Mesothelioma caused by second hand asbestos exposure is a growing concern among people who came into contact with asbestos through family members or the environment. Many second hand exposure cases are especially tragic because victims were exposed to the carcinogen from a family member who handled asbestos or asbestos containing materials at work.
Second Hand Asbestos Exposure at Home
The plight of second hand exposure victims has just now gained publicity through high level legal cases and claims. However studies from the late 1960s showed that a significant portion of mesothelioma cases among women were likely caused by secondary asbestos exposure, also called paraoccupational exposure.
Men who worked in direct contact with asbestos or asbestos containing materials would unknowingly bring loose fibers back home from their clothing, hair or skin. The asbestos fibers would then be released into the home when their clothing was laundered or even when their children hugged them. Adding to the problem is that women who would launder their clothes would often shake them before washing to get some of the fibers off, exposing them even more. A recent study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention stated “nonoccupational exposure to asbestos may explain approximately 20% of the mesotheliomas in industrialized countries.”
The legal status of people affected by second hand exposure varies greatly by state and country.
- In the United States high profile cases are being decided by state and federal courts about whether companies can be held liable for mesothelioma caused by second hand exposure.
- England has begun to recognize and compensate victims of secondary exposure.
- For more than a decade, Australian courts have ruled that companies can be held liable for second hand exposure
- In 2007 a Japanese court ruled that a company could be held liable for secondary asbestos exposure.
Second Hand Exposure from the Environment
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral and fibers can often be found in trace levels throughout the world. Low level exposure does not pose a significant risk but some communities near asbestos mines and processing facilities were inundated with the carcinogen to the point that some towns have been abandoned.
As the asbestos industry took off, leftover material from asbestos mines would often be distributed as fill for construction and other projects. Sometimes strong winds would carry asbestos containing material into towns.
In the United States, Libby, Montana is the worst case of second hand exposure with hundreds of residents becoming sick after being exposed to asbestos from the town’s vermiculite mine. Asbestos was used for fill in playgrounds and gardens while children would sometimes play in the mine trailings. The level of asbestos contamination has sickened many residents and the resulting number of lawsuits forced W.R Grace & Co. to seek bankruptcy protection in 2001.
The Australian town of Wittenoom has literally been erased from maps after more than 1,000 people died from exposure to crocidolite (blue asbestos). More than 200,000 tons of asbestos were mined during a 40-year period and some reports claim streets were tinted blue from the amount of asbestos present.