The widespread use of asbestos has exposed thousands of unsuspecting workers and their families to this toxic substance. The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has said that it is aware of no instance in which exposure to a toxic substance has more clearly been linked to detrimental health effects on humans than has asbestos exposure. It has been estimated that from the years 1940 through 1970, approximately 27.5 million individuals faced potential asbestos exposure at work. This figure is not surprising when considering that by one estimate, 1.2 billion square feet of asbestos-containing insulation is present in 190,000 buildings in the United States or that approximately 900,000 workers may have been exposed to asbestos brake and clutch work.
Workers may be exposed to asbestos in a wide variety of job sites and trades, ranging from the milling and mining to manufacturing and consumer industries. According to one source, the Asbestos Information Association has estimated that there are upwards of 3,000 discrete uses of asbestos. This has resulted in exposures during the mining and milling process; primary and secondary manufacturing of asbestos-containing products; shipbuilding and repair; and construction, just to name a few.
Hazardous asbestos exposure has occurred as a result of off-site releases from the mining, milling and manufacture of asbestos products, exposing residents in nearby communities. According to the estimates, off-site release from construction sites has resulted in environmental asbestos levels about 100 times higher than natural environmental levels.
Additionally, contamination of homes may occur by employees bringing home asbestos contaminated clothing from the workplace. This may expose innocent members of the worker’s family to asbestos. Some believe that the major current source of non-occupational exposure is the release of fibers from existing asbestos-containing surface materials, such as those in schools, residences and public buildings.
Sources: Occupational Exposure to Asbestos, 51 Fed. Reg. 22,615 (June 20, 1986); William J. Nicholson, Occupational Exposure to Asbestos: Population at Risk and Projected Mortality – 1980-2030, 3 AM. J. IND. MED. 259, 306 (1982); Pathology of Asbestos-Related Diseases (Victor L. Roggli et al. eds., 2004).