Few workplace risks receive as much media attention as asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral substance that humans have used for multiple purposes for centuries. However, in recent decades, medical research has shown that asbestos can be quite dangerous for humans.
Those with environmental exposure to particulate asbestos could develop medical conditions ranging from lung cancer and mesothelioma to asbestosis. Given that there is asbestos in everything from old linoleum to naval ships, some people assume that asbestos is not as dangerous as you might think after you see a media story about someone’s sickened by it.
Is asbestos still a major concern for American workers?
40,000 people die from asbestos exposure annually
Only a tiny fraction of workers have to handle asbestos on the job, but those that do will have lifelong medical risks. It can often take decades after exposure to asbestos for someone to develop a significant medical condition, like mesothelioma. That delay means that other medical issues or an accident might claim the life of a worker before they ever get diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.
Although 40,000 thousand people every year die of conditions related to asbestos exposure, that number doesn’t accurately reflect everyone affected by asbestos. Some people won’t get counted. The sad thing is that those deaths are almost all preventable with the right workplace protections. Workers who didn’t have protective gear and those who lived with workers are at particularly high risk of eventually developing serious medical issues from their asbestos exposure.
Not everyone who inhales asbestos on the job will get sickened by it. While it is impossible to predict if you will develop severe illnesses after asbestos exposure, every worker should screen themselves and communicate with their physicians about their workplace risks so that early detection and treatment options are available to them.
No amount of asbestos exposure is safe
While some people work with asbestos for years and never show any signs of illness, other people wind up sick and die because of asbestos exposure. Both exposure on the job and secondary exposure of those who interact with workers who handle asbestos could lead to cancer.
Respecting asbestos for how dangerous it might be and watching carefully for signs of asbestos-related medical issues like mesothelioma can help workers who have handled asbestos in the past and their loved ones.