Asbestos comprises a group of six naturally occurring minerals that are fibrous, and resistant to heat and fire. For these qualities, asbestos has long been a sought-after material in many industries such as construction, oil and automotive industries. It has most commonly been used in insulation and in building materials used to construct homes, commercial buildings and schools. However, it was eventually discovered that being exposed to asbestos could cause diseases like mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. This happens mainly when asbestos enters the lungs through inhalation, and goes on to damage the tissue there. Despite being a known carcinogen and health hazard, it is still allowed in small amounts in certain products and industries today. Hence, it is important to be aware of possible avenues for asbestos exposure and take necessary precautions.
This is perhaps the most common way to get exposed to asbestos, and typically applies to workers at industrial and commercial worksites. Workers are often exposed to materials that contain asbestos in high-heat environments such as power plants, oil refineries, steel mills and breweries. This is the case even when the industries have stopped actively using asbestos. In some cases, workers are even made to wear protective equipment made from asbestos, heightening their exposure and risking their health even more. According to research, at least 125 million workers continue being exposed to asbestos while working every year. In fact, 70% of all mesothelioma deaths are caused by occupational exposure to asbestos.
Even if you do not work in an occupation that exposes you to asbestos daily, it is still possible to be exposed if a family member has such a job. This is because asbestos fibers can cling onto clothes, skin or hair, meaning that individuals working in asbestos-containing environments often bring home these fibers unintentionally. The fibers are then transferred via contact to family members who may not have otherwise been exposed to asbestos. Secondary exposure makes up close to 20% of mesothelioma cases, and victims of asbestos-induced diseases from secondary exposure often tend to be women.
In the past, consumer goods such as crock pots and hair dryers often contained asbestos, putting consumers at risk. Since then, regulations have been put in place to stop the use of asbestos in consumer products. However, even with these regulations in place, certain products such as insulation can still contain up to 1% of asbestos.
Talc is a natural mineral commonly found in cosmetics and powder products. Talc can easily become contaminated by asbestos during mining, as both mineral deposits occur in similar areas. Contaminated talc may eventually be used to manufacture products like talcum powder, thereby exposing the consumer to asbestos fibers. The good news is that today, talc products are often tested for asbestos before being sold, reducing the risks of consumers using asbestos-contaminated talc. However, cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer arising from talcum use are not unheard of. These also happen to be the same kinds of cancer caused by asbestos.