Asbestos refers to a group of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals. Three of the six types of asbestos were once widely used in the United States for the strength and durability of their fibers. The federal government began strictly regulating asbestos in the mid-1970s after discovering that the mineral caused serious health problems, including asbestosis and mesothelioma.
When Asbestos Becomes Dangerous
Asbestos becomes dangerous when the fibers are released into the air and inhaled or ingested in high concentrations over a prolonged period of time. Individuals face the risk of inhaling or ingesting airborne fibers when asbestos-containing products are worn down, disturbed, or damaged.
Millions of American workers have been exposed to asbestos since the 1940s when its use peaked in the United States. While certain occupations are known to increase the risk for asbestos exposure, there are also a number of non-occupational asbestos exposure risks.
Occupational Asbestos Exposure Risk
Many people are exposed to asbestos at work. The following are some of the occupational environments that may increase an individual's asbestos exposure risk:
- Construction sites
- Asbestos product manufacturing sites
- Oil refineries
- Steel mills
- Power plants
- Automotive manufacturing facilities
- Offshore rust removal sites
- Maritime operation sites
- Demolition sites
Non-Occupational Asbestos Exposure Risk
Not all asbestos exposure occurs in the workplace. The following are a few non-occupational asbestos exposure risks:
- Asbestos-contaminated drinking water
- Asbestos products including talc and various older appliances
- Vermiculite-containing garden products such as certain fertilizers and pesticides
Another asbestos exposure risk is called paraoccupational exposure and occurs when an individual is exposed to asbestos through a family member who works around the dangerous fibers. Workers heavily exposed to asbestos may bring the hazardous fibers into the home on their shoes, clothing, skin, and hair. Family members or others who live in the same home face an increased asbestos exposure risk.
If you have a heightened asbestos exposure risk, you may wish to consult with a physician experienced in the evaluation and management of asbestos-related diseases.