Who Is At Risk of Asbestos Exposure?
Asbestos exposure can cause a variety of health problems, most notably mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that attacks the membranes lining the chest and abdomen. Exposure to asbestos can also cause asbestosis, a disease that causes lung damage and can lead to serious breathing problems. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber, and everyone is exposed to asbestos at some point. The key is to know if you’re at risk for prolonged and repeated exposure that can seriously affect your health.
Because asbestos has been known to be dangerous for several decades, government regulations have lessened the risk of everyday exposure. Still, millions of people have been exposed to dangerous amounts of asbestos. Asbestos has been used in the manufacture of various materials such as insulation and factory equipment. Anyone who has been involved in the mining of asbestos is at risk for exposure. Workers who have processed asbestos or manufactured products involving asbestos are also at great risk for exposure. Those who have worked in the construction industry laying insulation, putting up or removing drywall, or removing from or demolishing buildings may be exposed to risky levels of asbestos. Others possibly affected include firefighters and anyone in the automobile manufacturing industry.
Most recently, relief and cleanup workers who worked at the site of the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 were exposed to serious amounts of asbestos. Hundreds of tons of asbestos that was used in the manufacture of the buildings were released into the air, putting everyone in the area at risk. Many of those present at the time have shown symptoms of asbestos-related disease and breathing problems. Because mesothelioma may not develop until decades after exposure, it is not yet known how many were affected.
The families of workers who are exposed to asbestos may also be at increased risk. Those who work with asbestos may bring the fibers home on their bodies or clothes. The government regulates this possibility by requiring that workers who are exposed to asbestos shower and wash their work clothes before leaving work. Still, asbestos fibers may find their way home with the workers.
If someone meets any of these criteria, it’s important that they get checked regularly for possible asbestos-related health problems. Early detection is one of the keys to recovery from diseases such as cancer, and understanding your risks of asbestos exposure will help you prevent asbestos-related health problems.