The use of asbestos has fortunately become more and more limited in the United States, as restrictions on it have increased over the last few decades (although it is important to note that asbestos is still not banned in the US).
However, the latency period in asbestos cancers is long, often decades, so workers who dealt extensively with any of the over 5,000 products that contained asbestos—including floor tile, paints, automotive brake shoes, roofing materials, and more—may still be at risk for one or more asbestos-related cancers.
I was exposed to asbestos, am I at risk for asbestos cancer?
While there’s no magic formula to determine your exact risk, if you know or suspect you’ve been exposed to asbestos, you should let your doctor know. He or she can then be vigilant about performing appropriate tests and observing any symptoms that may be indicative of the beginning stages of an asbestos cancer.
High Risk Asbestos Jobs
According to the CDC, industries that show an increased risk for asbestos cancer include:
- ship and boat repair – naval shipyards
- industrial and miscellanous chemicals
- petroleum refining
- electric light and power
- plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
- mechanical engineers
- elementary school teachers
Secondary and Bystander Asbestos Exposure
While the continuous, regular exposure of industrial workers would logically increase the risk of developing an asbestos cancer, no known level of exposure is safe. Therefore, it is not just workers who are at risk of getting an asbestos cancer.
Bystander asbestos exposure such as those who live near asbestos factories or families of asbestos workers are at an increased risk of developing asbestos cancer. Wives who shook out and washed asbestos-laced clothing or children who hugged their asbestos-dust-covered dad just home from work, have been diagnosed with asbestos cancers such as mesothelioma.
Then there are those who never thought they were working around asbestos: the do-it-yourselfer whose home improvements unknowingly brought them into contact with asbestos insulation. The student who attended summer school 30 years ago in an old building that was being renovating at the time. The renovators themselves who weren’t told they were ripping out asbestos materials.
The CDC estimates that these secondary exposures to asbestos put an estimated 1.3 million construction and general industry workers at risk.