Who is the ‘third wave’ of people being exposed to asbestos?

Asbestos was a commonly used mineral in a huge number of products up through the 1980s. People who worked in construction, mining, shipping, plumbing, industrial insulation and firefighting routinely were exposed to asbestos through the course of their jobs.

Since then, environmental and occupational regulations have gotten stricter, and asbestos is not used in nearly as many products. Because of this, you might think newly developed asbestos-related illnesses would be rare. Unfortunately, that is not accurate, thanks to something called the “third wave.”

As noted in articles like this one from NPR, this “third wave” refers to a third population of people who are being exposed to toxic asbestos.

The first wave includes many of the workers mentioned above: the people who worked directly with asbestos for decades in mines or manufacturing, like, for example, the Combustion Engineering plant in Chattanooga. These are also the people one might expect to develop illnesses like mesothelioma, as they are older and were often exposed to high levels of asbestos on a daily basis.

The second wave includes the people who worked hands-on on a daily basis with products containing asbestos, or who worked in close proximity to tradesmen or craftsmen who did so. These type workers included shipbuilders, railroad workers, construction workers, and workers in large industrial job sites like DuPont and the TVA facilities. It also included workers’ family members who suffered secondary, though still substantive, exposure through various means including through washing the clothes of their loved ones.

The third wave includes younger people who are moving into and renovating older homes built with asbestos-containing products. It also includes construction workers, as there are concerns regarding a decline in asbestos regulation compliance in recent years. Even though the production of asbestos-containing products has diminished in the U.S., such products are being imported from other countries as well, both of which expose a new generation to harmful products.

We urge readers to not take asbestos exposure lightly or assume it is no longer a concern. There are still people suffering and dying from asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. Asbestos continues to put people’s lives in danger today.

If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos, it is crucial that you talk to your doctor–even better a lung specialist–about testing, monitoring, and possible treatment. If you have already been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, you can also talk to an attorney about your legal rights and whether you may qualify to collect compensation from a responsible party. Whatever you do, please do not call one of those 1-800 numbers you see in newspaper or tv ads.

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