At one time, asbestos was in wide use everywhere in America. It is a natural mineral in a fibrous form and is highly resistant to heat, water, chemicals, and electricity. Asbestos was used in thousands of construction, commercial and household products.
Some of those products included:
- Fireproof coatings
- Concrete and cement
- Joint compound
- Pains and sealants
Asbestos also was used in electrical appliances, plastics, rubber, lawn furniture, and even hats and gloves. But working with asbestos in any way put millions of people at risk for asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry found that an estimated 27 million people were exposed to asbestos from 1940 to 1979.
There are some occupations where you are at higher risk to asbestos exposure than others:
For decades, aerospace workers have worked hands-on with air and spacecraft and the products to manufacture them. As recently as the 1980s, some of the products they handled contained asbestos. Asbestos was a vital component of aircraft and spacecraft construction for many years. Manufacturers provided tones of asbestos products to the aircraft and spacecraft industries
Aerospace workers were often exposed to asbestos because it was declared the best material for many temperature and noise-sensitive purposes. Asbestos was used in brake linings, insulation for noise control around cockpits, coatings for electric lines, and soundproofing engines.
Agricultural & Farm Workers
Farming and agriculture are industries that have long been linked to asbestos-related diseases. There were nearly 3 million farmers in 1970 when asbestos was still used often. Millions of farmers were exposed to asbestos each day as they work within buildings and on machines that were constructed with asbestos-containing materials.
Some of the workers in the farming and agricultural fields who were exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos were equipment mechanics, equipment operators, dairy farmers, farmhands, poultry farmers, ranchers, sharecroppers, cattle farmers, and vegetable farmers.
Aircraft mechanics were exposed to asbestos in their work starting as early as the 1920s and up to the 1980s. Aircraft brake linings, pads, and shoes were the most significant sources of asbestos dust for aircraft mechanics. Friction particles full of asbestos were released when aircraft brake housings were disassembled for maintenance, endangering all aircraft personnel in the area.
Military aircraft mechanics were at high risk of asbestos exposure because many Navy and Airforce aircraft were loaded with asbestos for fire protection and sound insulation. Aircraft mechanics on aircraft carriers had an even higher risk of asbestos exposure because Navy ships were heavy users of asbestos.
During the 20th century, blacksmiths were exposed to asbestos in equipment that was fitted with asbestos to resist heat. Asbestos-related diseases usually are traced back to asbestos exposure caused by poor workplace safety. It has been estimated that at least 4,000 lawsuits have been filed over occupational asbestos exposure as of 2017.
No professionals were more exposed to asbestos over the decades than boilermakers. The entire place in which they worked was coated with asbestos. Everything in their surroundings was coated in asbestos for heat control. Even the tools and clothing of these workers contained asbestos. From the 1920s through the 1970s, asbestos was considered part of their essential protective equipment.
Boilermakers were exposed to asbestos when they disturbed the toxic material during maintenance, insulation or removal. And, as the parent product was disturbed, invisible asbestos particles went into the air and were inhaled. Asbestos-treated parts in boilers were always moving, so workers there were constantly exposed to great danger.
Carpenters are the first workers in and the last out of most construction projects. They are onsite during every stage of construction and are exposed to hundreds of materials as the structure is assembled and completed. Even if carpenters did not directly work with asbestos, they worked near others who were installing asbestos-containing materials in commercial and residential projects.
Carpenters have some of the highest risks of asbestos exposure of all people in the construction trades. Not only were they involved in woodworking where great amounts of dust were created; they also worked in renovation and demolition projects where asbestos-containing materials were torn out and replaced.
Cement masons and brick masons are highly skilled men and women who build and repair floors, walls, chimneys, and fireplaces. In the past, asbestos was added to cement paste that was used to join various materials in masonry and laying bricks. From mixing the mortar to repairing old cement and brick structures, cement masons were often exposed to deadly asbestos dust.
Cement masons were exposed with dry cement powder was added to concrete, and asbestos particles in the mixture blew asbestos dust into the air. Also, cutting bricks and cement blocks created clouds of invisible asbestos dust.
