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Secondary Asbestos Exposure Risks in Women and Children at Home

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

When many people think of a mesothelioma diagnosis, a retired veteran or blue-collar worker may come to mind. But a shocking number of diagnoses belong to groups that never worked with asbestos at all—vulnerable women and children who were indirectly exposed to asbestos in their own homes.

What Is Secondary Asbestos Exposure?

As it turns out, men employed in labor-intensive job roles weren’t the only ones vulnerable to asbestos exposure.

Anyone living with a worker employed in the following job roles may have been at risk:

● Asbestos miners

● Asbestos factory workers

● Shipyard/dock workers

● Textile workers

● Furnace/engine/boiler room workers

● Railway carriage builders

● Pipefitters

● Insulators

Women, children and siblings who shared homes with men working in asbestos occupations were frequently exposed. This type of secondary exposure, also known as domestic exposure, occurs when coming into close contact with asbestos fibers brought into the home.

Who Does Secondary Asbestos Exposure Effect?

Several scenarios result in secondary exposure, including:

● Women frequently handled laundry covered in asbestos fibers

● Men who worked closely with asbestos products gave affection to spouses, siblings or children upon coming home

● Laborers tracked asbestos fibers into the home via hair, clothes, shoes, etc.

● Families that lived in close proximity to asbestos-contaminated mines or factories inhaled asbestos for several years

Women at Risk of Domestic Exposure to Asbestos

Women, in particular, seem to have born the brunt of domestic exposure. A large number of 30 to 40-year-old women—about 8% annually—are diagnosed with mesothelioma.

According to a 1997 study conducted by Durham and Duke University Medical Centers involving women with mesothelioma, more than half of those diagnosed were exposed through household contact with individuals who worked with asbestos.

Furthermore, while pleural mesothelioma is still the most commonly diagnosed type, studies have found that women are much more likely than men to acquire peritoneal mesothelioma, the abdominal form of the disease. The reasons for this are unclear and studies are ongoing to find more answers.

Residents at Risk of Environmental Asbestos Exposure

Environmental exposure can also be a cause of secondhand mesothelioma.

In places such as Libby, Montana, where frequent vermiculite mining and processing occurred, there is a high rate of secondary exposure to asbestos.

Anyone living in close proximity to the airborne asbestos fibers at the time was at risk. This type of secondary exposure, however, is less common than domestic exposure and accounts for fewer mesothelioma diagnoses.

Secondary Exposure Is Just as Concerning

Research also reveals that just because those with secondary exposure didn’t work directly with asbestos doesn’t mean their disease is any less severe.

In fact, a 1989 study suggests domestic contamination can result in exposure levels similar to those in direct industrial settings. In short, secondary exposure can be just as toxic as direct exposure.

If the above secondary exposure scenarios sound familiar and you experience mesothelioma symptoms, consult your doctor. Mesothelioma is not solely an “old man’s disease.” Anyone exposed to airborne asbestos fibres—whether directly or indirectly—is at risk.

Looking for more resources? Here is a 100% free support site for those suffering from the affects of asbestos exposure.

• A monthly online support group where we discuss a variety of topics pertaining to cancer patients.

• An on-staff doctor and nurse available to answer any medical-related questions.

• 24-hour live chat support.

• Patient Advocates that work 1-on-1 with individuals to help them find local doctors, treatment centres and support groups.

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