Children’s Susceptibility to Asbestos

When it comes to the safety of their children, parents do not take any risks. Seatbelts are always fastened, junk food is avoided, and harmful chemicals are locked away. What parents do not often consider, however, is the effect of naturally-occurring mineralogical hazards such as asbestos exposure. Susceptibility to environmental toxicants is not limited to children, but the potential effects on their developing bodies are significantly different than adults. Due to their rapid growth and high metabolism, children breathe more air and drink and eat more in ratio comparison with adults. Lung cancer attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm wish to make this fact known to the public, to ensure the safety of children who may be exposed to environmental toxins.

The EPA recently acknowledged the heightened risk of environmental exposure in children, namely the risk of carcinogens. Asbestos is a class 1 carcinogen found naturally in soil and rocks. Before the United States banned its use, asbestos was commonly used in construction of commercial and residential buildings and in friction products such as automotive brakes and clutches. Homes and schools built before the 1979 ban are likely to have asbestos-containing material in places like fire-proof insulation and roof shingles.

Children’s vulnerability often depends on developmental stage. There are critical periods of structural and functional development during both prenatal and postnatal life and a particular structure or function will be most sensitive to disruption during its critical period(s). Damage may not be evident until a later stage of development. Children and adults may differ in their capacity to repair damage from chemical insults. Children also have a longer remaining lifetime in which to express damage from chemicals; this potential is particularly relevant to cancer.

Some investigators have associated childhood exposures (e.g., from asbestos-laden clothing of occupationally-exposed family members or close childhood proximity to asbestos mining operations) with development of asbestos-related respiratory diseases in adulthood.

The long-term retention of asbestos fibers in the lung and the long latency period for onset of asbestos-related respiratory diseases suggest that individuals exposed earlier in life may be at greater risk to the eventual development of respiratory problems than those exposed later in life, but direct evidence for this hypothesis is not available.

In a recently published case report, mesothelioma was diagnosed in a 17-yearold boy who lived in a rural setting, had no familial relations with an asbestos worker, and had been exposed daily to asbestos fibers in cosmetic talc from about 9-12 years of age. There was no information regarding the asbestos level in the talc, but the boy exhibited a lung tissue asbestos concentration of 62% chrysotile and 38% tremolite in dry tissue. The estimated latency period of 8 years is short relative to a latency period of greater than 15 years in 99% of 1,105 adult cases of asbestos-induced mesotheliomas in occupationally-exposed workers.

The Centers for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research (“Children’s Centers”) were established to explore ways to reduce children’s health risks from environmental factors. The long-range goals of the Centers include understanding how environmental factors affect children’s health, and promoting translation of basic research findings into intervention and prevention methods to prevent adverse health outcomes.

EPA’s asbestos program for schools and its regulations for schools is founded on the principle of “in-place” management of asbestos-containing material. This approach is designed to prevent asbestos exposure by teaching people to recognize asbestos-containing materials and actively monitor and, where necessary, manage them in place.

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), a provision of the Toxic Substances Control Act, became law in 1986. AHERA requires local education agencies to inspect their schools for asbestos-containing building material and prepare management plans to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards.

Public school districts and non-profit private schools (collectively called local education agencies) are subject to AHERA’s requirements. This includes charter schools and schools affiliated with religious institutions.

EPA provides local education agencies and parents and teachers with information about the AHERA asbestos-in-schools requirements through mailings and other outreach. If you suspect you or your child has been exposed to asbestos of any kind, contact a lung cancer attorney immediately to explore your legal rights.