What Workers Should Know about Asbestos Exposure in Construction Jobs- Guest Blog Post

It can take as long as 20 years or even 50 years after an exposure to asbestos before a person is diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. It is this latency period combined with a lack of knowledge about how dangerous asbestos is that makes young construction workers especially vulnerable to diseases related to the mineral. The youthful feeling of invincibility can come back to haunt you. If you know you work around asbestos-containing materials, be vigilant. Don’t let down your guard.

Exposure to asbestos today may seem inconsequential to a young worker, but it will be life changing if you are one of the unlucky ones who is diagnosed with this rare form of cancer. This type of canceris caused almost exclusively by the unknowing inhalation or ingestion of microscopic asbestos fibers.

Younger Workers More At Risk

Young workers in general are twice as likely to be injured on the job than workers 24 years or older because they often take more risks. It is much the same with asbestos exposure. The average age of someone diagnosed with mesothelioma is 62, which, when factoring in the latency period, fits within a young demographic. After being diagnosed, the average life spanof someone with this disease is only up to one year.

Asbestos-related health issues are most often associated with work exposure. And construction work is among the most heavily hit occupations with asbestos diseases.

Asbestos can lead to lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma or any number of respiratory illnesses. An estimated 3,000 people in this country are diagnosed annually with mesothelioma. It's estimated that another 10,000 people are diagnosed with some form of asbestos-related disease.

Other occupations that are also considered higher risk jobs for asbestos diseases are ship builders, railroad workers, power plant employees and automobile mechanics. Veterans of the military, where asbestos was used in virtually every living quarters and military weapon, were hit especially hard.

Asbestos Use Peaked in mid-1970s

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that once was coveted for its ability to strengthen, insulate and resist heat. Because it mixed well with almost everything, its uses were endless. Its use peaked in the mid-1970s before its toxicity became so widely known.

It was used extensively in construction for both commercial and residential structures. It was used for floors, walls, ceilings and roofs. It is in the plumbing, the insulation, the drywall and the cement. Asbestos was typically added to these products to strengthen them and make them more heat resistant.

Although the use of asbestos has been dramatically reduced in recent decades, and its use is restricted, it has not been banned in this country. It still is used in the construction industry. According to the United States Geological Survey, 1,100 metric tons were imported into this country in both 2011 and 2012.

It also remains prevalent in buildings more than 20 years old. Doing any kind of renovation, remodeling or demolition of an older structure undoubtedly releases asbestos fibers into the air.

Asbestos was used in textured paints and duct tape, pipes and vinyl floor tiles. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that asbestos materials remained in the vast majority of the 733,000 public and commercial buildings in the country.

Author bio: Tim Povtak is a senior writer for Asbestos.com, where he focuses on the health issues that result from asbestos exposure. Before joining Asbestos.com, Tim was an award-winning journalist.

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