What Is Secondary or Indirect Asbestos Exposure?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that can be found in many soil and rock deposits and was once used heavily in many industrial capacities. Prolonged exposure to the mineral has been known to cause disease and secondary exposure is often just as dangerous as firsthand exposure. Family members or friends who are exposed to the toxin secondhand are also at risk for developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
The mineral’s fibers tend to cling to the clothing, skin, or hair of those who work with or around it. These microscopic fibers are often tracked into the home, and end up embedded in furniture, carpet, and even in the laundry room. Fibers that are knocked loose can become airborne, exposing friends or relatives to the toxic dust.
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How Does Secondary or Indirect Exposure Occur?
Primary exposure occurs when a person works directly with asbestos or is exposed to an area containing it, and then unknowingly ingests its airborne fibers when inhaling or swallowing the dust. However, the same risks and health issues arise when people are exposed to asbestos indirectly. Something that looks as simple as a pile of dust could actually be housing the carcinogen that primarily causes mesothelioma, as well as other illnesses.
Those who are indirectly exposed to asbestos may come into contact with the toxic fibers by doing laundry, interacting with furniture, or having physical contact with a person who works around, with, or handles it. The fibers are very difficult to wash out of clothes, and typical machines do not effectively wash them out. It’s recommended that any clothes or furniture that have been exposed to asbestos fibers be properly disposed of and thrown away.
Exposure in the Workplace
Asbestos and products containing the mineral were commercially used for many different purposes due to their heat resistance properties. To this day, asbestos materials are still found in homes and workplaces, as it was widely used in wall and roofing sheets, gutters, pipes, insulation, and ceiling and floor tiles. Some of the occupations at risk for exposure include, but are not limited to:
- Construction workers
- First responders
- Industrial plant workers
- Railroad workers
If you’re the owner, contractor, or manager of an asbestos structure, even if you only have a suspicion of the fact, it’s your responsibility to take immediate action and measures towards adequate asbestos removal. It’s illegal to expose employees and residents, even accidentally, and you can be fined a lot of money for corporate negligence. Not to mention, lives are at risk. Even if the responsible party didn’t know of the presence of the mineral, they can still be held liable.
Whose at Risk for Secondary Exposure?
Typically, those facing the highest risk of secondary asbestos exposure are the people who encounter asbestos workers frequently. This list typically includes the people who are in close contact with those who work with the mineral, including significant others, children, coworkers, friends or roommates.
Specific case studies on patients who have developed mesothelioma as a result of indirect asbestos exposure involved those who worked administration in the factories or construction sites that contained the mineral.
There is a significant lag time in the development of asbestos-related diseases, referred to as a latency period. In the majority of cases, patients develop mesothelioma later in life, making seniors the primary target of the disease. The latency period is approximately 10 to 50 years before any symptoms even develop, making an early mesothelioma diagnosis even more difficult.
Mesothelioma symptoms vary based on the mesothelioma type, but some of the more common symptoms include:
- Chest Pain
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing
These symptoms can also be mistakenly diagnosed for other illnesses such as; asthma, COPD, influenza, lung cancer, tuberculosis, ovarian cancer, stomach cancer, heart failure, and coronary heart disease.
While there are multiple tests used to detect mesothelioma, a biopsy is the only conclusive way to obtain a diagnosis. There are two types of biopsies used to accurately diagnose mesothelioma. A needle biopsy, otherwise known as a closed biopsy, is the least invasive. A tissue biopsy is more invasive yet a more accurate method for obtaining a diagnosis, prognosis, planning treatment methods and acquiring legal assistance. Doctors may also suggest a needle biopsy, otherwise known as a closed biopsy. Sometimes, the biopsy specimen needs to be interpreted or sent to specialized pathologists who have experience diagnosing mesothelioma.
Other less invasive methods for supporting a diagnosis of mesothelioma include imaging and blood tests. Imaging tests include X-Rays, CT Scans, PET Scans, and MRIs. Doctors may run a series of blood tests, including Cancer Antigen (CA 125), Fibulin-3, and Mesomark. Typically, patients will undergo a series of blood and imaging tests and biopsies, in addition to a thorough physical examination.
Treatments for Mesothelioma
There is no cure for mesothelioma or other asbestos-related illnesses, but there are treatments available that can help improve the patient’s prognosis. There are also lifestyle steps to take that can help relieve symptoms, reduce emotional stress and offer an improvement to overall mental state.
Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. These treatments can be administered alone, or in combination, depending on the patient’s general health, stage of the disease, and type of mesothelioma.
Some complementary therapies that may be used in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation include:
- Physical or occupational therapy
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Doctors may also suggest a few major lifestyle changes that one can make in order to help relieve symptoms. These changes include:
Making small, dietary changes can vastly improve a mesothelioma prognosis.
- Eliminate most oils and stick with olive and canola for cooking or salads.
- Increase vegetable intake. The wider the variety, the better.
- Consume more whole grains! Make sure to eat a larger selection: whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, etc.
- Pump up the fluid intake. Drink more water, tea, and coffee with little to no sugar added.
- Eat more fruits of all colors.
- Work on the protein. Ingest more fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. Try and limit red meats and cheeses. Bacon, cold cuts and other processed meats should also be avoided.
Moderate exercise that makes you sweat a little bit can be very helpful in improving a mesothelioma prognosis. Start out small and test your options when crafting a workout routine that works for you. Make sure you’re picking manageable exercises you enjoy. Setting long and short term exercise goals for yourself also helps keep everything on track and in working order.
At least 150 minutes of less-intensive aerobic work a week with muscle activity on 2 or more days is the basic recommendation in the U.S. Another option is doing a more intense aerobic workout for only 75 minutes a week with the muscle work 2 or more days a week. Also, make sure to incorporate stretching into every workout.
After a mesothelioma prognosis, a person’s mental state can be affected. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, and fear can sometimes overwhelm a patient. It’s very important to discuss feelings and emotions with a caregiver or cancer care team in order to ensure the most effective mental health treatment to move forward with.
A therapy option to improve mental health is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a therapy that helps manage emotions by questioning negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive ones. Simple breathing exercises can also be effective. Taking a deep breath and holding it for several seconds, then repeating can help expedite the feeling of calmness and relief.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related condition through primary or secondary exposure, you may be entitled to legal compensation to pay for medical expenses and loss of income. Complete our free case evaluation form and talk to a patient advocate who can help you navigate the legal process.
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