Chemical Plant Workers
Chemical plants contribute in significant ways to the US economy, but they also can lead to health problems for some workers. Chemical plant workers who were employed from the 1930s to the 1970s in these plants were often exposed to asbestos, which was commonly used because asbestos has strong chemical-resistant properties.
Thousands of construction products contained asbestos before 1980. Demolition crews and home renovators are at higher risk of exposure. Roofing and flooring materials are still produced with asbestos. This puts even current workers at risk of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos was commonly used in drywall boards and drywall tape for decades before it was known to be dangerous. For drywall workers, the risk of being exposed to toxic asbestos was high. Drywall workers were in regular contact with many asbestos-containing materials. They inhaled asbestos fibers in dangerous, dusty construction sites every day, for years.
From the 1950s through the late 1980s, drywall, drywall tape, and plaster joint compound had high amounts of deadly asbestos in them. It was industry standard to add asbestos to these products to protect against fire, and it also was a great insulator. Unfortunately, handling these asbestos-containing products cause clouds of invisible asbestos dust to be thrown into the air, endangering every worker on the construction site.
Electricians worked with large quantities of asbestos fibers at many job sites going back at least 70 years. Asbestos exposure occurred beginning in the 1920s when many buildings contained asbestos. Electricians worked on maintenance, construction, repair, and renovation of buildings. The electrical work required cutting into walls and wires containing asbestos. Every time an electrician worked with asbestos, billions of asbestos fibers were blown into the air.
Fires cause severe damage to products that contain asbestos in older homes, which can cause deadly fibers to become airborne. Asbestos has been used for years to make protective clothing for firefighters, helmets, and boots. Many firefighters were exposed to asbestos when they were working on the 9/11 disaster site in NYC.
A 2006 study was released by Environmental Health Perspectives that followed some of the workers who worked at the WTC site in New York City after 9/11. About 70 percent of them had new or worsen respiratory issues. About 28% of the workers had lung function tests that were abnormal. Researchers are continuing to follow those who worked on the job site after 9/11.
Asbestos was a common ingredient in floor tiles and vinyl flooring before the 1980s. Flooring contractors worked with these products to make floors in many residential and commercial buildings, so they were often at risk of heavy asbestos exposure.
Workers could be at especially high risk when they removed flooring that contained asbestos fibers. Vinyl flooring in particular before the 1980s had high levels of asbestos. When flooring contractors cut that material, it would cause clouds of invisible asbestos dust to be released in the air.
Workers in most building trades face a higher than average risk of asbestos exposure, including general contractors. While many general contractors may not work directly with asbestos-containing materials themselves, asbestos can sometimes contaminate an entire job site where other workers are using products that contain the toxic mineral that can cause mesothelioma.
It has been found that former construction workers are at least five times more likely to get mesothelioma than the general public. The risk for carpenters, plumbers, and electricians is even higher.
While many would not suspect that hospital workers would face a risk of asbestos exposure, the reality is far different. Many healthcare professionals work in older buildings where asbestos is present. As long as the asbestos is undisturbed inside building structures, the chances of exposure are low.
But hospitals are frequently renovated and expanded as the population grows, and hospital workers can be exposed to asbestos while they go about their regular work as a renovation project is being conducted in their healthcare facility. In fact, a survey of hospitals in New York City in 2006 showed asbestos problems at 10 of the 15 facilities surveyed.
The HVAC industry employs millions of Americans because we put such a priority on keeping our home cool in summer and warm in winter. HVAC specialists often need to work on rooftops, in garages, attics and other tight spaces. If the building was built before 1980, it is considered high-risk for asbestos exposure because of several potential asbestos-containing products, including drywall, insulation, and shingles.
As long as these products are not disturbed, there is little danger, but HVAC specialists often need to cut into existing structures to do their work, and this can disturb deadly asbestos and lead to a higher risk of mesothelioma and asbestosis.
Industrial workers include a variety, such as mechanics, trade laborers, chemical workers, and machinery operators. Brake mechanics were especially at risk to be exposed to asbestos as they worked with brake shoes and rotors coated with asbestos. Workers also were at risk when exposed to asbestos in paper, textiles, gaskets, fireproofing and insulation.
Insulation is a vital part of residential and commercial buildings. Insulation workers usually are employed on residential and commercial projects, but they also may work on factories and ships where insulation is required for heavy machinery. Unfortunately, asbestos is a very toxic material that was used in insulation from the 1930s until the 1970s. It made great insulation but put insulation workers at high risk of asbestos exposure.
