There are nearly 8 million construction workers in the United States. Construction is one of the fields with the greatest risk of asbestos exposure. Construction workers, both civilian and veteran, have a high risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Asbestos and Construction Workers
Construction workers have been exposed to asbestos for many years, and they continue to be exposed today. These individuals usually work alongside roofers, painters, drywall installers, and tile installers in the construction of homes and large businesses. All of these workers handle materials made with asbestos.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the construction industry have one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S.
While most workers are aware of hazards like falls, equipment-related injuries, and other on-site risks, the danger of asbestos exposure may not be as well known.
Starting in the early 20th century, asbestos began to be used widely in all sorts of construction materials. Asbestos is flame retardant and a great insulator, so it was used in everything from roofing to cement to wiring to flooring tiles. There was a use for asbestos in virtually all levels of construction.
Asbestos was even used by the U.S. military to build structures, planes, ships, and submarines.
Mesothelioma and Construction Workers
The companies that made and sold asbestos materials began to see signs of health risks as early as the 1930s. They knew before World War II that asbestos could lead to mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases. They also knew that asbestos was making them a lot of money.
So, rather than inform the public about the dangers, these companies kept the risks secret.
Over the next several decades, asbestos use skyrocketed. The war effort used asbestos extensively, and the boom in construction in the postwar period was full of asbestos-containing materials.
When the truth about asbestos finally came out in the 1970s, millions of veterans and construction workers had spent decades working closely with asbestos products. Not only that, but asbestos was everywhere.
It can take between 10-50 years for asbestos exposure to lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis. This means that there are construction workers who were exposed to asbestos in the 1970s who may yet be diagnosed. Asbestos exposure is still happening today, too.
Construction workers who work with insulation or renovate older buildings may encounter asbestos regularly. Many buildings built before 1980 were insulated with asbestos that has become friable.
During the renovation of these areas, airborne asbestos fibers can be inhaled or ingested by the worker, resulting in lung or peritoneal disease.
Fortunately, most manufacturers have stopped making building materials from asbestos. It has not been banned in the U.S. completely, however.
As a result, there are plenty of older homes that still contain asbestos as part of insulating walls, electrical outlets, and plumbing pipes. These contaminated areas continue to expose construction workers to asbestos every day.
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Asbestos-Related Construction Occupations
There are some construction jobs where the risk of asbestos exposure is higher than others. The risk is highest among demolition workers who inhale asbestos dust when tearing down older buildings for renovation. Workers who must clean up the debris left behind during the demolition process are also at a high risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses.
This isn’t to say that other workers aren’t at high risk for developing diseases related to asbestos exposure. Practically every construction worker will come into regular contact with asbestos as part of their job in the construction industry.
The trades at highest risk for asbestos-related diseases include the following:
- Bulldozer operators
- Crane operators
- Demolition crews
- Drywall hangers
- Drywall tapers
- Home renovators
- Insulation workers
- Masonry workers
- Tile Setters
Most of these workers are usually working in the same general area at about the same time. For this reason, it takes only one person handling an asbestos-containing product to cause potential inhalation or ingestion of asbestos to all of the other workers.
Even family members are at risk for asbestos-related illnesses when construction workers return home after work with asbestos fibers on their clothing, shoes, and hair. This secondary exposure to asbestos has been known to cause mesothelioma in people who never worked in the construction industry.
Examples of High-Risk Workers
The following types of construction workers are at a high risk of developing an asbestos-related disease:
- Drywall workers: Before the 1970s, most drywall products contained asbestos. Drywall workers were exposed to asbestos when they cut pieces of drywall to fit various walls. When these pieces were tacked up, asbestos dust sometimes drifted out of the exposed areas and was inhaled by the drywall worker. Holes in drywall were sometimes patched with asbestos-containing patching substances, and the sanding of asbestos-laden drywall tape could also lead to asbestos exposure.
- Masons and Bricklayers: These workers mixed raw asbestos fibers into mortar and bricks themselves and cut down bricks to fit certain dimensions. The bricks released asbestos fibers into the air that could be inhaled or ingested. Dry mortar also contained asbestos that could be released into the air. When carpenters work in masonry, painting, or carpentry activities, they inhale asbestos that is five times greater than the legal limit for asbestos exposure.
- Roofers and Tile Setters: These workers are responsible for laying down roofing tiles and floor tiles. The tiles themselves contained asbestos as did the grout used between the tiles. Roof tiles used to be made from asbestos, so cutting them could cause asbestos to pollute the air.
- Painters: These workers inhaled asbestos, particularly when they used spray paint containing aerosolized asbestos. Spackling compounds used by painters also contained asbestos. Workers who applied textured ceiling paint are also at a high risk of asbestos exposure.
Lawsuits Related to Asbestos
There have been many lawsuits filed on behalf of construction workers and their families who were unknowingly exposed to asbestos connected to a construction site. If you are or were a construction worker, you may be entitled to financial compensation if you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.
Make sure you get the compensation you deserve by connecting with a mesothelioma lawyer today.
At the very least, if you worked in the construction industry, you should be regularly screened for an asbestos-related disease, such as mesothelioma.
Help For Veteran Construction Workers
Many veterans were involved in some form of construction work during their service. If you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos during your time in the U.S. military, you may be entitled to benefits that can make a huge difference. Did you know that the VA generally considers mesothelioma a 100% disability?
That means that a married veteran with mesothelioma qualifies for $3,823.89 in 2023. Our team at the Mesothelioma Veterans Center can help you start your claim today.
FAQS About Mesothelioma and Construction Workers
Can mesothelioma be caused by a single exposure?
The risk of mesothelioma increases as the exposure to asbestos increases, but there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. A single encounter with asbestos can be enough to lead to mesothelioma.
Does an N-95 mask protect against asbestos?
According to the California Department of Industrial Regulations, an N-95 mask does not protect against asbestos. Only masks that provide their own oxygen can protect the wearer from asbestos, gasses, vapors, and other airborne dangers.
What kind of mesothelioma do construction workers get?
If a construction worker gets mesothelioma, they are likely to get the most common kind, pleural mesothelioma.
Pleural mesothelioma affects the lining of the chest. Nearly 85% of all mesothelioma cases are for pleural mesothelioma.