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How much exposure to asbestos causes mesothelioma?

On Behalf of | Sep 30, 2022 | Mesothelioma/Asbestos-Related Illness

There is no question that asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma. The science on this point is well-established. However, it is less clear if there’s a safe amount of exposure.

Instead, scientists will point out that your risks of developing mesothelioma increase with both a higher volume and prolonged duration of exposure. The more you suffer asbestos exposure, the more likely you are to develop mesothelioma. Yet, there is still some debate about the effects of lower levels of exposure.

No safe amount of asbestos exposure

The short answer is that scientists have not yet identified a safe amount of asbestos exposure. This owes partly to the problems created by the disease’s latency period. You can go anywhere from 10 to 60 years, or more, after your exposure before developing tumors. The typical latency period ranges from 20 to 40 years. The result is that researchers often have trouble creating studies that can account for those time spans.

All the same, researchers have attempted to explore the effects of relatively low doses of exposure. One study explored the effects of environmental asbestos. It addressed several notable findings:

  • Asbestos rates in areas without occupational exposures are much more balanced between men and women
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma, in the abdomen, tends to correspond with heavier doses of asbestos exposure
  • Lower doses of asbestos exposure lead more often to pleural malignant mesothelioma in the membranes surrounding the lungs
  • The different types of asbestos fibers carry different levels of risk
  • People who live close to environmental sources of asbestos are often subjected to lower doses but still suffer a greater risk of mesothelioma than those who live farther away

Another study looked at the long latency periods associated with the disease. It noted that mesothelioma rates tend to rise year after year. In other words, the mesothelioma rates for people who suffered asbestos exposure will be higher at 30 years after their exposure than at 20 years post-exposure. However, the study found that mesothelioma rates started to level off at roughly 45 years after exposure.

The changing nature of asbestos exposure

The good news is that mesothelioma rates in the United States have started to decline. This is also true in many other countries. As different governments started to limit asbestos use, fewer of their citizens suffered asbestos exposure. This had a particularly strong impact on industries that used to use asbestos heavily. As these industries have mostly phased out asbestos, the mesothelioma rates for younger workers have dropped.

However, there are two groups in which mesothelioma rates have continued to rise. The first is men aged 85 and older. The second is women. The fact that mesothelioma rates have continued to rise within these groups tells us about the changing nature of asbestos exposure.

  • The older men represent the aging demographic of “traditional victims.” These people worked in industries that often exposed them to asbestos.
  • The rising rates of mesothelioma among women point to second-hand and “legacy” asbestos exposure. Many of these women were homemakers who may have come into contact with asbestos fibers on their husbands’ or fathers’ laundry. Many of the other women worked in aging schools and hospitals. The builders may have used asbestos-laden materials, and as those materials break down and become “friable,” they can release their asbestos fibers into the air.

These facts are important because, as we have addressed, we do not yet know of any safe level of asbestos exposure. If you suspect the aging materials in your workplace may contain asbestos, you want to find out as soon as possible. The sooner your employer acts to mitigate asbestos, the safer you are.

Understanding your history of asbestos exposure

All of this leads to a couple of key points about understanding your history of asbestos exposure. Asbestos is the driving force behind mesothelioma. Most cases owe to industrial and occupational exposure, but the cases that don’t owe directly to those sources of exposure often link to second-hand or environmental exposure.

If you can identify the risks before it’s too late, you can act to mitigate them and protect yourself. However, it’s important to understand how you suffered exposure even after your diagnosis. There are resources available to mesothelioma victims, but you often need to show how the people behind those resources contributed to your exposure.

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