Asbestos Exposure

Exposure to asbestos is considered by many organizations & physicians worldwide to be harmful to human well being. Asbestos exposure has the ability to cause many forms of diseases which can include multiple forms of mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.

Defining Asbestos Exposure

What is Asbestos Exposure?

The most common cause of asbestos disease is occupational exposure. Skilled trade and manual labor were at the highest risk of the mineral asbestos; especially construction and factory workers. This mineral was used in a lot of commercial, industrial, and domestic products. Due to the military’s past of using asbestos-filled products, they are also at a very high risk of developing a disease.

How Does Exposure to Asbestos Occur?

Microscopic asbestos fibers are released into the air and are ingested or inhaled by anyone that is located within the area. The asbestos fibers can stay in the air for hours, endangering more people. The human body has the ability to remove some of the inhaled fibers, however, some could potentially get stuck in the lung tissue or other areas. Complications typically occur after years of constant exposure, but no amount of exposure is safe.

Over time of exposure, asbestos can collect in the body’s tissue and cause damage and inflammation, resulting in cancer and other diseases. An individual’s health can be more at risk if the exposure is combined with smoking tobacco.

Exposure to asbestos is most common through an individual’s occupation. Many building materials contain asbestos, which home and commercial workers use daily. The fibers are released into the air as the asbestos products deteriorate while being used.

It is rare to encounter secondary or environmental asbestos exposure; however, it typically does not cause health problems.

Where You Could Be Exposed to Asbestos

Common Forms of Asbestos Exposure


Veterans that operated military vehicles and aircraft and on the U.S. Navy ships between the 1900s and the 1970s are at highest risk for asbestos exposure. Veterans who worked on the following vessels got sick because of the asbestos they faced during their service.

  • Battleships
  • Aircraft carriers
  • Cruisers
  • Auxiliary vessels
  • Submarines
  • Destroyers
  • Frigates


Asbestos fibers were found in thousands of products produced by different companies. Many commercial buildings and houses that were built before 1980 have asbestos products. Asbestos can be found in things such as floor tiles, paint, cement, ceilings, drywall, and insulation.


Workers from trade jobs were exposed to the fibers during their daily jobs, especially auto mechanics, firefighters, electricians, and drywall tapers. There was not much asbestos regulation in the past, however, the law today requires all employees to be protected from the exposure.

Job Sites

Millions of workers were put at risk in places that used asbestos minerals in their facilities and products while on the job.

  • Shipywards
  • Power plants
  • Metal workers
  • Schools
  • Chemical plants
  • Oil refineries

9/11 Attack on the World Trade Center

There was a great deal of asbestos insulation released into the air in New York City during the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. This caused a lot of exposure complications for the rescue and recovery team and the clean-up workers that worked at the site for months after the attack.

Environmental Health Perspectives published a study in 2009 that kept track of the workers that showed 70% of them suffered new or worsening breathing problems. Reports also showed that 28% of the victim’s lung function tests were abnormal. They also have documentation on the health of the nearby residents

Risk Factors in Present-Day Jobs
Potential Asbestos Exposure Circumstances

Where Asbestos Exposure Occurs

Exposure can occur if you:

  • Live near contained job sites or environments
  • Use products containing asbestos
  • Working in the U.S Military or other occupations
  • Experience natural or manmade disasters
Types of Mesothelioma that can happen after Asbestos Exposure Cancer

Types of Mesothelioma that Can Occur after Asbestos Exposure

Pleural mesothelioma arises in the membrane which surrounds the lung, called the pleura. Pleural mesothelioma is the most common form of this deadly cancer.

Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdominal cavity, called the peritoneum. Peritoneal mesothelioma is less common but is more often found in women than in men.

Pericardial mesothelioma originates in the pericardium, which lines the heart.

How Asbestos Exposure can occur near you

Environmental Asbestos Exposure & Nearby Risks

Environmental exposure occurs when asbestos fibers are released into the air through:

  • Mining
  • Disturbance of a natural asbestos deposit
  • Processing asbestos ore
  • Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes

A study posted by the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health in 2016 showed the decline of occupational asbestos exposure. However, there has been an increase if exposure in some geographic areas.

