People who work or have previously worked in certain jobs are at risk for diseases from asbestos exposure. However, many people are not aware that family members of people who worked in these jobs are at risk of illness due to para-occupational exposure to asbestos.
People with close family members who worked jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure, such as construction workers or farmers, could also be at risk for mesothelioma, asbestosis or other respiratory diseases due to para-occupational exposure.
How does para-occupational asbestos exposure occur?
In its natural state, asbestos consists of thin fibers. People who worked with asbestos may have had the fibers collect on their clothes, possibly without the workers realizing it.
When these workers went home for the day, they may have inadvertently carried these fibers with them. Asbestos may have come off the skin and clothing of the workers and joined the dust around the home. Household cleaning could have stirred up the dust, making it more likely that the entire family could breathe the asbestos in.
Laundering work clothes may account for para-occupational exposure to asbestos. According to the Annals of Translational Medicine, women who contracted mesothelioma through para-occupational exposure had almost as much asbestos in their lungs as men with moderate occupational exposure despite not working jobs that would expose them directly, probably because they were primarily responsible for doing laundry.
What are the risks of para-occupational asbestos exposure?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, industrial hygiene practices have improved dramatically since the identification of the dangers of asbestos exposure. Therefore, while some professions still carry a risk of direct asbestos exposure, the risks of new para-occupational exposures have decreased.
Nevertheless, asbestos-related diseases can take decades to manifest. Therefore, family members who had para-occupational exposure to asbestos years ago could still be at risk of developing asbestosis or mesothelioma.