Asbestos exposure has been linked to several deadly diseases, including mesothelioma, a rare, incurable form of cancer. Despite heavy restrictions on asbestos use in the U.S., there are still ways that people may encounter the substance. Workplace asbestos exposure is still one of the most common sources of exposure. Knowing the trades at risk for exposure can help workers be on the lookout for symptoms.
Restrictions around the use of asbestos have been in place since the 1980s, when the link between asbestos and illness was firmly established. Historically, it was used for a number of purposes. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is durable, versatile, and heat- and flame-resistant, making it an ideal additive in construction materials, such as drywall, insulation, adhesives, paint, vinyl sheets, cement, ceiling or floor tiles, pipe insulation, and more.
Construction is one of the most high-risk industries for asbestos exposure. While asbestos elements are not used in new construction anymore, workers may encounter asbestos in older buildings during demolition or renovation.
Most construction roles carry some asbestos exposure risk. Repairs to older buildings are typically done by carpenters and may involve replacing remaining asbestos features. Brick layers, masons, and cement finishers encounter a lot of dust when cutting, laying, and repairing older bricks and cement. Boilermakers deal with high-heat boilers and pipes, many of which were constructed or insulated using asbestos. Pipefitters, plumbers, and HVAC workers face a similar risk working with pipe insulation, gaskets, flanges, turbines, and tanks that may contain asbestos.
Mechanics also frequently encounter asbestos. There are auto parts that were manufactured with asbestos, including brakes, brake linings, clutches, and heat shields, and cars with these parts may still be on the road. Aircraft mechanics that work on airplanes and helicopters can also encounter asbestos parts in the brakes and landing gear. Ships have also been constructed with asbestos due to the risk of fire, putting maritime workers at risk of exposure. This is one of the biggest risks facing members of the military and veterans in addition to encountering asbestos in older barracks and other facilities.
Industrial workers employed in manufacturing and power plants may encounter equipment with asbestos parts, such as gaskets, valves, and refractory products. Heavy machinery such as bulldozers and cranes are used daily on the job, but they may have high-friction asbestos components that generate dust. Historically, manufacturing workers may have also been producing materials or products that contained asbestos, such as steel products and textiles. This is less frequent now, but there are some consumer products that still contain some amount of asbestos.
Emergency workers, particularly firefighters, are at high risk for asbestos exposure. The flame-resistant properties of asbestos made it useful for firefighting equipment, including engines, pumps, and even firefighter uniforms. They also regularly enter buildings that have sustained fire damage, and if there are asbestos products, there may be asbestos dust in the air.
Workers who encounter legacy asbestos, or asbestos products that were produced before restrictions were put in place, should be provided with personal protective equipment and strict instructions for the safe handling of asbestos. Employees who were working in these fields in the 1980s and earlier, however, often did not have these protections in place. Due to the long latency period of mesothelioma, workers who were exposed to asbestos decades ago may still develop the disease.
There is no safe level of workplace asbestos exposure. If you have mesothelioma after workplace asbestos exposure, call one of our Philadelphia mesothelioma lawyers at Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Delaware County, Chester County, and Philadelphia County. Call us at 215-569-4000 or contact us online for a free consultation today.