Whether it is from news reports, anecdotal stories or a family history, most individuals have a good idea about the dangers of asbestos exposure. In its pure state, the naturally occurring mineral is generally harmless. When the material begins to break down, however, individuals can inhale or ingest asbestos fibers that can cause catastrophic damage to the lungs and internal organs.
Unfortunately, exposure is not limited to workers and consumers. Through secondary contact, nearly anyone can suffer devastating consequences.
Most often, reports of asbestosis and mesothelioma center on workers in at-risk occupations. Miners, factory workers, roofers, pipefitters, shipyard workers, mechanics and similar occupations struggle with asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, while workers in these industries represent primary exposure, the worker could unintentionally carry the deadly material outside the workplace and transmit it to family, friends and loved ones. This is known as secondary exposure.
How can asbestos fibers be transmitted?
Most often, it is workers in at-risk jobs that suffer exposure to hazardous materials. Most occupations encourage safety protocols to ensure workers limit their exposure. Sadly, the protocols are not infallible, and secondary exposure could occur.
- Clothing: Many workers wear protective gear over their work clothing to limit the transfer of particles. If this equipment is not properly sealed, asbestos fibers can infiltrate the safety gear and attach to the worker’s normal clothing. The worker could unknowingly bring the fibers home and expose his or her family. Even attempting to wash the clothing can transfer fibers to the clothing worn by other family members.
- Skin: Protective gear aside, some workers might be exposed to asbestos without ever realizing it. They could carry the fibers home on their skin. While many workers go home and straight into the shower to wash up, they might kiss their spouse, hug their children or scratch the family pet behind the ears. Any of these subtle examples of skin contact could transfer asbestos fibers.
Secondary exposure, often called familial exposure or household exposure, can lead to devastating health conditions for loved ones. Even though they do not work directly with the dangerous material, family members can ultimately struggle with mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural plaques or lung cancer. These severe conditions are often fatal.
What can be done?
Workers in at-risk occupations must take additional steps ensure both their safety and the safety of their loved ones. Not only should the individual wear protective gear, but the worker should shower and change into fresh clothing before even leaving the facility. These actions could help keep the two environments separate from contamination.