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Asbestos: Why Children's Exposure Matters

Asbestos can be found in schools and children's toys. Does that put children at greater risk of mesothelioma?

Asbestos-related illnesses can take years to appear, which, according to experts, means children do not face a great risk of asbestos-related illness.

“Children are at substantially less risk for mesothelioma than adults,” Dr. Douglas P. Jeffrey, a family medicine specialist from Eugene, Oregon, says. “However, children exposed at a young age are at high risk of developing mesothelioma as an adult."

However, children can still be exposed to asbestos through other means, like toys and crayons made in other countries, despite that asbestos manufacturing is largely banned.

But according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testing children for asbestos, which requires X-rays, could be more dangerous than asbestos exposure itself, since X-ray radiation is also harmful to children.

The CDC also says researchers do not know whether asbestos fibers affect children's lungs differently.

There are things you can do to keep your child safe from asbestos exposure. These include being informed about asbestos in your environment and leaving the cleanup to the professionals.

“Determining whether there is a source of asbestos in the home, school, or a business frequented by your child becomes a first step,” Dr. Jeffrey says. “These are places that a child will spend the vast majority of their time.”

It is important to leave any asbestos you might find undisturbed, and that includes not vacuuming or sweeping the fibers, according to Dr. Jeffrey.

“The removal of asbestos might increase a child’s exposure if not done properly,” Dr. Jeffrey says.

It’s also important to consider secondhand asbestos exposure if a parent or guardian works in construction or manufacturing, which can lead to asbestos dust entering the home.

If you discover asbestos in the home or anywhere else, contact the appropriate expert as soon as possible. You can start by using the U.S. Environmental and Protection Agency (EPA) website, which provides a list of state asbestos contacts who can answer questions and provide advice.