Since the early 1940s when asbestos use became popular in the United States, millions of Americans have been exposed to asbestos. Even today with all the government regulations surrounding asbestos use the National Cancer Institute states that everyone is exposed to asbestos throughout their lifetime. Because asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, trace elements can be found in the air, water and soil. These trace amounts of asbestos typically do not make people ill. It is those who have been exposed to asbestos over long periods of time who are most at risk for asbestos related diseases.
Often continual exposure to asbestos occurred on the job. People who become ill from asbestos may have worked directly with the material or been exposed through substantial environmental contact. Professions that have high levels of asbestos contact include shipbuilding trades, demolition workers, drywall removers, insulation work in the construction and building trades, asbestos removal workers, firefighters, and automobile workers. As Government regulations on asbestos improved work practices, workers in these fields today face smaller risks than those working in these fields in the early to mid 1900's.
One of the most recent cases of widespread asbestos exposure took place with the rescue, recovery and cleanup crews at the World Trade Centers on September 11th, 2001. Asbestos was used in the North Tower of the buildings and when the tower collapsed it sent hundreds of tons of asbestos containing materials into the atmosphere. A study conducted with World Trade Center rescue and recovery workers found that nearly 70 percent suffered new or worsened respiratory symptoms while performing work at the site.
For many dealing with asbestos related diseases, initial symptoms did not develop until years after initial exposure to asbestos. In many cases it can take 20-40 years before the diagnosis of an asbestos related disease, like Mesothelioma Lung Cancer, can be given by a physician. If you or a loved one worked in a field that handled asbestos and are now experiencing respiratory problems they may be a sign of an asbestos related disease. Early detection can improve the prognosis of an asbestos related disease so contact a physician for a health examination as soon as respiratory challenges occur.