Where Was I Exposed to Asbestos?

Where does asbestos come from? Asbestos, a group of minerals prized for their durability and heat resistance, was widely used across the United States until the 1980s. Unfortunately, doctors and scientists later linked asbestos exposure to a variety of diseases, including mesothelioma.

Since asbestos can cause mesothelioma, which kills around 3,300 people every year, nonprofits like the ADAO are dedicated to banning asbestos. It’s difficult to track exactly where Americans would have encountered asbestos. Given how readily available it was and how frequently it was used in the construction of buildings and consumer products during the 20th century, however, some experts suspect that nearly every American was exposed to asbestos at one point or another during this time period.

If you or a loved one lived or worked in an area with a high risk of asbestos exposure, it’s important to learn more about where you may have come into contact with the carcinogen. Luckily, it usually takes multiple exposures for someone to develop issues with their health. This is why people in certain occupations have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related diseases. Understanding your history of exposure could help your doctor determine whether you’re at risk for mesothelioma or another cancer.

Asbestos Exposure in the United States

Asbestos was widely used in the United States due to its practical applications, particularly in buildings constructed before 1980 and some as recent as 2004. Consequently, the risk of exposure to the mineral was high for anyone. However, certain areas posed greater risks, such as mines, large manufacturers that utilized the mineral, and states that imported and exported significant amounts of the material.

Libby, Montana, was a major contributor to the national asbestos supply, with over five million tons of the carcinogen shipped to almost every state between 1948 and 1993. The map below displays the states that received the largest amounts (in metric tons) of carcinogen from Libby.

Environmental Exposure

Given that it’s a mineral, asbestos can be found in nature. This is called naturally occurring asbestos. It isn’t inherently dangerous when undisturbed but some areas, where the mineral has run off into water and soil, can be hazardous. Still, it is unlikely for someone to develop mesothelioma from natural deposits. In towns like Libby, Montana, however, mines can plague the entire population.

Asbestos Mining in Libby, Montana

Much of the asbestos distributed in the United States can be traced back to Libby, Montana. This is due to the large vermiculite mineral deposits that miners discovered near Libby. Vermiculite is used in a variety of applications, including insulation, brake linings, roofing and flooring materials, soil conditioners, packing materials, waste treatment, and more. However, none of the workers or people living in the town realized that Libby’s vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos. The city started mining vermiculite in 1919 and didn’t stop until 1990. At one time, this small town mined and distributed as much as 80 percent of the world’s vermiculite, all of which was contaminated with a highly friable (brittle) form of asbestos.

Today, more than 2,400 people have been diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions in Libby. It’s impossible to know if this is the total number, however, as many of these conditions weren’t a recognizable cause of death until recently. Mesothelioma, for example, wasn’t listed as a cause of death on death certificates until 1999. This makes it difficult to measure how many people from Libby died from exposure, especially those who suffered from secondary exposure.

9/11: The World Trade Center Attack in New York

The tragedy we experienced as a country on September 11, 2001, will never be forgotten. It was a moment that permanently impacted the lives of thousands of New Yorkers. Unfortunately, many of those trying to move on are still suffering nearly two decades later. When the World Trade Center fell, dust blanketed the city. People miles away were covered in the remnants of their skyline. What many did not realize at the time was that this deadly dust cloud also contained asbestos.

More and more people who lived or worked near Ground Zero are being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases each year. Given the latency period for cancers like mesothelioma, it’s likely that more will be diagnosed in the decades to come. If you were in New York City on September 11, 2001, it is possible that you were exposed to asbestos. If you develop mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness as a result of this exposure, there may be legal action to take for financial compensation.

Take-Home (Secondary) Exposure

Friable asbestos refers to a form of the mineral that is easily crumbled. When this happens, the microscopic barbs can become airborne. This is how most people inhale or ingest the mineral, which can lead to health issues down the line. However, asbestos dust and fibers can also settle on clothes, skin, and hair, putting anyone at risk for secondary exposure.

Secondary exposure occurs when someone comes into contact with asbestos through another person. Similar to secondhand smoke from cigarettes, secondary asbestos exposure can cause the same diseases in people as it does in those who deal with it first-hand. This is especially true of the families of men and women who worked in or near mines. What looks like harmless dust that could’ve settled on someone’s clothes could actually contain the carcinogen that leads to mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other cancers.

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Asbestos Removal

Also known as asbestos abatement, each state has strict rules on asbestos removal and how it’s handled.  This is mainly in part because of how hazardous the mineral is to human health, and how easily the fibers can be inhaled or ingested.

The most recent set of regulations on asbestos removal that all building owners and managers must follow are known as the NESHAP, or National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. The NESHAP was developed by the EPA (Related News: MoCRA) and focuses on significant environmental risks and noncompliance patterns. It’s also the nation’s stationary source standard for hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).

Signs of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos does not affect a person overnight. In many cases, 10 to 60 years may pass before any asbestos exposure symptoms develop. Still, identifying where one may have been exposed can help doctors diagnose certain cancers, like mesothelioma, at an earlier stage. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the patient’s prognosis.

Getting Help for Asbestos-Related Disease

While there is no cure for mesothelioma or other asbestos exposure-related illnesses, treatments can prolong survival, mitigate the symptoms, and improve the patient’s prognosis. If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, talk to your doctor about your treatments options. They can create a multimodal treatment plan for you and help determine which therapies can succeed.

Also, remember that you may have legal recourse. Get a free case evaluation and see what options are available. You may be entitled to compensation that could help pay for treatment or loss of income.

Mesothelioma Support Team

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