Thursday, October 25, 2007

Asbestos in the Workplace

Though the use of asbestos was banned nearly three decades ago, many are still suffering the residual affects of exposure, including the development of such diseases as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Millions of workers worldwide were, at one time, exposed to asbestos for prolonged periods of time, even though many employers had suspected for decades that such exposure was dangerous.

Some workplaces were virtual breeding grounds for airborne asbestos fibers and employers didn’t always take proper precautions to protect workers from inhaling these fibers. Decades later, workers in these industries are paying with their health and with their lives. Industries that are at highest risk for asbestos exposure are as follows:

* Asbestos product manufacturers – these include factories that produced building materials, insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, roofing, fiber cloth, tape, rope, and yarn.
* Automotive repair – mechanics were often exposed to the asbestos used in brakes and clutch linings. Some old cars still contain such parts.
* Contractors or construction workers – those who were employed building factories, schools, offices, or even homes probably handled materials such as those mentioned above. (see asbestos product manufacturers) Materials that were compromised in some way during construction most likely emitted airborne fibers.
* Firefighters – when an old building or factory containing asbestos collapses due to fire, firefighters may be exposed to airborne fibers.
* Oil refineries – many products used in oil refineries contain asbestos and the rate of pleural Mesothelioma among refinery workers is higher than the norm.
* Power plants – many pieces of equipment in power plants contain asbestos, including boilers, turbines, and generators, lined with asbestos for protection from heat and fire.
* Railroads – steam locomotives, and later diesel trains, made use of asbestos as a fire retardant; first in boilers, fireboxes, and steam pipes and later in rope, cement, gaskets, and heavy duty tiles for passenger cars. Railroad brakes and clutches, like automobiles, were lined with asbestos.
* Shipyards – shipyard workers, particularly those who were employed during World War II when asbestos use was at its heaviest, have an extremely high rate of Mesothelioma. At one point during the war, more than 4 million Americans worked in the nation’s shipyards. Asbestos was used to insulate incinerators, boilers, steam pipes, hot water pipes, and many other ship components. Those who overhauled old ships were especially exposed as parts containing asbestos were torn out and replaced. It is also believed that longshoremen probably handled asbestos-laden materials as they loaded ships.
* Mines – those who’ve worked in talc or vermiculite mines have probably been exposed to asbestos dust, contained in both of those minerals.
* Steel Mills – thermal insulation materials used in steel mills may contain asbestos.


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