Asbestos Exposure

Quick Summary

Asbestos exposure can cause diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and pleural plaques. Many U.S. service members were exposed to asbestos before the 1980s as the risks weren't well-known and the military heavily relied on this substance. Get help if you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos.

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Why Is Asbestos Exposure Dangerous?

AsbestosPeople exposed to asbestos are at a very high risk of developing deadly illnesses like malignant mesothelioma. In fact, the only thing proven to cause mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. Sadly, there's no known cure for this cancer.

Did you know?

Millions of people were exposed to asbestos between the 1930s and early 1980s. The risks of asbestos exposure were hidden during this time by companies that made and sold asbestos-containing products. These companies let people get exposed to asbestos to make money.

Each year, thousands of people die from illnesses linked to asbestos exposure that occurred decades ago. This is because it usually takes 10-50 years for the health effects of asbestos exposure to appear.

U.S. veterans are at a particularly high risk of getting sick since every military branch relied on asbestos.

Thankfully, if you are a civilian or military service member who got sick from asbestos exposure, help is available. Get a Free Veterans Packet to learn more.

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How Much Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma?

There's no safe level of asbestos exposure. Even a single asbestos fiber can cause mesothelioma later in life.

That said, those who are exposed to high concentrations of asbestos dust for long spans of time (months or years) are at the greatest risk of developing mesothelioma.

There are several factors that affect your exposure risk:

  1. Longevity: Those exposed for a longer period of time get exposed to more asbestos.
  2. Sturdiness: Sturdy asbestos-containing products are less likely to release fibers.
  3. Concentration: People breathe in more asbestos if there’s a higher concentration of fibers in the air.

When asbestos fibers are disturbed, they float in the air where people can inhale or ingest them. Once the particles get into the body, they usually can’t be expelled.

The tiny asbestos fibers can stick to the lining of the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testicles, causing irritation and scarring.

Eventually, after 10-50 years, the damage from the asbestos fibers causes normal cells to become cancerous and mesothelioma tumors to start to form.

Asbestos Exposure Symptoms

Common symptoms of asbestos exposure include:

  • A dry cough that won't go away
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

Technically speaking, you won't experience any symptoms of asbestos exposure in and of itself. Instead, you'll develop symptoms due to the diseases caused by asbestos exposure.

Make sure to go to a doctor if you have any signs of possible asbestos exposure. Doctors can help diagnose you and provide treatments for any asbestos-related illnesses you might have.

Diseases Linked to Asbestos Exposure

People exposed to asbestos can go on to develop any number of asbestos-related diseases.

These diseases include:

  • Mesothelioma: This is arguably the most notable asbestos-related disease, affecting up to 3,000 people per year in the United States. Mesothelioma spreads quickly through the body and can be fatal in months without treatment.
  • Asbestosis: This is an inflammation of the lung caused by irritation from asbestos fibers. It's not a type of cancer but can still be very deadly.
  • Lung cancerThis cancer can develop if asbestos fibers are inhaled and get stuck in lung tissue.
  • Pleural plaques: These are buildups of a protein known as collagen in the lung lining. They aren't dangerous, but people who have them often develop more serious health problems later on.
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Where Did Asbestos Exposure Occur?

Exposure to asbestos could happen in a variety of locations.

Common places where asbestos exposure occurred include:

  • Construction sites
  • Chemical plants
  • Homes
  • Metalwork factories
  • Oil refineries
  • Power plants
  • Schools
  • Shipyards

USS "CAINE" Minesweeper Navy VesselWithin the military, Navy ships and bases were two more common places where military personnel were exposed to asbestos. Almost every Navy ship relied on asbestos for decades on end, and bases across the country were built with asbestos-containing materials, too.

Asbestos-Containing Materials

Before the risks were well-known, there were over 3,000 asbestos-containing products.

Common products made with asbestos included:

  • Cement sheeting
  • Clutches and brakes in cars
  • Drywall
  • Gaskets for furnaces
  • Heat-resistant fabric
  • Insulation
  • Millboard
  • Paper insulation
  • Pipes
  • Roofing and siding
  • Textured paint
  • Vinyl adhesives & floor tiles

Handling any of these asbestos-containing products could have exposed workers or military personnel, putting them at risk of mesothelioma later in life.

Types of Asbestos Exposure

Most people were exposed to asbestos through their job or military service, while others were put at risk through secondhand exposure.

Occupational Exposure

Certain occupations are at an increased risk of asbestos exposure.

