A guest blog by the Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com on the dangers relating to bringing Asbestos fibre home through personal contamination
Bringing Asbestos Home
Anyone who works with asbestos runs a risk of bringing it home, which can result in secondhand asbestos exposure among family members.
Secondhand exposure can lead to the same diseases as direct asbestos exposure, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
The shape and structure of asbestos fibers allows them to easily stick to surfaces. The jagged and microscopic fibers adhere readily to fabrics, hair, skin and just about any surface.
Knowing how secondary exposure happens helps workers take action to prevent it, which can save the lives of family members. With proper safety measures, secondhand exposure is completely avoidable.
How Secondary Exposure Happens
When working with asbestos, certain activities release fibers into the air. These activities include cutting, sawing, sanding, breaking and grinding asbestos-containing materials. Sanding asbestos materials generates more asbestos dust than other activities.
Once airborne, microscopic fibers are easily inhaled. As asbestos dust settles on surrounding surfaces, the fibers adhere to workers’ clothing, shoes, skin, hair or equipment.
If asbestos workers do not follow key safety protocols, including changing out of work clothes and showering prior to leaving the worksite, they risk bringing asbestos home.
When fibers enter a home they often settle in bedding, blankets, carpets, couches and other furniture. People who use any contaminated items could release fibers into the air and become exposed.
Anyone who launders asbestos-contaminated work clothes is at risk of exposure while handling and folding clothes. Additionally, research shows fibers transfer to uncontaminated clothing when washed with asbestos-laced clothing. This means children and other family members can end up wearing contaminated clothing without coming in direct contact with asbestos products.
Greeting family members with a hug upon arriving home is another way workers can cause secondary exposures to asbestos. This act of affection can unintentionally expose family members, putting them at risk of health effects later in life.
Health Effects of Secondary Exposure
Direct and secondhand asbestos exposures can cause several related diseases that arise after long latency periods. On average, at least 10 years pass after exposure before asbestosis or lung cancer develops, and approximately 20 to 50 years pass before mesothelioma develops.
The vast majority of people exposed to asbestos don’t get sick. Approximately 20 percent of those who work directly with asbestos eventually develop a disease. Research hasn’t determined how many people get sick from secondhand exposure, but the percentage might be similar based upon genetic predisposition to asbestos-related illnesses.
Generally, the more fibers a person is exposed to, the greater their risk of developing a disease. This dose-response relationship means that low-level exposure isn’t as dangerous as high-level exposure.
However, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) concluded through extensive research even infrequent, low-level exposures can result in disease. Other organizations, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), have confirmed there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Secondary asbestos exposure is known to cause all forms of asbestos-related disease (ARD). This includes benign conditions such as asbestosis, pleural plaques and pleurisy. It also includes cancerous diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.