Did you know that everyone is exposed to asbestos at some time during his life? Asbestos is present in the water, air, and soil, but research shows that background levels in the air are extremely low—about 0.0001 fibers/cc. This means that most people will not become ill from their exposure. This is not the case with people who have worked extensively with asbestos. Breathing asbestos fiber for extended periods places workers at serious risk of developing mesothelioma. Even worse is the workers’ family is at risk too—from second hand exposure.
The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) says that people may be exposed to asbestos second hand:
- From a worker’s skin, hair, and clothing
- In areas in the world where natural weathering, landscaping, construction, or other human activity (such as gardening and outdoor recreation) results in disturbance of asbestos-bearing rock (in some areas such as parts of California, New Jersey, and Virginia, asbestos rock is close enough to the surface that construction and other human activities can disturb it, high concentrations of asbestos can be released into the air)
- In areas surrounding a mining operation
- In homes and buildings where renovations or demolitions disturb asbestos-containing building materials
Per the ATSDR, the first two scenarios were very common until the 1970s. Bear in mind that the time between first exposure to asbestos and diagnosis of mesothelioma is usually between 20 and 50 years. Because of the long latency period, many cases of second hand asbestos exposure have yet to be diagnosed. The last two scenarios are more common because though asbestos is strictly regulated in the U.S., it has not been eliminated.
Though not all second hand exposure leads to mesothelioma, the reality is that some cases do. If any of the scenarios listed above sound familiar and you think you may have been exposed to asbestos, see your doctor right away—whether you have symptoms or not.
"Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk." National Cancer Institute (NCI). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health (NIH), 01 May 2009. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.
"Asbestos Toxicity: Who Is at Risk of Exposure to Asbestos?" Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.
"Mesothelioma: Symptoms and Causes." WebMD. WebMD, 2014. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.
Papadakis, Maxine A., Stephen J. McPhee, and Michael W. Rabow. 2015 Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment. New York: McGraw-Hill Education/Medical, 2015. Print.