These high-risk jobs include:

Prior to the early 1980s, many of these workers weren't properly warned or protected from asbestos exposure on the job.

Military Exposure

U.S. veterans who served before the early 1980s may have been exposed to asbestos since the military relied on this deadly substance to make buildings, vehicles, and ships.

U.S. Navy veterans are at the highest risk since there were mandates to use asbestos on nearly every Navy ship.

The U.S. military has taken steps to help veterans with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a wide range of benefits to those affected. We can help you access mesothelioma VA benefits now.

Need help filing for VA benefits?

VA-Accredited Attorney Eric Hall (Major USAFR) can help you file for free.

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Secondhand Exposure

Secondhand exposure to asbestos can occur among family members of people who worked with asbestos.

For example, a young woman was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma a year after her father died from asbestos-related lung cancer. He worked with asbestos as an electrician for decades and came home covered in contaminated dust, which exposed her as a child.

Environmental Exposure

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that had to be mined from the ground so companies could use it. People who lived near an asbestos mine may be at risk of exposure.

In the town of Libby, Montana, 1 in 10 people have an asbestos-related disease due to decades of mining.

Modern-Day Protection Against Asbestos Exposure

Man in protective gearIn light of the dangers associated with asbestos exposure, most job sites have stopped using this harmful substance. Workers are now legally required to wear protective equipment when working in areas where asbestos exposure is likely (usually on older buildings, ships, or other structures).

Workplaces are currently monitored for asbestos exposure by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

While there has been a cutback on the use of asbestos in these areas, asbestos isn’t banned in the U.S. People can still be exposed to asbestos materials in the workplace and beyond.

Who’s Responsible for Your Asbestos Exposure?

The U.S. armed forces aren’t to blame for your asbestos exposure. The companies that supplied the military with asbestos-containing products are.

The risks of asbestos exposure were hidden for decades by major manufacturers. These companies knew the dangers linked to asbestos as far back as the 1930s, but took no action to protect workers or military service members.

Did you know?

Fortunately, it's possible to hold these manufacturers accountable for the harm they've caused by filing private claims against them. These claims typically award $1 million or more to mesothelioma patients.

There's no way to lower the risks of getting sick if you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos, but by taking action against these companies, you'll be able to afford medical care that can hopefully help you live longer.

Get Help for Asbestos Diseases
  • Retrieve Financial Aid
  • Get Justice and Closure
  • No Cost to Get Started

Get a Free Case Review

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Help for U.S. Veterans Exposed to Asbestos

U.S. veterans who were exposed to asbestos and now have mesothelioma deserve help. The asbestos epidemic could have been avoided if manufacturers hadn't put financial gain over human life.

Thankfully, the Mesothelioma Veterans Center can help you access all the benefits and resources you deserve. With our team's help, you can quickly file for VA benefits, connect with top doctors and treatments, and pursue compensation through private asbestos claims.

See all the ways we can help you with our Free Veterans Packet.

FAQs About Asbestos Exposure

How long after asbestos exposure do symptoms appear?

Symptoms typically take 10-50 years to appear after asbestos exposure.

This is because asbestos-related diseases have a long latency period (time between exposure and the development of symptoms).

See a doctor if you have symptoms like chest pain, a cough, or shortness of breath and were exposed to asbestos decades ago. You could have an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma.

What are the first signs of asbestos exposure?

Some of the first signs that someone has been exposed to asbestos include shortness of breath and chest pain. These symptoms are shared by many asbestos-related diseases.

Most people won't experience any symptoms of asbestos exposure until decades after the fact, though.

How serious is one-time asbestos exposure?

There's no safe amount of exposure to asbestos — even being exposed once could put you at risk of long-term illnesses.

That said, those at the highest risk were exposed to asbestos constantly for long spans of time.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

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  2. EWG Action Fund. “Asbestos: Think Again.” Retrieved March 28, 2023, from: http://www.ewg.org/research/asbestos-think-again?_ga=2.234028062.1877894454.1504590908-1054094812.1504590908#.Wa4-PncjGnc
  3. EWG Action Fund. “Asbestos companies hid the danger for decades.” Retrieved March 29, 2023, from: http://www.asbestosnation.org/facts/asbestos-companies-hid-the-danger-for-decades/
  4. Henley, S. Jane. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. “Mesothelioma incidence in 50 states and the District of Columbia, United States, 2003–2008.” Retrieved March 28, 2023, from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4406225/
  5. National Cancer Institute. “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk.” Retrieved March 29, 2023, from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestos/asbestos-fact-sheet