Farming and agriculture have been linked to many cases of mesothelioma over the years. There were nearly 3 million farms in operation in 1970 when asbestos was still heavily used. Agricultural workers were exposed every day as they worked on farm machinery and inside buildings that contained asbestos.
While farming is not as popular as years ago, there are still 850,000 Americans employed in the profession. Asbestos exposure in this industry continues, and cases of mesothelioma continue to emerge.
Agricultural/Farm Workers Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment: 975,400
- Similar Occupations: Agricultural and food scientists, agricultural workers, animal care and service workers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Low
- States with Highest Employment: Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, California
Agricultural/Farm Workers Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos was often used until the 1970s in many industries before it became common knowledge that asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lung lining. As of 2016, there were about 856,000 agricultural workers, but the number of employees in the industry was higher during the peak use of asbestos when there were 700,000 or so more farms in operation.
Both men and women in the agriculture trades have been put at higher risk of asbestos exposure, especially because of the possibility of secondhand asbestos exposure to loved ones when the asbestos was brought home on farm clothing.
Trades, where there is a particular risk of asbestos exposure in the farming and agriculture business, include:
- Equipment mechanics
- Equipment operators
- Dairy farmers
- Poultry farmers
- Sheep, cattle, or goat farmers
- Farmers’ markets
Within those trades, agricultural workers that operated, maintained or repaired agricultural machinery were at elevated risk of asbestos exposure. Insulation, brakes, brake pads, gaskets, valves, seals and engine parts that had high friction and heat usually contained asbestos for fireproofing. Before 1980, most trucks and tractors had manual transmissions, which put heavy wear on parts that contained asbestos fibers.
Barns and farmhouses also once contained asbestos and were a risk to agricultural and farmworkers. Old farm buildings often contained asbestos in cement, insulation, floor tiles, roofing, siding, painting, and piping. Asbestos also was used in farm buildings in roof sheets, siding, building partitions, wallboards, insulation materials, spray-on coatings, gutters, and exhaust pipes.
Scientific Studies Agricultural/Farm Workers Asbestos Exposure
High rates of mesothelioma mortality have been observed in countries where asbestos naturally occurs. When tending to crops and tilling fields, farmers have been known to disturb natural asbestos deposits. Case studies that looked at farmers working near deposits of chrysotile asbestos have seen a higher risk of mesothelioma and early death. (Mesothelioma.com)
Recent research about mesothelioma and farming has been performed from 1999 through 2012. Research indicates that 44 farmer and rancher crop production mesothelioma deaths were found during this period. There also were 24 farmer and rancher deaths in the livestock production trade. Together, there were 68 deaths, which accounted for 1.17% of all mesothelioma deaths in the period studied. As of 1999, farming and agricultural production were one of the high-risk occupations for deaths related to mesothelioma.
Also, a 1984 study of Ohio fertilizer plant workers that used asbestos found a higher risk of pulmonary changes that were usually caused by asbestos exposure, including pleural effusion, pleural thickening, and pleural plaques.
While the risk of exposure to asbestos for farmers and agriculture workers is quite low, farmers who worked on lands and in plants and on machines contaminated with asbestos could have a higher risk of cancer.
Agricultural/Farm Worker Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
A jury in 2013 awarded $38 million to a farmworker who was exposed to high levels of asbestos. He spent decades working with and around machines on his family farm and was given less than a year to live. Lloyd Strom Garvin filed a lawsuit against 13 manufacturers of equipment such as valves and pumps that he used for years on the farm and in a factory.