The three main types of asbestos exposure are:

  1. Occupational
  2. Environmental
  3. Secondary (second hand)

Second-hand exposure occurs when the primary person exposed to asbestos at work brings home asbestos fibers on their clothing or other equipment, exposing their children and spouse. Occupational asbestos exposure is when someone is exposed to asbestos at work. Occupational exposure occurred in construction sites, among firefighters, in manufacturing plants, mines, and in oil refineries, and chemical plants. Environmental asbestos exposure typically occurs when people are exposed to naturally occurring asbestos that contaminates groundwater supplies, or fibers are disturbed and become airborne. Some environmental asbestos exposure is actually from soil, water and trees that have been contaminated by nearby asbestos manufacturing plants or mines.

Although asbestos exposure has primarily occurred within occupational situations (ranging from the initial mining of the fiber to the final removal process of older construction materials containing asbestos), secondary and environmental exposure to asbestos fibers has also presented a significant hazard to the health of different members of society. Men who have been exposed to asbestos fibers while working represent the largest group currently suffering from an asbestos related disease, yet numerous women and children who were exposed to fibers which clung to the clothing and/or hair of their husband or father have developed health problems later in life.

Additionally, those who live near naturally occurring deposits of asbestos are often subject to environmental exposure, accounting for a significant number of worldwide deaths each year.

Occupational Exposure

Dating back to the late 1800’s, asbestos was used in many different industrial applications and a countless number of workers were exposed to the fibers on the job. The use of asbestos was highest during the middle of the twentieth century, when an estimated 27 million workers were exposed to this material on a nearly daily basis. Any worker who spent time in one of the following industries or facilities may be at risk of developing an asbestos related illness:

  • Commercial or residential construction;
  • Automotive manufacturing or repair shops;
  • Companies involved in the mining of asbestos;
  • Manufacturers of steel, abrasives and/or sand, construction related products and many others;
  • Shipbuilders and anyone working near shipyards;
  • Firefighters and other emergency service providers;
  • Railroad, power plant and oil refinery workers, etc.

Secondary Exposure Through Clothing

Women represent eight percent of all current mesothelioma victims in the country. Most of these individuals were never exposed to asbestos fibers while working on a job site, but inhaled the fibers after their husbands returned home in clothing covered in the material. Due to the long latency period of up to 50 years or more, many of the women who are newly diagnosed with an asbestos related disease date back to a generation where most females were responsible for all the domestic duties of the household, including the shaking out and laundering of clothing.

Such duties resulted in millions of women being exposed to asbestos fibers on a daily basis; children were also exposed when they greeted their father upon return from work and/or visited the place of his employment. Additionally, scientists have discovered that people with smaller lung volumes (such as women and children) are more likely to develop an asbestos related disease when exposed to lower concentrations of asbestos than their male counterparts.

Proximity to An Asbestos Mine or Manufacturing Facility

Another common source of secondary exposure occurred with those who lived in close proximity to an asbestos mine and/or a manufacturing facility which utilized this hazardous material. Such individuals were often exposed to airborne asbestos particles every time they left their homes or spent time outdoors. Women and children were impacted to a greater degree than men as a likely result of their smaller lung capacities.

Environmental Exposure

In certain parts of the world, naturally occurring deposits of asbestos have exposed millions of people to this material and have resulted in thousands of deaths every year. Studies conducted on residents of rural villages in central Turkey reveal the dangers of living in an environment where asbestos fibers contaminate the soil.

More women in these villages are affected than men, as they are responsible for the “whitewashing” of the family home with soil containing these naturally occurring asbestos fibers. In some Australian locations, asbestos related deaths due to environmental exposure have been so significant that little evidence remains of the former local population. Gratefully, few locations within the United States are heavily contaminated with naturally occurring asbestos when compared to other locations around the world, yet areas which lie in close proximity to an asbestos mine and/or manufacturing facility may have soil which will remain hazardous for many decades to come.