Insulation workers who installed insulation in attics and around heating and air condition systems were at high risk for developing mesothelioma.
Janitors / Custodians
Janitors and custodians often are required to do a variety of work in their buildings that could put them in contact with toxic asbestos. Routine cleaning and maintenance activities around pipe insulation and boilers, or drilling into floors and ceilings, could present a risk of asbestos exposure, especially if the building was constructed before the 1980s.
Janitors and custodians also often needed to do maintenance work on flooring or HVAC systems that could contain asbestos.
From the 1920s through the 1970s, asbestos was used heavily in the machining industry. Machinists that were exposed to the most asbestos were usually working on the finishing stages of a project, especially if the project involved making and installing gaskets.
Asbestos is part of many buildings that were constructed before the 1980s. Anyone who was employed as a painter before then was at risk of developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. Even today, painters in older buildings risk being exposed to the dangerous mineral.
Plumbers & Pipefitters
Plumbers work on almost all residential and commercial projects in the United States, and sometimes their work puts them in contact with asbestos. It is estimated that 28 billion feet of copper plumbing tube have been placed in US buildings since 1963. That amount of plumbing work put these workers at risk of asbestos exposure, especially in buildings that were constructed before 1980.
Plumbers also were provided with many asbestos-containing products to do their work from the 1940s through the 1970s. In 2018, a study showed that former plumbers had some of the highest rates of mesothelioma of all workers. They were 16 times more likely to get mesothelioma than other workers.
Power Plant Workers
Heat resistant products were the most frequent sources of asbestos exposure. Some of the most common were fireproofing sprays and pipe insulation. Also, cutting decades-old asbestos pipes is a major exposure threat to workers in power plants. A study has found that 33% of power plant workers had asbestos in their lungs. (CDC.gov).
Almost 30% of mesothelioma lawsuits are filed by military veterans and shipyard workers. Boiler workers had high exposure to asbestos. So did workers in construction, repair, and demolition of vessels. Juries have awarded shipyard workers high levels verdicts in lawsuits against companies that produced asbestos products.
Steel Mill Workers
It was always understood that working in steel mills came with certain risks. But one of those risks was unknown for decades. Asbestos was used in steel mills as insulation from the 1940s through the 1970s, so steel mill workers were exposed to this toxic substance while doing their daily tasks. A 2015 British Medical Journal study found that Belgian steel mill workers from 2001 to 2009 had a three times greater risk of dying of mesothelioma than the general population.
Subway workers are employed in subway systems throughout the United States as they inspect rails, railroad ties, and roadbeds for any signs of upkeep needed. Other subway workers reconstruct rail systems, cut rails to various lengths and install nex sections.
But working in subways carries many risks, and one of them has been asbestos exposure. Asbestos was used a great deal in the building of subways until the 1970s. While asbestos is no longer used for building subways, workers doing maintenance on older systems are still at risk of exposure.
Textile & Mill Workers
The textile industry has long been a major factor in the growth of the United States. In textile mills, different types of cloth are processed into finished cloth. Because of the high levels of heat involved, many of the machines and products used in textile factories contained dangerous levels of asbestos. While modern textile factories do not contain asbestos, textile and mill workers who are employed in older factors could face exposure, especially if renovations are underway.
A Polish study in 2015 looked at asbestosis rates among various types of workers who worked from the 1940s to the 1990s. The worst rate of asbestosis was among textile workers, with 69 cases per 1,000.
Asbestos was a common material used in floor tiles for decades, especially before the 1980s. Tile workers worked with these tiles in residential and commercial projects, so they were often at higher risk of asbestos exposure. While the risk today is thought to be low, some tile workers still could be at risk of mesothelioma if they are performing renovation projects on older buildings.
Asbestos in tiles tends to become more friable (more easily disturbed) over time, so if a tile worker is on a renovation project that involves flooring on buildings constructed before 1980, great care should be taken that there is no asbestos exposure.
