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Second-hand asbestos exposure affects another generation

Is there a safe amount of asbestos exposure? Can second-hand exposure cause mesothelioma decades later?

The answer to the first question is no. The answer to the second question is yes: indirect exposure, such as via contact with work clothing of parents, is creating a second generation of mesothelioma victims. For one woman, breathing in asbestos fibers in the 1970s while wearing her father's jacket to do chores around the yard was enough.

Winter-jacket weather

The woman, who is now an anti-asbestos activist, was regularly exposed from grabbing her father's soap or cologne scented jacket off the hook and wearing it outside to feed their rabbits or do other chores in the yard.

Her father wore the jacket while working on construction sites. A grayish-white crust of dust formed on it from the process of tearing out and installing new drywall.

What her family did not realize was that the dust contained microscopic asbestos fibers. Once inhaled, these fibers do not break down and they cause irritation in the lining of the organs for decades.

Timing of a diagnosis

The timing of a mesothelioma diagnosis is never good. In this case, the woman's diagnosis came three months after she gave birth to her daughter. The survival rate at the time was 15 months; it is little better today. Twelve years later, the woman is beating the odds.

Fight for a total ban on asbestos containing materials

She is one of a number of victims campaigning for a complete ban of asbestos-containing materials (ACM).

The United States is one of the few major industrialized nations that has not yet banned asbestos. Although there are various federal regulations applicable to asbestos, it continues to be used in gaskets, friction products, roofing materials, fireproofing materials, and other consumer products (provided it accounts for less than 1% of the product).

In the US, asbestos can still be imported from abroad. Despite potential legal liabilities, companies that import ACM may not monitor products closely on their own. This could be why one company faced scandal when asbestos was found in children's makeup it imported from China. By contrast, the UK banned the import of asbestos in 2012 and made the use of new ACM illegal.

The UK ban comes at a time when the UK, like the US, is dealing with increasing mesothelioma cases related to asbestos exposure. People doing home self-improvement projects are a leading cause of the third generation of mesothelioma cases there.

In the US, a ban on new ACM seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. But hopefully, with the continued efforts of folks like the woman exposed to asbestos through wearing her father's construction jacket, awareness of the risks of asbestos exposure will continue to rise.

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