Janitors often need to undertake many menial tasks, some of which require asbestos exposure. Some of the activities that can lead to asbestos exposure are checking pipe insulation and drilling into ceilings and floors. These work activities could lead to asbestos exposure if the building was constructed prior to the 1970s.
Asbestos is an affordable, naturally occurring mineral that is highly resistant to heat and electricity. These attributes make it useful in the construction industry, but custodians who were exposed to asbestos while carrying out repairs may be diagnosed with mesothelioma, a devastating cancer of the lung lining.
If there were problems with a boiler in a building, the custodian may have needed to remove asbestos linings to conduct repairs. If there were problems with piping, the plumber may have been required to disassemble them to look at the damage, which could have exposed him to asbestos fibers.
Janitor Fast Facts (BLS.gov)
- National Employment: 2.4 million
- Similar Occupations: Grounds maintenance workers, pest control workers, construction workers
- Previously Exposed: Yes
- Still Being Exposed: Yes
- Asbestos-Related Disease Risk: Low
- States With Highest Employment: Illinois, Wyoming, North Dakota, Washington, Minnesota (Zippia.com)
Janitors and Mesothelioma Exposure
Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers are hazardous to workers if they work their way into the lung lining. When that happens over time, DNA can mutate and produce cancer cells.
Custodians are at a lower risk of developing mesothelioma than other blue-collar professions. But there is still some risk for custodians who contacted asbestos during their work. People who work in cleaning and maintenance professions may come into contact with electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems to repair or clean them and could have been exposed to asbestos.
Older buildings that janitors work in often had asbestos fibers mixed into floors, walls, and ceilings to affordably strengthen them and to prevent fire. Asbestos also was added around boilers and pipes to insulate them.
Thousands of buildings across the United States still contain asbestos because they were built before the EPA ban on asbestos. So, it is important for custodians to know they could be exposed to asbestos in some aspects of their maintenance work. Face masks and protective clothing should be used if they are working in an area that may contain asbestos-containing materials.
Asbestos fibers can stick to shoes, clothing, and hair, which may then be transferred to other parts of the facility and could lead to harm to adults and children.
Scientific Studies on Janitor Asbestos Exposure
A 2007 study in The Annals of Occupational Hygiene (Researchgate.net) suggests a high risk of asbestos exposure to various many classes of maintenance workers, including janitors and custodians. When they perform certain types of maintenance work, they can disturb materials that may contain asbestos. The study also confirmed that janitors who work in buildings that supposedly had asbestos removed could still be exposed to asbestos. Sometimes the removal of asbestos-containing fibers is done haphazardly so there can be a health risk.
Janitor Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits
There are several reported cases involving personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits where a janitor was exposed to asbestos and died from mesothelioma. A family in Montana was awarded $650,000 because their loved one, Lauren DuPuis, died from mesothelioma after he worked as a contract janitor in Yellowstone County, Montana. (Billingsgazette.com)
The janitor had worked in asbestos abatement for several years. County officials said that the courthouse in which he worked was 99% free of the toxic material. But that was too late because he had also worked as a janitor in the building for decades.