There has also been a study to show why there was an increase in asbestos-related disease in women and children.

Northern California, as well as Nevada, have a wide variety of asbestos exposure. 

Individuals living in nearby communities to job sites face exposure of asbestos contaminating the air.

A study published in the journal Atmospheric Pollution Research in 2009 studied the effects on communities living by asbestos manufacturing plant and how they were affected from the exposure. One area that was included was Shubra El- Kheima in Egypt; located in a city containing the Siqwart Company asbestos plant. The study that was conducted had around 4000 participants and it compared people living around the plant and those working in it.

The group with environmental exposure was the highest in pleural mesothelioma (2.8%).

The individuals that worked with occupational exposure had a significantly less percentage (0.8%).

Asbestos Exposure Health Risks

Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos fibers can become stuck in the digestive tract or respiratory system after being ingested or inhaled. The body can only get rid of so many of the fibers, and the ones that are still trapped cause inflammation and DNA damage that can lead to cancer or other diseases in the future.

Exposure to asbestos can cause noncancerous diseases as well as cancer.

The cancers caused by asbestos exposure include:

  • Mesothelioma: Incurable cancer that develops in the lining of the abdomen or lungs.
  • Lung Cancer: Lung cancer caused by asbestos for about 4% of all cases of lung cancer.
  • Ovarian Cancer: In 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer confirmed that asbestos was a cause for ovarian cancer.
  • Laryngeal Cancer: The National Institutes of Health confirmed in 2006 that one of the causes for laryngeal cancer is asbestos.

The noncancerous conditions caused by asbestos exposure include:

  • Asbestosis: The inflammation and scarring of lung tissue from asbestos that limits the function of the lungs.
  • Pleural plaques: The thickening of the lining along the lungs; the most common sign of asbestos exposure.
  • Pleural Effusion: A buildup of fluid around the lungs that causes difficulty breathing.
  • Diffuse Pleural Thickening: Widespread of scarring around the lining of the lungs which causes breathing problems and chest pain.
  • Pleuritis: Also known as pleuritic pain; the severe inflammation of the pleural lining
  • Atelectasis: Severe scarring and inflammation of causing the pleural lining to fold on itself, which causes the lungs to underinflate

After initial exposure to asbestos, it takes approximately 10-50 years for diseases to develop. It can take 10 years for asbestosis to develop and other cancers up to 20-50 years.

Despite regulations that were implemented on asbestos in the 1970s, frequent rates of these diseases have remained. 

  • According to the National Cancer Institute, around 2,000 to 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.
  • According to America Family Physician, approximately 200,000 people in the country are diagnosed with asbestos per year.
  • EWG Action Fund determined that an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Americans die from an asbestos-related disease.
Secondary Exposure to Asbestos

Second Hand Asbestos Exposure

Secondhand exposure can be just as dangerous as direct exposure. Individuals can get an asbestos-related disease without even encountering direct exposure.  This can happen when a person working with asbestos comes home with asbestos fibers on their work clothes, skin, or hair.

Women and children were most commonly exposed to secondhand asbestos exposure. Men mostly worked with asbestos and came home and contaminated their family.

Explaining the Factors
Asbestos Removal Done Incorrectly

Improper Asbestos Removal

If proper abatement measures are not taken there is a very high risk of being exposed to airborne fibers. To minimize health risks, it is very important to properly remove and dispose of asbestos-contaminated products.


Avoid Asbestos Exposure

Protecting You and Your Loved Ones

Individuals working with asbestos products should use protective equipment and follow safety procedures. To protect ones at home, any clothing that could potentially be contaminated with asbestos should be left at the work site and not be taken home. To also avoid exposing family members, showers should also be taken before returning home. Also, if there is a reason to believe there is asbestos exposure at your place of employment, submit an anonymous complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Mesothelioma Prevanction