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Asbestos Exposure Risks

Decades ago, the EPA and CDC confirmed that asbestos endangered public health. Yet, most Americans will be exposed to asbestos at some point. However, because the exposure is usually limited, most people won't become ill. Those who become sick have typically experienced long-term asbestos exposure.

The risks of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases are much higher for those who service in the military or handle asbestos in the workplace. Asbestos workers' family members and roommates may also be at risk for asbestos-related illnesses. Anybody working in an industry where the use of asbestos is common is at a heightened risk of lung cancer.

Different types of asbestos can harm you. Some of these include:

  • Tremolite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Crocidolite
  • Asbestos cement
  • Amosite
  • Chrysotile

All of these minerals are carcinogens. They present dangerous health risks for people who come into contact with them. For example, you may handle asbestos daily if you work for a roofing or gas company. The same applies if you work with floor tiles and other building materials. Your risk of exposure increases the more often you handle these materials.

How Much Asbestos Exposure Is Harmful?

Most asbestos-related illnesses take many years to develop. In the typical case, getting sick can take 20 to 50 years. While most people at risk of mesothelioma experience long-term asbestos exposure, that isn't always the case.

Roger Beale, a man from Welwyn, England, succumbed to mesothelioma from just a few days of cutting pieces of asbestos with a circular saw. Unfortunately, he did so without proper ventilation. He died 46 years after the exposure occurred.

This shows that the risk factors that can cause asbestosis or other illnesses may be hard to identify. Your attorney must prove that the defendant is responsible for your asbestos exposure. The defendant will argue that something different than asbestos caused your adverse health effects.

Short-Term Effects of Asbestos Exposure

If you know or have reason to believe you experienced a low level of asbestos exposure, you may not suffer any short-term effects. Long-term exposure, however, can cause any of the following:

  • Malignant mesothelioma
  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Other asbestos-related diseases

These asbestos diseases don't always appear for years or decades. The earlier you discover that you've come into contact with asbestos or asbestos-containing materials, the better. 

​You must monitor your health and seek medical treatment immediately. Your doctor can run lung function tests to determine if the asbestos caused damage. They can also run other tests to determine the nature and extent of your illness. If they find a disease, you may have a claim for damages. It depends on the specific facts of your case.

What Exactly Will Your Doctor Look For?

Asbestos exposure can cause multiple health problems. When you see your healthcare professional, they will look for signs that you've developed a rare cancer or other asbestos disease.

When you first meet with your doctor, let them know if you're experiencing any symptoms of lung damage, such as shortness of breath. They'll perform a chest x-ray and look for signs that you're suffering from lung damage.

Some of the signs that you've suffered asbestos exposure include:

  • Pleural effusions
  • Pleural thickening or the lining of the lungs
  • Pleural plaques
  • Scarring of the lung tissue

These are all signs of lung disease.

Asbestos Exposure Risks in the Workplace

Millions of American workers encounter asbestos in the workplace. Workers may inhale or inadvertently swallow asbestos particles. This exposure can result in asbestos fibers becoming trapped in the pleura in your lungs and other organs.

When this happens, the employee risks developing an asbestos-related illness such as mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that invades the lining of the lungs and other organs.

Many patients with asbestos-related illnesses worked in the following industries:

  • Asbestos mining and milling
  • Automobile repair
  • Building demolition
  • Construction and building trades
  • Drywall removal
  • Firefighting
  • Manufacturing of asbestos textiles and other asbestos products
  • Shipbuilding trades
  • Pipe fitting
  • Welding

If you work in any of these fields, you should see a doctor regularly to check the status of your lungs. If they discover that you have lung damage, you may have a valid claim for damages.

Exposure to Asbestos and Worker Protections

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency responsible for protecting workers from asbestos-related illnesses in the workplace. OSHA has developed workplace safety standards for the shipyard, construction, and auto manufacturing industries.

The Environmental Protection Agency's Worker Protection Rule also protects state and local government workers who meet specific requirements. State and local government workers not covered by OSHA Asbestos Standards or a state OSHA plan may qualify. The Worker Protection Rule protects workers by regulating workplace practices, protective tools and equipment, medical exams, air monitoring and reporting, and record keeping.

In addition, many state and local governments provide special protections for employees whose work involves asbestos. These protections are often more robust than the federal government's safeguards.

Asbestos Exposure Risks in the Military

Men and women who have served in the military may also be at risk for asbestos-related illnesses. During World War II, the government built U.S. military ships with asbestos materials. As a result, many World War II veterans came into contact with asbestos.

In addition, many veterans who served in the following conflicts suffered asbestos exposure:

  • Korean War
  • Vietnam War
  • Gulf War
  • Iraq War
  • Afghanistan War

In addition, military veterans who worked in building and construction, pipefitting, welding, automotive repair, building demolition, drywall removal, firefighting, asbestos mining and milling, and other industries where asbestos-containing products were used may have an increased risk for asbestos-related conditions as well.

Exposure Risks for Family Members and Roommates

Family members and roommates of workers exposed to asbestos may also have a heightened asbestos exposure risk and may develop asbestos-related illnesses.

When an asbestos worker comes home, their clothes and shoes may contain asbestos dust. Asbestos particles may have latched onto their skin and hair. The worker's family members and roommates may breathe in the asbestos dust.

This exposure is known as para-occupational exposure. To decrease the risk of asbestos exposure, workers must shower and change their clothing and shoes before leaving the workplace.

Talk to a Lawyer About Asbestos Exposure Risks

You may have a legal claim if you are sick and believe it's due to asbestos exposure. The best way to know is to talk to an asbestos and mesothelioma lawyer. You can call and schedule your free case evaluation and find out if you have a legal claim for an asbestos-related illness.

See FindLaw's Asbestos Exposure Determining Fault and Liability to learn more about your legal options.

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