Even though statistics indicate that an increasing number of individuals who do not have direct work experience with asbestos are impacted by a disease related to asbestos, the majority of cases that are documented indicate that the cause is work related exposure to asbestos, a toxic mineral. These disorders are due to the likelihood of multiple exposures over time, which is a standard part of job related operations in a range of job sites and industries.
There are a number of job sites such as manufacturing plants, processing plants where products involving asbestos were constructed, and asbestos mines are closely tied to high occupational exposure. That said, there are a range of other job sites, including oil refineries, chemical plants, auto manufacturing plants, metal work, power plants, and ship yards that also are privy to an extensive past of worker exposure to asbestos.
Employees who found work at any of the sites described above during the 1900s were likely exposed to a number of products that contained asbestos. These employees face a risk of developing asbestosis, mesothelioma, or additional diseases of the lungs that are related to being exposed to asbestos. Occupants of these high risk jobs who worked at these sites also took asbestos fibers home through their clothes, skin, and hair, which led to accidental exposures of family and friends to asbestos. This exposure is termed secondary exposure.
There are a number of occupations that involve an increased risk of exposure to asbestos. Since asbestos was a component in a number of different domestic and commercial products, many people who performed work in these jobs faced a higher risk of exposure to the toxic mineral. For example, as asbestos was frequently used as a component in materials for plumbing and electrical work, such as insulation, both electricians and plumbers face a higher risk of exposure to asbestos.
Firefighters are among the professionals who face potential increases in risks of exposure to asbestos. When firefighters respond to fires in homes, particularly in homes that were built decades ago, they face risk from a number of products that contain asbestos and become damaged in the fire. Examples of such products include home insulation. Such insulation would become exposed to the air and inhaled by firefighters performing their duties on the job.
A recent example of this risk faced by firefighters involved the first responders in New York City who responded to the World Trade Center Attacks on the Twin Towers. These first responders faced a significant amount of exposure to asbestos dust that was present throughout the Ground Zero site of the attacks. Similarly, there are a number of other occupations that come with an increased risk of occupant exposure to the toxic mineral. Examples of such occupations include ship builders, factory workers, auto mechanics, construction workers, and railroad workers.
In addition to the professions mentioned above, it was common in earlier times for every branch of the United States military to make use of asbestos or products containing asbestos. Asbestos in the military was commonly used as a form of insulation for vessels, vehicles and buildings. However, asbestos was most commonly used in the Navy, where the mineral was used in hundreds of different ways to aid in the functioning of shipyards and vessels between the 1930s all the way into the 1970s.
For the majority of the 1900s, there were thousands of Navy veterans who were stationed on vessels that were contaminated with asbestos in addition to workers in shipyards. In many of these situations, asbestos exposure occurred in small places that did not include any ventilation.