We've all heard the term "asbestos" and seen the commercials regarding asbestos exposure and its link to mesothelioma. Asbestos is actually the commercial name given to six naturally occurring fibrous materials, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Initially used for its heat and chemical resistance for decades in commercial products including insulation, textiles, and fireproofing materials, asbestos can separate into microscopic particles that can be easily inhaled. Inhaling the minerals has been linked to mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other lung- and breathing-related issues and illness.
While the use of asbestos has drastically decreased since this link has been discovered, there are still plenty of occupations where the risk of exposure to asbestos are greater than others.
Because of its heat and chemical resistance properties, asbestos was used in construction for decades following World War II. The CDC estimates 1.3 million construction workers come in contact with asbestos annually with the minerals being found in anything from floor tiles to plaster and siding in houses and buildings.
Rushing into a burning building to save lives comes with plenty of risks, including asbestos exposure. Many homes built in the mid-1900s featured asbestos in insulation, roofing and tiles, so firefighters and other first responders are susceptible to exposure in these instances.
Asbestos is commonly found in three types of rock: altered ultramafic rocks, serpentinite and some mafic rock. These minerals date back more than 5,000 years though were prospected and identified in the United States in the mid to late 1800s. Because of their presence in nature, miners, gardeners may break rocks or soil with asbestos present and unknowingly be exposed.
Break parts used to be made with asbestos fibers. Mechanics who work with automobiles, aircrafts or heavy machinery may be exposed to these minerals if dealing with older vehicles or equipment that feature these parts.
Farmers can be exposed to asbestos whether through old farm buildings containing these minerals or via equipment used on the farm featuring them.
While engineers might not be as hands on with potential asbestos products or parts compared to a construction worker or railroad worker, their proximity to those who have potentially been exposed or these work areas puts them at risk.