What Is Secondhand Asbestos Exposure?

Secondhand asbestos exposure most commonly affects the household members of asbestos workers. These workers experienced primary exposure to asbestos at work and unintentionally brought home asbestos fibers on their bodies, leading to secondary exposure among their loved ones.

Secondary asbestos exposure is equally as dangerous to human health as primary exposure. It is known to cause every type of asbestos-related illness, including mesothelioma.

This kind of exposure differs from environmental, community and bystander exposure.
  • Environmental exposure happens in places where asbestos naturally occurs in the soil and rock.
  • Community exposure happens around asbestos factories where asbestos waste was dumped.
  • Bystander exposure happens to anyone working near an asbestos worker.

Secondary asbestos exposure doesn’t happen as often today as it did decades ago. This type of exposure was more common before asbestos regulations were established in the 1970s.

Secondary asbestos exposure is also called:
  • Domestic exposure
  • Household exposure
  • Indirect exposure
  • Paraoccupational exposure
  • Secondhand exposure
  • Take-home exposure

Who Is at Risk of Secondary Exposure?

Historically, those most at risk of secondary asbestos exposure include the wives and children of asbestos workers.

Most secondary exposure took place during the 20th century when it was more common for men to fulfill the industrial jobs that involved working with asbestos products. After a day of work, they would inadvertently bring home asbestos fibers on their tools, shoes, clothing, skin and hair.

Anyone who lived in a home with an asbestos worker was at risk. Workers living in multigenerational housing could have exposed grandparents or grandchildren.

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Sources of Secondary Asbestos Exposure

There are multiple sources of secondary exposure, and some are riskier than others.

Common Sources of Secondary Exposure
  • Person-to-person contact
  • Washing clothes
  • Furniture, rug and car contact

Person-to-Person Contact

Workers with asbestos fibers on their clothing, hair and skin unknowingly exposed their loved ones upon greeting and hugging them when they got home. Children who sat on their father’s or grandfather’s laps were easily exposed.

Washing Clothes

The clothing used by asbestos workers became a primary source of secondary exposure for anyone doing their laundry. It was common to shake the asbestos dust off clothing before washing it, which contaminated the laundry room and was easily inhaled.

Furniture, Rug and Car Contact

Fabric materials were another source of secondary asbestos exposure for household members of asbestos workers. Asbestos fibers are jagged and easily attach to fabric materials such as car seats, furniture and rugs. Children playing on rugs, loved ones sitting together on a couch or in a car contaminated with asbestos were at risk of secondary exposure.

Mesothelioma and Secondhand Asbestos Exposure

Cases of mesothelioma caused by secondhand exposure may take longer to diagnose because in many cases the patient isn’t aware they were exposed to asbestos.

In general, mesothelioma is difficult to diagnose because of the way the cancer grows. It doesn’t cause symptoms until late in its development, and when it does the symptoms appear like the common cold or the flu. If someone doesn’t know they were exposed to asbestos they might not think twice about these symptoms of mesothelioma.

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common type of the cancer, so anyone with a history of secondary asbestos exposure should watch for signs of difficulty breathing, wheezing and chest pain. Peritoneal mesothelioma is the second-most common type. Symptoms include abdominal pain and swelling and digestive issues.

Secondary asbestos exposure is as dangerous as primary exposure. Researchers have noticed trends that lower levels of asbestos exposure can result in mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural plaques.

In general, the latency period for asbestos-related diseases caused by secondary exposure is the same as primary exposure. It takes about 20 to 50 years for most of these diseases to develop.

Impact on Mesothelioma Treatment

There is absolutely no impact on the treatment of mesothelioma if it is caused by secondary asbestos exposure. The cancer presents in the same way and has no biological differences to cases caused by primary exposure.

Mesothelioma doctors treat patients with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and Tumor Treating Fields. Innovative therapies, including photodynamic therapy and immunotherapy, are available through clinical trials.

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Is Compensation Available for Secondary Asbestos Exposure?

Yes, anyone diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease may be eligible for legal compensation regardless of whether their exposure was primary or secondary.

It is important to hire an experienced mesothelioma attorney for cases involving secondary exposure because proving liability in these cases is sometimes more challenging.

Some states welcome these types of asbestos claims, while other states make it challenging for plaintiffs or may not accept secondary exposure claims at all.

It is important to work with a nationwide mesothelioma law firm for these types of claims. Nationwide firms have had success bringing these claims to courts throughout the country and they will know the best jurisdiction in which to file your claim.