Asbestos was a centerpiece of numerous American industries throughout much of the 20th century. Its popularity exposed countless workers and their loved ones to the dangerous material. The consequences of these decisions still reverberate today.
Who is most likely to have been exposed to asbestos through their work? And are any workers especially at risk right now? Here is an overview.
Past industry risks
Older Americans that were part of the workforce in the ‘80s and prior are much more likely to have been exposed to asbestos than current workers. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has a list of industries that were particularly dangerous. Exposure was possible for anyone that worked in:
- The manufacturing of products that contained asbestos, such as insulation or roofing
- Auto repair shops
- The mining industry
- Offshore rust removal
- Oil refineries
- Power plants
- The manufacturing of sand or abrasives
- Steel manufacturing
- Tile installation
Decades ago, workers in these industries may have been routinely exposed to asbestos. This sometimes carried over to loved ones. Asbestos fibers can catch on surfaces such as hair or clothing. When a worker went home, they may have been unknowingly exposing their partner, children or friends.
The use of asbestos in many industries was banned during the 1970s and 1980s. Today, exposure at work generally only happens during the repair, renovation, removal or maintenance of asbestos-containing items that were installed decades ago. Those in the construction or building maintenance industries are most likely to be affected.
There are some other situations to keep in mind. Emergency workers that respond to building disasters, such as fires or collapses, can also be exposed to high levels of asbestos for a short time.
Schools can also pose a risk, as many were built long ago, during a time when asbestos was widely used in items like tiles or plumbing. This means teachers, young students and other education professionals may be exposed.
The dangers of asbestos
The dangers of asbestos are now clear to us. The substance has been linked to serious, deadly health issues, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. Signs of these ailments may not appear until decades after exposure, making treatment even more difficult.
Tragically, this means many Americans, most of whom were just trying to earn a living, may pay the ultimate price.