“Take Home” Asbestos Exposure

Secondhand exposure to asbestos is a dangerous, largely unknown health risk. While the occupational hazards of asbestos exposure are widely recognized and regulated and workers are protected under various federal laws, their families are often at risk for “take home,” or secondhand asbestos exposure. This topic is not brought to the forefront of asbestos discussions for many reasons. The fibers are odorless, tasteless, and invisible to the naked eye, so exposure is often completely unknown. In turn, its minuscule nature allows asbestos fibers to stick onto workers’ clothing, and they inevitably track the fibers into their homes, where it clings to carpets, clothing, and furniture. Mesothelioma lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warn the public of the dangers of secondhand asbestos, and encourage those who are suffering to contact our firm immediately.

Health issues and deaths from take home asbestos have been reported in over 36 states and 28 countries, though the actual number is difficult to record because of the extended latency period of asbestos exposure, which is between 10 and 40 years. Asbestos is most harmful when inhaled into the lungs, and is known to cause illnesses such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, and gastrointestinal and lung cancers. The severity of these illnesses heightens the risk posed to the families of asbestos workers.

In 1992, Congress passed the Workers’ Family Protection Act, which requested that the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conduct a study to “evaluate the potential for, prevalence of, and issues related to the contamination of workers’ homes with hazardous chemicals and substances…transported from the workplaces of such workers.” With this request, Congress identified a compelling public health issue, bridging health concerns in the workplace and the home. NIOSH found that contamination of workers’ homes is a worldwide problem.

Little is known of the full range of health effects or the extent to which they occur as a result of workers’ home contamination.

Fatal lung diseases have occurred among family members of workers engaged in the manufacture of many products containing asbestos, including thermal insulation materials, asbestos cement, automobile mufflers, shingles, textiles, gas masks, floor tiles, boilers, ovens, brakeshoes and other friction products for automobiles. Families have also been exposed to asbestos when workers were engaged in mining, shipbuilding, insulating, maintenance, and repair of boilers and vehicles, and asbestos removal operations.

The following are measures for preventing home contamination:
(1)Reducing exposures in the workplace, (2) changing clothes before going home and leaving the soiled clothing at work to be laundered by the employer, (3)storing street clothes in separate areas of the workplace to prevent their contamination, (4) showering before work, (5) prohibiting removal of toxic substances or contaminated items from the workplace.

At Home: (1) preventing family members from visiting the workplace, (2) laundering contaminated clothing separately from family laundry when it is necessary to do so at home, (3) informing workers of the risk to family members and of preventative measures.

Other: (1) educating physicians and other health professionals to inquire about potential work-related causes of disease, (2) developing surveillance programs to track health effects that could be related to home contamination, (3) educating children, parents, and teachers about the effects of toxic substances.

Procedures for Decontaminating Homes and Clothing: decontaminating procedures include air showers, laundering, vacuuming, and destruction and disposal of contaminated items. In general, hard surfaces can be far more easily decontaminated than clothes, carpets, and soft furniture. In most cases effective decontamination requires relatively intensive methods. Normal house cleaning and laundering methods appear to be inadequate for decontaminating worker’s clothes and homes. Asbestos contamination can be especially persistent, and even intensive decontamination procedures may be ineffective.

Another serious concern is that decontamination methods can increase the hazard to the person performing the operation and to others in the household. Home laundering of contaminated clothing exposes the launderer. Vacuuming of floors contaminated with asbestos can substantially increase air concentrations.

Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos is urged to seek medical examination. If you suspect you and your family have been put at risk, contact an experienced asbestos attorney today for a free consultation.