Asbestos exposure is a dangerous situation that can lead to mesothelioma or asbestosis. There are a variety of ways that you can be exposed to asbestos, and many people are exposed without even realizing it. Because the asbestos particles that cause such health concern are invisible to the naked eye, they are ingested or inhaled without you realizing it. Once inside the body they never break down, but settle into a corner of the body, often the lungs, where they wreck havoc decades later.
On the Job Exposure
On the job exposure to asbestos is by far the most common method of exposure. On the job exposure can occur anywhere from in a mine to a school. Before it was widely known the health problems that asbestos exposure could lead to, the mineral was used in the manufacturing of protective clothing. Items such as gloves and overalls were woven from asbestos cloth. The reason for this was because asbestos was fireproof. It is a rare material that can not only protect from extreme heat but open flame and electrical sparks as well. For many years workers who were around heat, flames or electricity wore clothing made of asbestos and even had asbestos blankets on hand to extinguish fires if necessary.
Asbestos was also a key ingredient in many types of commercial insulation. The insulation for small things, such as the inside of an electrical wire, to large things, such as the inside of a navy ship, contained at least some asbestos. Anyone who worked in an occupation that required them to work around insulation in the industrial setting was probably exposed to asbestos.
Another group of workers commonly exposed to asbestos were construction workers. These workers were exposed to asbestos as they installed, removed and disposed of materials that contain asbestos. Perhaps one segment of the workforce who may be surprised to learn that they are in danger of asbestos exposure are school teachers. Schools that were built prior to 1978 are often full of asbestos containing building materials. As long as the building materials are in good repair, asbestos exposure is not a concern, but as schools age, the presence of asbestos containing building materials becomes a larger issue. The Environmental Protection Agency implemented their plan "AHERA" that requires regular inspection of schools that contain asbestos, but the presence of it is still a concern.
One side concern of on the job exposure is secondary exposure. This occurs when someone that is exposed to asbestos on the job brings home this contamination, unknowingly, to their family. This happens when the dust sticks to clothing, skin or shoes, and is then brought into the home.
In the Home Exposure
Asbestos exposure can also occur in the home. Asbestos containing materials were widely used in nearly every building product at one time. Asbestos was used because it is practically indestructible and has excellent insulation properties, including the ability to deaden sound and retard flame. Used in heating and cooling duct work, floor and ceiling tile, wall boards and numerous other home building materials, any home that was built prior to 1978 probably contains at least some asbestos material.
Again, the asbestos material is only harmful when it is damaged or worn. If your home contains building materials that are in good repair, you and your family are not at risk of asbestos exposure. Once the material begins to show signs of wearing thin or breaking, it is time to replace it with newer materials. It is important to realize that the majority of in the home exposure to asbestos occurs during a remodeling project. Use proper safety measures if you decide to remove the asbestos yourself, or hire a licensed contractor to complete the job for you.
Naturally Occurring Exposure
The third method of asbestos exposure is through the environment. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in the soil throughout the United States. In some areas the asbestos is deep underground, while in others it is close to the surface. In areas of the country where it is close to the surface, it is easily stirred up by dust, traffic or cultivation. If you live in an area that has high levels of naturally occurring asbestos in the soil, the best method to avoid exposure is to reduce the dust. Pave any driveways or walkways, keep your windows closed, remove your shoes outside the home, and bring in topsoil for your flower beds and gardens. In areas that have high levels of asbestos further underground, exposure is still a concern. One example of this is in Libby, Montana, where the vermiculite in a mine was contaminated. Vermiculite by itself is harmless, but the vermiculite in this area, which was the largest supplier of vermiculite in the world, contained asbestos. The dust created by the mine contaminated the entire town. Not only did the miners suffer from asbestos exposure, but the residents of the town did as well.