One often hears about the dangers of second-hand cigarette smoke, which can pose serious health hazards. However, few people know about the dangers of secondary asbestos exposure, which also may prove fatal.
So much of the asbestos awareness seems to focus - and rightfully so - on the workers who handle the fire-retardant asbestos. This group may include firefighters, machinists, industrial workers and construction workers.
Family members susceptible
But what about others, such as family members of the workers who have unknowingly brought asbestos fibers home in their clothes, shoes and tools? Experts agree that secondary exposure to asbestos is just as dangerous as primary exposure.
For decades, asbestos has been used as an insulator in home construction and other industries, but when damaged, it becomes airborne, leading to the fibers being easily inhaled. Ultimately, it may cause a number of cancer-related illnesses.
Construction and industrial workers who have handled asbestos while on the job, may inadvertently bring home its fibers that have attached to their skin, hair and clothes. This is how their families are exposed to asbestos. Add women and children to the list of potential victims of asbestos-related illnesses.
Common sources of secondary exposure
Secondary asbestos exposure may occur in homes from these sources:
- Laundry: Anyone who handles asbestos-contaminated clothing may be exposed to its fibers. The best thing to do is to properly dispose of the clothing.
- Furniture: Fibers from asbestos-contaminated clothes can get on furniture when the worker doesn't change. The fibers may wind up on chairs, carpeting, beds and couches.
- Hugs: Asbestos fibers and dust may be found on the skin and hair of workers, who may then have physical contact with loved ones and indirectly expose them to it.
It's important to be aware that secondary exposure - just like primary exposure - to asbestos can prove fatal and cause diseases such as mesothelioma, cancer and asbestosis. These illnesses may take 20 to 50 years to surface after initial exposure to asbestos.