Asbestos exposure has affected tens of thousands of Americans to date—blue-collar workers, military vets and even stay-at-home moms have been at risk. So, how do you know whether YOU need to be concerned about the health consequences of regular and prolonged exposure? The following article can answer your questions about when, where, why and how you could have been put at risk.
Asbestos was routinely used from the mid-1800s all the way into the early-1970s—that’s more than a century of exposure. Asbestos use actually hit its peak just on the cusp of massive government regulation, and prior to that point, it saw rapid increase of popularity throughout the early part of the 20th century. Asbestos exposure today, or anytime post Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) interventions, is not considered to be of significant concern. Strict regulations on usage and importation, combined with stringent safety guidelines (including the mandatory use of HAZMAT suits) for those who are exposed, have gone a long way in protecting public health.
The reality is that asbestos exposure could have potentially affected anyone. Through “second-hand exposure,” family members of individuals who worked with asbestos faced the risk of coming into contact with its dangerous fibers on clothing belonging to—or even on—the person himself. Still, most people who go on to develop mesothelioma cancer or other asbestos-related illnesses experienced regular and long-term asbestos exposure in an occupational setting. Specific industries that received a higher-than-average rate of exposure include construction, automotive repair and the military.
It is incredible to some that asbestos was used to such a degree when it was, even then, known to be a significant danger to human health. The reasoning behind this negligence and irresponsibility on part of the big businesses that manufactured, sold and installed asbestos products is simple enough—profit. Even though the dangers of asbestos exposure had been uncovered as early as the late part of the 19th, or at least early part of the 20th, century—companies that were profiting off of its unique combinations of dynamic and sought-after properties chose not to reveal this information to the public. And because asbestos was cheap, versatile and ideal for a wide variety of manufacturing needs—it quickly and easily became the go-to choice for many industries, consequentially exposing millions of people to its carcinogens.
Asbestos becomes a safety risk when it is damaged or aged to the point of disintegration. Once tiny asbestos fibers are disseminated into the air, they become a serious danger to anyone who might accidentally swallow or inhale them—traveling down the airway or intestinal tract and finally becoming embedded in the tissue of the mesothelium, which describes the protective lining covering many of the body’s vital organs. Years of accumulated damage from those fibers ultimately lead to the development of malignant mesothelioma or another related illness.