Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos could be at risk for mesothelioma. People began using asbestos commercially in the early 1900s, however widespread use did not begin until the early 1940s, when the US Navy began using it in the construction of their ships. From this point on, asbestos use expanded into a wide variety of construction materials including paint, ceiling tile, and cement. This pervasive reliance on the material continued until the late 1970s, when the government stepped in to regulate the dangerous mineral. This means that the majority of people who suffered asbestos exposure did so in that 30 year window. Their exposure could have happened in a variety of ways including, occupational exposure, military exposure, secondhand exposure, and consumer exposure.
Occupational exposure is one of the most common ways that people come into contact with asbestos. Occupational exposure occurs when someone’s job brings them into direct contact with asbestos. Construction workers often handled asbestos-based materials that could have allowed the substance to find its way into their lungs. Additionally, many construction workers are still at high risk for mesothelioma because the demolition or renovation of older buildings can stir up the asbestos that the original builders used in the building’s construction. Similarly, the jobs of first responders, like firemen, also place them at risk for mesothelioma because natural disasters can often release asbestos when they damage buildings. Other jobs that could bring people into contact with asbestos include miners, HVAC workers, and machinists.
Soldiers and other military personnel also have a high risk of developing mesothelioma due to the asbestos that they may have been exposed to during their service. The military used the mineral extensively because of its unique and valuable properties, particularly its resistance to fire. This means that asbestos remained prevalent in military bases and military vehicles even after the government began heavily regulating its use in the 1970s. In fact, it was not until the 1990s that the military began removing asbestos from its bases, meaning that many servicemen risked potential exposure during that time.
Another common group of people at risk for mesothelioma are the family members of people whose jobs placed them into contact with asbestos. This is because asbestos easily breaks down into a dust that can cling to people’s skin, hair, and clothing. Then, workers in industries like construction and shipbuilding would carry that dust home to their families, subjecting them to secondhand exposure.
The final group of people at higher risk for mesothelioma is those who came into contact with asbestos in consumer products that they used. Asbestos is a durable material that can be easily manufactured into a variety of forms. Consequently, hundreds of different products used asbestos as a component until the government ended that practice in the 1970s. Manufacturers used asbestos in asphalt, ceiling tiles, insulation, and chalkboards. Additionally, some uses of asbestos, like in roofing, car parts, and clothing, are still legal in the United States. Consumers who handle or use these products can be at a higher risk of mesothelioma if the asbestos makes its way into their lungs.