At-Risk Professions

Asbestos Exposure

While miners, shipbuilders, autoworkers and other professions with direct exposure to asbestos may seem to be the likely victims of asbestos, others are at risk as well. An unknown number of people have been exposed to asbestos in a manner similar to "secondhand" smoke. When a person with primary exposure to asbestos — such as a miner or brake technician — returns home, their clothing can be covered in microscopic asbestos fibers. These fibers can pollute the air of their home, causing mesothelioma and asbestosis in their family and friends. "Secondhand" asbestos has harmed an untold number of people, and the same parties responsible for primary asbestos exposure are responsible for this.

One particularly tragic instance of both primary and "secondhand" asbestos exposure occurred in Libby, Montana. This town was home to a vermiculite mine that was contaminated with asbestos deposits. Over the years, asbestos fibers were dispersed throughout the air around this strip mine. Furthering this contamination, environmental and geographic factors contribute to Libby having very poor natural air flow; the Libby valley — in which the town of Libby is located — serves to trap pollutants. Besides this "ambient" air pollution, fibers were also carried home on mine workers clothing, putting residents at even greater risk.

The terrible consequences of the Libby asbestos problem are quantifiable. A study conducted by the CDC found that deaths attributed to asbestosis were 40 to 80 percent higher than expected in and around Libby. Mesothelioma deaths were also elevated above expected levels in this area. Another study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that asbestosis mortality was 165 times higher than expected among Libby vermiculite workers. The inadequate safety precautions implemented by W.R. Grace and Company, the owner of the Libby mine, highlight the corporate irresponsibility so frequently seen in the asbestos industry. This is only one example of dire results of asbestos exposure.

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