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Construction workers and asbestos exposure: 5 FAQs

Construction workers know all too well about dangerous work. The risk of serious falls and other on-site hazards is well-documented and always present.

Asbestos is one such hazard. Because of the delay or latency period between the time of exposure and the onset of an asbestos-related disease, the major health problems caused by asbestos exposure do not surface in construction workers or their family members until many years after a job ends.

Fortunately, if you are one of the many construction workers who have been exposed to asbestos over the years, keep in mind there are many more who do not develop asbestos-related diseases than those who do.

In this post, we will address questions about construction work and the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.

What types of construction materials have historically contained asbestos?

It isn't only insulation materials that have historically contained significant amounts of dangerous asbestos. Roofing shingles, roofing felt, wallboard, joint compound, flooring tiles, pipes and many other materials have as well.

When disturbed, asbestos fibers in these materials can become airborne and lead to mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

What types of construction jobs can involve asbestos exposure?

The list is long. From insulators and plumbers to plasters and drywall installers, there are all sorts of jobs over the years that have involved significant exposure to dangerous asbestos fibers. Such exposure always carries the risk of serious disease.

Other at-risk occupations include carpenters, electricians, ironworkers, HVAC technicians and masonry workers. Thousands of people have died from asbestos-related diseases after exposure to fibers during construction, rehab, or demolition projects.

What if an insurance company denies liability for asbestos disease because it was not diagnosed during the period covered by the policy?

Insurance companies should not be allowed to get away with that excuse. There are legal precedents holding that they cannot do this.

For example, in a recent case in New York state, an insurance company tried to avoid liability for asbestos disease suffered by construction workers on the original World Trade Center site in New York City.

The work was done back in the 1960s and 70s, long before the 9-11 attacks. The Supreme Court of New York held that the insurance company could not deny liability for asbestos claims just because the disease was not diagnosed until many years later.

Is there still a lot of asbestos still out there in construction materials?

Yes. Although, asbestos mining stopped in the U.S. in 2002, millions of metric tons are imported each year to be used in all sorts of products. There are also large amounts of asbestos still in use that was mined and incorporated into various products many years ago.

This remains a problem because of the long latency period between exposure to asbestos fibers and development of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. It often takes decades after exposure for symptoms of asbestos disease to appear.

What about federal regulation of asbestos?

Federal regulations contain various restrictions on asbestos at job sites. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are involved.

The regulations cover a broad range of topics including detailed requirements on how to properly dispose of asbestos on construction sites. Many asbestos regulations only apply, however, to materials that contain at least one-percent asbestos.

Critics have questioned whether the one-percent threshold is too low, given how lethal asbestos exposure can be. It remains uncertain how asbestos regulations will be interpreted and enforced in the current presidential administration.

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