Most Americans go to work every day and never have to worry about the health consequences. Yet, work sites across the country have exposed workers to deadly asbestos fibers. While much of this exposure occurred in the past, many people are still exposed to asbestos at their work sites to this day.
Asbestos Work Sites
Before the 1980’s, asbestos was used extensively and could be found in nearly every work site across the United States. Asbestos is inexpensive and was used for heat and fireproofing, waterproofing, soundproofing, and insulating. Asbestos also made an excellent filler and was flexible enough to be added to products like blankets, ropes, and tape.
As the dangers of asbestos became recognized across the world in the mid-1980’s, asbestos was phased out of many work sites. In 1983, the European Union launched an initiative to ban asbestos, as scientific discoveries backed up health concerns that blamed asbestos exposure. Companies feared expensive lawsuits and an unfriendly global market and began to develop asbestos-free materials instead.
Even today, America has an abundance of asbestos work sites. Many work sites and buildings built in the past were constructed with asbestos and remain contaminated to this day, putting workers at risk of continued asbestos exposure.
Workers Remain at Risk of Exposure
The World Health Organization estimates that 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos in their workplace, including many Americans.
However, not all asbestos exposure is the same. The type of exposure, the rate of recurrence, and the length of exposure all impact the likelihood that the asbestos exposure will result in mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
People that typically come in contact with asbestos today, from highest to lowest levels of exposure are:
- Asbestos miners
- Manufacturers of Asbestos-Containing Materials (ACM)
- Workers who use ACMs
- Workers in buildings constructed with ACMs
As a general rule, the more often a person is exposed to asbestos, the higher their likelihood of adverse side-effects. For example, a vermiculite miner who works in asbestos-contaminated mine is at a much higher risk than a carpenter who occasionally comes into contact with asbestos tape and insulation.
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Top Asbestos Work Sites
Most buildings and worksites developed between the 1940’s and early 1980’s contained asbestos. Workers on these sites were exposed to asbestos every time they went to work, and many people are experiencing adverse health effects as a result.
The top work sites in America that are most likely to result in asbestos-related disease today included:
- Construction sites
- Factories and plants
- Military Bases
Shipyards are notorious for their historical use of asbestos-containing materials in a variety of shapes and forms. Ships needed to be light, fire-safe, soundproof and well insulated, and asbestos met all those needs at once. Asbestos was used in tapes, glues, protective clothing, many different forms of insulation, ceiling and floor tiles, and more.
From bow to stern, almost every component of a ship used ACMs.
In the past, asbestos use in construction sites was prolific. Asbestos was used in cement, insulation, tape, shingles, tiles, drywall, sealants, and dozens of other construction materials. Demolition and renovation workers need to disturb old asbestos to do their jobs.
Today, construction sites remain one of the most likely work sites for asbestos exposure.
Military bases were also constructed with asbestos-containing materials, even after asbestos was proven to have negative health impacts. The budget-conscious federal government appreciated that asbestos was inexpensive, easy to source and versatile. Military bases used asbestos-containing products like insulation, tapes and sealants, tiles and more.
As a result, veterans make up a large percentage of the population diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma Takes Decades to Develop
Mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer, takes 10 to 50 years to develop and is now being diagnosed in workers who were exposed many years in their past.
Factories and Plants
Many factories and plants used asbestos in their equipment and construction, exposing workers to asbestos across countless industries. Asbestos worked well in machinery that generated friction, including lathes and specialized manufacturing equipment.
The types of factories and plants that used asbestos were diverse and included:
- Automotive assembly
- Chemical plants
- Electrical plants
- Food processing
- General manufacturing
- Equipment builders
- Textile manufacturers
- Aluminum & steel
Asbestos was used in mills, such as steel mills, to help protect against the heat. Insulation, insulating blankets, protective garments, and many different types of mill equipment used ACMs, as asbestos could withstand scorching temperatures and therefore worked well in mill environments.
Mill workers were routinely exposed to asbestos during their everyday work.
Mines were one of the most dangerous places for asbestos exposure. Miners would disturb large volumes of asbestos when working with rocks that contained asbestos. Many different types of mines were likely to include asbestos fragments, including coal mines, vermiculite mines and—of course—actual asbestos mines.
Miners worked in poorly ventilated work sites contaminated with asbestos minerals.
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Asbestos Exposure Risks in Today’s Work Sites
Many work sites today still contain asbestos. Fortunately, our collective knowledge about asbestos is much better than it was in the past, resulting in better safety protocols.
The Department of Labor’s Occupation Safety & Health Agency has developed numerous regulations that protect workers from asbestos, including:
- OSHA – 1926.1101(c)(1) The employer shall ensure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of asbestos in excess of 0.1 fiber per cubic centimeter of air as an eight (8) hour time-weighted average.
- OSHA – 1926.1101(e)(1) All Class I, II and III asbestos work shall be conducted within regulated areas. All other operations covered by this standard shall be conducted within a regulated area where airborne concentrations of asbestos exceed, or there is a reasonable possibility they may exceed, a PEL.
- OSHA – 1926.1101(e)(5) The employer shall ensure that employees do not eat, drink, smoke, chew tobacco or gum, or apply cosmetics in the regulated area.
- OSHA – 1926.1101(f)(2)(i) Each employer who has a workplace or work operation covered by this standard shall ensure that a “competent person” conducts an exposure assessment immediately before or at the initiation of the operation to ascertain expected exposures during that operation or workplace.
Because OSHA itself doesn’t apply to every worksite, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ensures that OSHA’s asbestos regulations apply to all work sites. As a result, today’s workers always have asbestos protection by law.
Individual work sites may also have safety procedures beyond those legislated. Workers on asbestos work sites today are much safer than workers in the past and are less likely to develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. The decline in asbestos exposure reflects in the lower mesothelioma rates in younger populations today, across all races and genders.
If you worked on an asbestos work site and have since developed mesothelioma, your diagnosis may be the result of your workplace asbestos exposure. Our Patient Advocates are here to connect you with the medical and legal resources needed to help you in your fight against mesothelioma. Call us at (800) 584-4151 or request a FREE Mesothelioma Help Guide to better understand your options.