Do children have a higher risk for asbestos exposure?
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Do children have a higher risk for asbestos exposure?

Exposure to asbestos can lead to numerous dangerous conditions. Inhalation or ingestion of the fibers can result in mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis or other deadly diseases. While instances of mesothelioma were first thought to be tied directly to occupational exposure, the danger can come from other sources such as secondary exposure or environmental hazards.

While the overall risk is clear, studies disagree on certain factors centered on childhood exposure. A study by the United Kingdom’s Committee on Carcinogenicity found that children exposed to asbestos could be as much as 3.5 times more at risk of developing mesothelioma than similarly exposed adults.

A study centering on Witterhorn, Australia, where decades of mining crocidolite asbestos led to the exposure of thousands of residents, seems to contradict the UK’s study. The Australian study found evidence that suggested that children were more resistant to the carcinogenic effects of asbestos exposure than adults. The study made two points regarding survival rates:

  • Survival rates were better in children than in adults. At the end of the study, 88% of children versus 58% of adults had survived.
  • The mesothelioma rate was 60% higher for adults.

Ultimately, the study concluded that adults who had been exposed to asbestos showed 2.5 times the risk of developing mesothelioma versus childhood exposure.

Why is this line of research critical?

Studying the effects of asbestos exposure in children is important as countless schools in the United States were constructed prior to the 1980s. While many have gone through the process of asbestos abatement and removal, numerous schools continue to be at risk. Building materials such as tiles, water pipes, roofing materials and insulation could have relied heavily on the fire resistant and heat resistant properties of asbestos fibers.

As these materials deteriorate, the children can inhale or ingest microscopic bits of asbestos that accumulate in the lungs and lead to chronic, fatal conditions.