Electric arc welding produces resistance in electrodes or welding rods. This process leads to a short or arc to form when the rod touched the joint. The electrodes would melt or fuse, resulting in a metal seam that was much stronger than the two original metal pieces. Many welders and cutters used dozens of welding rods per day, exposing them to asbestos dust and smoke.
Every branch of the US armed forces used asbestos in many areas. People who worked on Navy ships, as well as the operators of military vehicles and aircraft into the 1970s, were at high risk. Thousands of veterans who work on the vessels below developed an asbestos-related illness decades after their service was complete:
- Aircraft carriers
- Auxiliary vessels
Other Occupations At High Risk of Exposure to Asbestos
Workers who operate in high-risk jobs tend to work with asbestos in high concentrations on a daily basis. For example, mineworkers have the highest potential for exposure to asbestos. Mining for asbestos in the United States ended almost 20 years ago. But many miners still are exposed because some minerals, including vermiculite and talc, have asbestos in them. Also, the equipment that miners use has asbestos and asbestos gaskets.
The most well-known incident happened in the vermiculite mine owned by W.R. Grace and Co in Libby MT. Hundreds of miners and their families perished from asbestosis and mesothelioma in Libby. The R.T. Vanderbilt mines for talc in New York is another well-known example, These mines had very high levels of tremolite asbestos that was combined with other minerals.
Other top industries and job sites for exposure to asbestos include:
- Ship and boat building
- Agricultural work
- Industrial and chemicals
- Electrical light and power
- Elementary and secondary schools
- Blast furnaces, steelworks, rolling and finishing mills
Risks from Asbestos Operations Nearby
It is not just the workers themselves in the above occupations who are at risk for asbestos exposure. People who live in nearby towns and communities also are at risk of exposure to asbestos.
A 2009 study that was published in the Atmospheric Pollution Research Journal tested the effects of asbestos exposure in a group of people who lived near a plant that produced asbestos-containing materials. The study looked at the rates of pleural mesothelioma and other conditions related to asbestos in an industrial city in Egypt that contained the Sigwart Company asbestos factory. (Sciencedirect.com).
The study compared disease rates in people working in the plant to those living near the plant, and to those in a control group with no known exposure to the mineral. In total, this study had more than 4,000 under observation.
Pleural mesothelioma was highest – nearly 3% – in the group with asbestos exposure in the environment. The group with exposure on the job had a lower rate of only .8%. As you would expect, the control group had a few cases of disease – only .1%.
These rates varied a good deal for other illnesses, such as diffuse pleural thickening. Overall, this study found a slightly higher rate of illnesses in asbestos workers than the residents who lived nearby.
Improper Removal of Asbestos
Cases of mesothelioma still occur today and will occur in the future because sometimes construction companies working on older buildings to either tear them down or renovate them are careless in removing asbestos-containing materials. It is important that property abatement operations are used to remove those dangerous materials. It also is important to stick to federal safety regulations to remove and dispose of asbestos-containing materials to reduce health risks.
Even though it is thought that asbestos is a problem of the past, there are still many job sites out there that still may contain asbestos. Workers who are employed in industries that may still have asbestos-containing materials around should use all of the protective equipment supplied by employers. It is essential to follow safety procedures and workplace practices. For example, approved respirators must be worn when you are working around asbestos fibers.
It also is important to take careful precautions against bringing asbestos home from work. Any shoes or clothing that was worn on the job must be left and cleaned at the site. Showers should always be taken before going home to avoid presenting any danger of second-hand exposure to family.
Safety equipment and proper safety practices will protect you and your loved ones from contracting any diseases related to asbestos exposure.
If you think that you or your loved one was diagnosed with mesothelioma from asbestos exposure at work, it is important to retain the services of a skilled mesothelioma attorney as soon as possible. He or she will interview you and determine when and where you think you were exposed, and what your current medical condition is. If it appears you could have a case, he will conduct extensive research about where and when you were exposed and will determine the next legal steps.
Get Mesothelioma Legal Help
With over $30 billion available for victims through the Asbestos Trust Funds, you could be entitled to financial compensations without ever filing a lawsuit? Mesothelioma & Lung Cancer victims qualify immediately. Complete the form or call us toll free (800) 352-0871
- Asbestos Exposure Study. (1998). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pgms/worknotify/asbestos.html
- Asbestos Exposure Study. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1309104215304712