People who worked industrial jobs before the mid-1980s were often exposed to asbestos, and their household members were exposed to asbestos dust on their work clothing.

We know today that asbestos is a potent human carcinogen, capable of causing serious illnesses up to and including cancer. 

However, modern America was—in a great many ways—built atop asbestos. 

For decades, this so-called “mineral milagroso” was used to meet unprecedented demand for durable housing and affordable consumer goods. Millions of hardworking men and women made a living off asbestos, which was baked into car parts, used to fireproof homes, and insulate naval vessels. 

During its heyday, the asbestos industry lined its pockets while denying what is now an indisputable matter of fact: asbestos, resilient and useful as it may be, can kill. 

Even today, nobody knows exactly how many lives asbestos has claimed. However, the federal government believes that an estimated 27 million workers were exposed to aerosolized asbestos fibers between 1940 and 1979. These workers were—and remain—at the highest risk of asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma. 

According to the American Cancer Society, occupational asbestos exposure remains the leading cause of mesothelioma diagnoses nationwide. Asbestos exposure is also believed to exacerbate lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a host of other serious respiratory disorders. 

However, the true scope of America’s asbestos problem is difficult to gauge. While occupational asbestos exposure may be responsible for most mesothelioma diagnoses, scientists believe that secondary asbestos exposure poses a similar threat to public health and well-being. 

Comprender el asbesto 

Asbestos is a type of naturally occurring mineral that is usually categorized into six distinct types. Each type of asbestos has different characteristics and a distinct appearance. However, every variety of asbestos has common characteristics, including a resilience to heat, electricity, and corrosion. 

Due largely to its relative abundance and innate characteristics, asbestos was once a mainstay of American industry. 

During and after the Industrial Revolution, asbestos was seen as a relatively cost-effective, risk-free solution to growing demand for safe but otherwise affordable housing. 

Between the late 19° century and the federal government’s final ban on most asbestos-containing materials in 1989, asbestos was used to fabricate and reinforce an incredible variety of products, que incluyen: 

  • Adhesivos 
  • Car parts 
  • Cemento 
  • Electrical components 
  • Juntas 
  • Aislamiento 
  • Plásticos 
  • Textiles 
  • Tiles 
  • Vinyl floor and wall products 

But doctors began observing that asbestos’s reputation belied dangerous risks to human health. 

As early as the 1920s, researchers uncovered evidence that asbestos exposure was associated with significant respiratory distress. Asbestos companies responded to these claims first with silence and later with a protracted cover-up. 

El asbestos industry’s lies, deceit, and negligence cost countless Americans their lives and livelihoods. 

However, while researchers have spent years studying the long-term implications of occupational asbestos exposure, many Americans—people who never worked with or around asbestos—have contracted serious asbestos-related conditions, including mesothelioma. 

Exposición al asbesto de segunda mano

Asbestos exposure can be categorized as either of the following: 

  • Primary exposure, or occupational exposure, affects people who worked with asbestos and asbestos-contaminated products. Occupational asbestos exposure was common among blue-collar workers employed in many different industries. 
  • Exposición secundaria, sometimes referred to as “second-hand asbestos exposure” or “take-home asbestos exposure,” occurs among people who never worked with asbestos but lived in the same household as people who did. 

Since the dangers of asbestos were understated for much of the 20° century, asbestos workers often failed to take the precautions needed to remove asbestos dust from their clothes and workspaces. 

Second-hand asbestos exposure was commonly caused by: 

  • Asbestos workers who came home with asbestos dust sticking to their skin, hair, and clothing; 
  • Asbestos workers who inadvertently tracked asbestos fibers onto fixed surfaces, including car seats and home furniture; and 
  • Asbestos workers’ loved ones laundering contaminated work clothing. 

During the early to mid-twentieth century, gender norms precluded most women from performing manual and heavy labor. 

Among older Americans, men were more likely to have been exposed to asbestos at work, while their wives and children were more likely to have been exposed to take-home asbestos. 

The Dangers of Para-Occupational Asbestos Exposure 

Asbestos fibers, microscopic and smaller in width than a human hair follicle, are all but impossible to detect with the naked eye. 

However, despite their small size, asbestos fibers have a rough texture and jagged edges. 

If asbestos fibers are aerosolized and scatter into the air, they can easily stick to: 

  • Skin
  • Hair 
  • Clothing 
  • Furniture 
  • Car seats 

Since asbestos can easily spread throughout any enclosed environment, asbestos-contaminated workplaces are today regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. 

When employees are tasked with removing, installing, or destroying probable asbestos-containing materials, they must receive intensive training, protective equipment, and disposable clothing. 

Asbestos regulations and abatement

If the federal government believes that a project poses a high risk of asbestos exposure, businesses may even be required to provide on-site decontamination facilities and employee showers

However, before the dangers of asbestos were well-known, asbestos workers did not know that they needed to exercise caution after a hard day’s work. Instead of showering at work, they would often return home covered in asbestos dust and fiber, tracking it inside their office, their vehicle, and their home. 

Since asbestos does not discriminate, it can transfer from a worker’s hair or clothing onto almost any surface: a child’s clothing, or the crevices of a washing machine. 

Sometimes, over the course of days, months, or even years, asbestos workers’ family members inhaled massive amounts of asbestos fiber—fiber renowned for its industrial strength and resilience. 

Once inside the body, asbestos is all but impossible to eradicate. Gradually, and over time, asbestos fibers can irritate, inflame, and scar the lungs, causing significant respiratory problems. 

Under certain circumstances, asbestos fibers can provoke abnormal immune system responses, spurring the uncontrollable cellular reproduction characteristic of cancer. 

The Effects of Asbestos Exposure on the Body

Second-Hand asbestos exposure can cause serious medical conditions including, but not limited to, the following: 

  • La Asbestosis, a chronic lung condition caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Asbestosis can cause shortness of breath, persistent cough, and unexpected weight loss. While asbestosis is not necessarily life-threatening it is often comorbid with more serious conditions, including mesothelioma and other cancers. 
  • Enfermedad pleural, a range of medical conditions affecting the pleural lining of the chest cavity and its constituent organs. Some pleural diseases, such as pleural diffusions, can cause difficult breathing and intense physical pain.  
  • Mesotelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer that can affect the pleural lining of most of the body’s major organs. 
  • Cáncer, including cancers of the lungs, stomach, and ovaries.  

Secondary Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma, in contrast to most other cancers, is almost always caused by asbestos exposure.  

Mesothelioma is typically categorized as either of the three following types of mesothelioma

  • El mesotelioma pleural, or mesothelioma that affects the lining of the chest and lungs. This is the most common form of mesothelioma. 
  • El mesotelioma peritoneal, which is usually conceived in the mesothelial lining of the abdomen but can spread to other parts of the body. 
  • El mesotelioma pericárdico, a rare form of mesothelioma that causes cancerous growths in the tissue surrounding the heart. 

Physicians have reported mesothelioma in other parts of the body, too, including the testicles. 

However, mesothelioma—like most other asbestos-related conditions—has a very long latency period. According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of a person diagnosed with mesothelioma is 72

Unfortunately, by the time that symptoms emerge and doctors can diagnose an asbestos-related illness, it is often too late for physicians to intervene. 

If you think you were exposed to asbestos, speak to a healthcare professional about X-rays and other screening for asbestos-related health damage and cancer.

And if you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related cancer like mesothelioma or lung cancer, get in touch to learn about financial support for your treatment (without a lawsuit).