There are three principle ways in which members of a household can be exposed to asbestos dust resulting in the development of a variety of diseases, including mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos fibers can enter the home on a worker’s clothing; asbestos fibers can drift from manufacturing and mining facilities and settle on homes and in yards; and asbestos dust can result from do-it-yourself home renovations. Since the 1930s, a large number of scientific and medical studies have demonstrated the risks of high-level exposures to asbestos in the workplace. In contrast, a relatively small number of studies describe the risk of mesothelioma among members of a household because they were unintentionally exposed to asbestos that was brought into the home.
Home exposure, also known as secondary asbestos exposure, para-occupational exposure or “take-home” exposure, occurs as an indirect result of working with or around asbestos materials. Prior to the late 1970s, asbestos was incorporated into numerous products used in both the manufacturing and construction industries. Frequently, family members inhaled asbestos fibers brought home on the clothing of a worker who had direct daily contact with asbestos-containing materials.
In 2000, The European Journal of Epidemiology published a summary review of mesothelioma from defined environmental exposures. It demonstrated that the overall summary risk estimate for mesothelioma for persons with household exposures was 8.1 times higher than that of unexposed persons. Bourdes’ study further concluded that “The most common source of household exposure is the installation, degradation, removal or repair of asbestos-containing products. An additional source of household exposure, concerning family members of asbestos workers, is the asbestos dust brought home from the workplace on clothes”.1
Starting in the 1950s, many manufacturers of asbestos-containing building products, including joint compounds, advertised heavily towards the do-it-yourself market. Because asbestos was an ingredient in dozens of residential building materials until the late 1970s, household exposures were commonplace. Additionally, and because of inadequate warnings, many people were unknowingly exposed to asbestos during this time period. The application of asbestos-containing materials in the home not only exposed the worker to asbestos, but also any bystanders (including family members) who were present while the work took place. Many homes still contain asbestos materials that were installed prior to 1980. If left undisturbed, asbestos is generally not dangerous. However, when home or building renovations take place, asbestos dust and fibers can become airborne, allowing fibers and dust to be inhaled or ingested. Some common residential building materials that contained asbestos include pipe covering, joint compound (mud), vermiculite insulation, transite shingles and floor and ceiling tiles.
People who live or work near asbestos-related mining or manufacturing operations might inhale asbestos fibers released into the air from these facilities. Even though neighborhood exposure is more indirect, it poses a risk for those who have homes or jobs near facilities that use asbestos. Asbestos dust can be easily carried through the air to cover surrounding areas. Refineries, steel mills, asbestos mines and building demolition sites are types of worksites that in the past have been known to cause neighborhood exposure.
Very low levels of exposure to asbestos have been known to cause mesothelioma. Low level exposure can contain peak asbestos concentrations, which can be extremely high for short periods. “Brushing asbestos-contaminated clothing may produce airborne concentrations of asbestos as high as 100 fibers/ml, one-hundred times higher than the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration 30-minute excursion limit of 1 fiber/ml (Hillerdal 1999)”2 .Despite numerous scientific and medical evaluations regarding asbestos exposure in the workplace, there is no evidence of a threshold level below which there is no risk of the development of mesothelioma. Even though household exposure to asbestos is considered less than what can occur in the work place, there is still the risk that family members may contract mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing materials.
The attorneys at Lipsitz & Ponterio, LLC have represented many individuals who have developed mesothelioma or lung cancer as a result of second-hand exposure to asbestos. If you or a loved has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, we urge you to contact us regarding your legal rights.
1. Bourdes V, Boffetta P, Pisani P. Environmental exposure to asbestos and risk of pleural mesothelioma: review and meta-analysis. Eur J Epidemiol.2000;16:411–7
2. Hillerdal G. Mesothelioma: cases associated with non-occupational and low dose exposures. Occup Environ Med. 1999;56:505–13 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10492646