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Mesothelioma

Asbestos exposure

06/18/2009

Question:

A few years ago I was working for a construction company and they subjected us to asbestos siding. Our supervisor had us remove the asbestos siding from the house and did not provide us with any masks or any of the proper protective equipment. Due to my lack of understanding on asbestos, I regrettably went about removing the asbestos siding. For whatever reason, after the Day 2 or 3 I became aware of the health risks of asbestos and quickly removed myself from the job site and quit that job. For 3 years now I have been worried sick that I may develop something later in life because of this exposure to asbestos. My question is: Is this type of exposure worth worrying about? By the way, the only damage we caused to the asbestos siding was breaking occurred while removing it. Does breaking intact durable asbestos siding release the tiny harmful asbestos fibers? I am tired of searching the internet for the answer. Any information you can provide to me will be helpful and appreciated. Thank you so much.

Answer:

First of all, I am not an "expert" on asbestos, but I have some knowledge of general occupational and environmental exposure assessment. Without knowing exactly what the siding material contains, we can't with certainty say that you did not receive some, very small, dose of asbestos. That being said, the amount you would have received is miniscule.

Think about it this way: the problems with asbestos were discovered over a long period of history, gradually, but became more obvious after the cohort of American World War II era ship builders had about 30 to 40 years of time to develop mesothelioma (a rare form of cancer) and other diseases (similar to silicosis) as a result of their MASSIVE occupational exposures.

These men were often working in confined spaces, wrapping asbestos insulation around pipes in the ships. As you can imagine, the intense levels of exposure were several orders of magnitude higher (hundreds to thousands of times higher) than the short, casual exposure you may have received. Asbestos fibers are in the ambient air we breathe, partly because it was used in brake linings and for other common purposes for years. The concentrations are very small, however.

I seriously doubt you have anything to worry about. The risks associated with driving and riding in cars, and breathing air polluted with particulate matter are much more immediate and long term. The asbestos in siding, flooring, and shingles is not likely to be freely released into the air, so I think your three days of work with it pose very little risk for you.

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Response by:

J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN J Mac Crawford, PhD, RN
Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences
College of Public Health
The Ohio State University