Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma
According to the National Cancer Institute, everyone will be exposed to asbestos in their lifetime because minimal levels of asbestos can be found throughout the environment. Most people do not see any health effects as a result of this low-level exposure. However, those who come into contact with asbestos daily may develop asbestos-related diseases. People with a high risk of developing these health problems were exposed to asbestos at work or through significant environmental contact.
Since the government has now established regulations concerning asbestos, workers today who do not have previous exposure face a much more minimal risk than past employees.
It can take 20-50 years after exposure to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, however, so there are and will continue to be new cases. Here we take a look at some of the risk factors associated with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Who is Most at Risk of Mesothelioma?
Before we go into more detail about specific risk factors, here is a general overview of those who are most at risk:
- Individuals who worked in high-risk trades or with products containing asbestos
- Families of those individuals who may have experienced secondary exposure
- Those who live or lived near asbestos mines
Unfortunately, many military veterans such as the US Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, and Navy are considered high risk for mesothelioma due to the prevalence of asbestos in many military products, vehicles, equipment, and more. Veterans make up a significant number of mesothelioma cases.
Others who are considered high risk are those in trades related to building construction, including construction workers, plumbers, and insulators. This is because asbestos was very common in construction materials, building insulation, pipe wrappings, and other areas of various structures such as factories and steel mills.
Both railroad workers and shipbuilders are considered high risk, as asbestos was commonly used in ships and on railcars.
Other industries and trades, as well as anyone who used the products listed below, are considered at risk.
How Much Asbestos Exposure Puts You At Risk?
While research shows that repeated asbestos exposure increases one's risk of health problems, asbestos-related diseases have developed in those with only brief exposure, though this is far less common.
Experts say that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. But, some factors are considered risks—namely, the frequency and severity of exposure.
The length and frequency of asbestos exposure and the intensity of the exposure determine the risk of developing this disease. However, there have been cases where the victim had little or no asbestos exposure. Likewise, not all people who are exposed to asbestos develop mesothelioma.
Genetic Risk Factors
Studies have suggested that there may be some with a genetic predisposition to mesothelioma, with mutations of the BAP1 gene playing a role. Researchers have also been looking into additional genetic risk factors when it comes to the development of mesothelioma.
However, mesothelioma itself is not hereditary. The reason why the question comes up sometimes is because of secondhand exposure: Family members of workers who were exposed to asbestos also have a risk of developing mesothelioma. Many believe asbestos workers brought fibers home on their skin, hair, and clothing, and the fibers then spread to those living in the same household. This, of course, is especially notable when the individual worked with asbestos frequently, as this increased the possibility of secondhand exposure significantly.
Age & Gender Risk Factors
Men are more likely than women to develop mesothelioma, likely because, historically, the trades and industries with the highest exposure risks tend to be dominated by men. Age is a factor in diagnosis because the risk of mesothelioma increases with age, though age in and of itself is not considered a risk factor for developing mesothelioma. The average age of a mesothelioma patient is 69, primarily because it can take so long for the disease to develop after exposure.
Asbestos Products and Trades
Here is a look at some of the key products, trades, and job sites that are most notable for contributing to mesothelioma risk.
Potential Asbestos Products
- Steam line pipe covering
- Block insulation
- Cement sewer pipe
- Asbestos fiber
- Gunning refractories
- Asbestos furnace cement
- Asbestos blankets
- Asbestos tape
- Asbestos gloves and jackets
- Asbestos gaskets & packing
- Asbestos roofing felts
- Asbestos roofing shingles
- Roofing coating
- Asbestos rope
- Asbestos coated cable
- Micarta board
- Large electrical motors
- Large insulated turbines & generators
- Asbestos insulated pumps
- Asbestos insulated valves
- Large fans/blowers
- Heat treat furnaces
- Brakes for overhead cranes and other equipment
- Asbestos insulation/lining
- Circuit breakers, switches, and electrical boxes
- Wall and ceiling tiles
- Fireproofing spray
- Automobile and truck brakes, brake pads, and brake linings
- Toasters and hairdryers
- Potholders and ironing board covers