asbestos in most new commercial products and industrial applications in the U.S. has largely been banned. Nonetheless, it is still present in more than 3000 different products still on the market, including automotive brake shoes and clutch disks, roofing materials, vinyl flooring and cement pipe and corrugated sheeting - much of which is imported from countries such as China, Canada and Russia, where the asbestos mining industry is alive and well.

Occupations at Risk

Although all industrial professions have involved some measure of asbestos exposure, the following were at the highest risk for asbestos disease:

  • asbestos textile workers and weavers
  • automotive manufacturing and repair
  • building trades and demolition worker
  • building custodians and HVAC workers
  • electricians, especially linemen, maintenance workers and power plant personnel
  • machinists, pipe-fitters and boilermakers
  • maritime professions, including military and longshoremen
  • metal and steelworkers
  • pulp and paper mill occupations
  • railroad workers
  • Non-Industrial Occupations

Because so many buildings contained such significant amounts of asbestos, additional workers outside the industrial industry have been at risk for asbestos exposure. Even today, stories of school buildings full of asbestos appear online and in newspapers almost every week. In the U.K., cases of mesothelioma among school teachers are abnormally common, and asbestos disease among teachers in the U.S. is not unusual.

Asbestos is also found in hospitals. EMTs and fire fighters are frequently exposed to asbestos when entering old buildings.

Those who work in office professions and have reason to suspect the presence of asbestos in their buildings should report their concerns to the building supervisor. If this yields no results, they should contact their state's department of environmental safety or the nearest office of the Environmental Protection Agency.

 

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