Contrary to popular belief, asbestos does still present a hazard for a number of different people in many different occupations. Even as asbestos was banned in most capacities in the late 1970’s by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos still exists in many older fixtures and structures throughout the United States. Unfortunately, many of those affected by asbestos exposure are the mobile poor, who are employed in some industries which are particularly prone to asbestos use.
Shipyard Salvage and Demolition
Shipyards will often offer temporary employment to mobile workers when scrapping vessels. These vessels are likely older and built prior to any type of asbestos regulations. Ship construction was among the most affected industries with relation to asbestos exposure. Many of those who were employed in naval and commercial shipyards were exposed to asbestos in the years leading up to regulation. Unfortunately, ship demolition presents an even greater hazard.
Asbestos, when intact and within stable compounds, does not immediately present a hazard to those who work with these materials. However, when these materials are cracked or broken, asbestos fibers can easily be released in to the air supply where they are inhaled by those in the vicinity. Vessel demolition and salvage present a true hazard because the very nature of demolition or deconstruction of these ships will often release asbestos into the air.
Agricultural Product Dust
Asbestos, as it is a naturally occurring mineral, is also found in the residual dust of many agricultural products, including fertilizers like vermiculite. Protection from the inhalation of dust and other airborne particles is typically prevented with the use of a mask or other protective device. In many industries this is common practice. Agriculture is not one of them, leaving many of those unfamiliar with the possible hazards unprotected against the inhalation of asbestos and other toxins.
Why it Matters
Language and other understanding barriers mean that the health of the mobile worker is affected by asbestos exposure. When asbestos is inhaled, it lodges easily within the lining of the lung and abdomen, creating the internal tissue plaques that lead to cancers like mesothelioma. Given that health problems related to asbestos exposure take decades to develop, it is often difficult for those exposed to understand why they are suddenly experiencing respiratory difficulty and how to obtain treatment. This is particularly true among the mobile labor forces who likely could not identify a single exposure point.
Awareness about asbestos and other toxin exposure needs to be greater throughout the mobile labor communities and related advocacy groups. It is only through cooperation among workers, clinics, and others that we can defeat the hazards that asbestos exposure presents to the mobile labor force.