How Can Children Get Mesothelioma When they Weren’t Directly Exposed to Asbestos?

It is very rare for children to develop mesothelioma. Childhood mesothelioma is thought to be caused by either radiation or by natural environmental exposure to asbestos according to the Journal of Thoracic Oncology. Children and other family members of someone directly exposed to asbestos can get mesothelioma from second hand exposure later on in life. The average latency period, or development of mesothelioma after exposure is 10 to 15 years although reports have highlighted cases of development up to 50 years after exposure.

Second Hand Asbestos Exposure in Children

Second hand asbestos exposure occurs when asbestos fibers are carried home from work or another place (such as factories, shipyards, construction sites, etc.) and inhaled by others.

Tiny chrysotile asbestos fibers can become airborne and inhaled or ingested by family members and other people that share living space or spend a lot of time with the person directly exposed. If it occurs over an extended period of time, even trace amounts of second hand asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma cancer.

Children Directly Exposed to Asbestos

Although it is extremely rare, there are potential sources of direct asbestos exposure for kids as well. Children may be at risk for asbestos exposure in their schools when remodeling or construction occurs.

Children living in certain countries outside the United States where asbestos occurs naturally in ground soil could be exposed from playing in asbestos-contaminated soil or from simply being outdoors when the wind blows.

Exposure from Products & Manufactured Goods

Asbestos has also been found in items typically used by children, including modeling clay, crayons and chalk although its use in these products has been tightly restricted for the past few decades. Children could also have been exposed to asbestos in older homes that use joint compound containing asbestos, and during remodeling projects that make asbestos fibers from old building materials airborne.

asbestos exposure warning sign at elementary schoolHome Building Materials that Put Children at Risk for Exposure

  • Sheetrock
  • Popcorn Ceiling Texture
  • Vermiculite
  • Plaster
  • Wall Texture Compound
  • Window Putty
  • Cement Flues
  • Insulation
  • Ceiling Tile
  • Roofing Shingles
  • Tar Paper
  • Spray Cement
  • Linoleum Flooring Sheets & Tiles
  • Vinyl Flooring Tiles & Sheets
  • Mastic
  • Flooring Adhesive
  • Floor Tiles Made of Asphalt
  • Old Cement Pipes
  • Air Ducts

Occupations Most at Risk For Causing Second-Hand Asbestos Exposure

Some of the most common cases of mesothelioma from second hand exposure occurred in families where a parent worked in industrial environments. According to the National Institute of Health, the “highest exposure occurs in occupations related to stainless steel production, welding, chrome plating, and leather tanning.” Other jobs that exposed workers and consequently their children to asbestos include work as a firefighter, in a factory, a chemical or oil refinery, manufacturing plant, power plant, in a mine, HVAC technicians, in the navy and military, in a shipyard, and in steel mills.

Fire fighting suits and jackets are laced with heavy fireproofing materials, many of which contain asbestos. Firefighting boots, as well as other industrial work boots, often contained asbestos as an insulator and flame retardant. Coveralls and work boots worn by hard working men and women in factories, shipyards, and refineries were hung in the hallway, laundry room, or in the family car.

Parents had no idea that their uniforms and other clothing contained asbestos. Children who greeted their parent daily with an enthusiastic welcome home hug before they changed or showered were consistently exposed to asbestos.

Second-Hand Exposure to Children in the Home

Children are not the only family members at risk for mesothelioma from second hand asbestos exposure. Anyone who washed clothing or uniforms contaminated with asbestos fibers were also at risk for developing the disease later on. Spouses, maids, housekeepers, and any other roommates or residents of the home are also at risk. The asbestos fibers from one piece of clothing can be transferred and distributed across the whole load or batch of washing. Children are not the only victims of mesothelioma from second-hand asbestos exposure.


  1. Antman, K. H., Ruxer, R. L., Aisner, J. and Vawter, G. (1984), Mesothelioma following Wilms’ tumor in childhood. Cancer, 54: 367–369. doi:10.1002/1097-0142(19840715)54:2<367::AID-CNCR2820540232>3.0.CO;2-Y
  2. The presence of asbestos in the natural environment is likely related to mesothelioma in young individuals and women from Southern Nevada.  Baumann F., Buck B.J., Metcalf R.V., Mclaurin B.T., Merkler D.J., Carbone M. (2015)  Journal of Thoracic Oncology,  10  (5) , pp. 731-737.
  3. Cancer and the Environment – NIEHS – National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute.