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What Seniors Need to Know About Asbestos Exposure

Dec 13 2017

By Hannah Bessinger

Many people have seen commercials on television from legal groups talking about how asbestos exposure causes the deadly cancer, mesothelioma. However, most people don’t actually know what asbestos is or why it can be so harmful. Asbestos is actually a collection of naturally occurring organic fibers, and it was heavily used for many years in industry and construction before its risks became well-known.


Here are a few things that seniors should know about asbestos:


The older you are, the more likely it is you were exposed.

The use of asbestos has decreased dramatically since 1980, when its usage began to become more regulated. While it’s still not banned and is still occasionally used in industry and construction, seniors are more at risk for asbestos exposure, because they may have spent years working at jobs that regularly exposed them to asbestos.


Certain occupations put you at a higher risk.

There are a few groups that are at a much higher than average risk for occupational asbestos exposure:


  • Veterans are at a higher risk, since asbestos was used in military equipment for years. The use of asbestos was particularly widespread in military shipyards, putting navy veterans at an even higher chance of being exposed. Data shows that navy veterans make up 30 percent of all mesothelioma cases in the U.S.
  • Seniors who worked in construction and industry are also at a high risk. Asbestos was heavily used in most construction projects, industrial plants and factories for many years.
  • Firefighters and other emergency responders are another group with a higher than average rate of asbestos exposure.
  • Seniors who worked in any of these occupations should be aware that they could have been exposed.

Asbestos related illnesses can take years to show up.

Most people who become ill from asbestos don’t actually experience any symptoms until at least 15 years after they were initially exposed. When people breath in or ingest asbestos, the fibers can actually become lodged in the lining of the lungs (the pleura), the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. The fibers can remain in place for decades before an asbestos related illness develops.


Asbestos doesn’t just cause mesothelioma.

Asbestos is mostly known for causing mesothelioma, an incurable cancer that generally affects the lungs or abdomen. However, asbestos exposure can cause many other health problems as well. The American Cancer Society lists it as one of the top causes of lung cancer after smoking, and smokers who were also exposed to asbestos have an extremely high risk of lung cancer. Asbestos exposure can also increase the risk of ovarian cancer, testicular cancer and laryngeal cancer. In addition, it can cause pleural effusions, pleural thickening and pleural plaques.


Asbestos could be in your home.

Before 1980, asbestos was a widely used construction material, so homes built before 1980 are likely to contain asbestos. It can be found in plumbing pipes, walls and floors around wood burning stoves, housing insulation, vinyl floor tiles, cement roofing, siding shingles, textured paint and many other areas in the home. The good news is that the asbestos in people’s homes should not cause a health risk unless it is disturbed. So, as long as you are not doing heavy home renovations without taking proper safety precautions, you should be safe.


If you think you have been exposed to asbestos at some point in your life, make sure you monitor your health carefully. In particular, if you ever experience lung-related symptoms, make sure that you visit a medical professional right away.