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You can be exposed to asbestos in a variety of ways. However, construction is one of the major sources of airborne asbestos fibers. While asbestos use in construction material is now limited, it was quite common for decades. In years past, asbestos was used in nearly every aspect of building, including electrical wiring insulation. Electricians today, as well as others working with wiring in older buildings, are at risk of asbestos exposure. Those individuals who are exposed, are at risk ofdeveloping mesothelioma or other illnesses associated with asbstos.
The risk of asbestos exposure is moderately increased for electricians compared to the general population. Some workers in the electrical field have suffered from mesothelioma and other devastating illnesses. Lawsuits have been filed by victims and surviving family members who believe they were not warned of the risks.
The Use of Asbestos in Wiring
Asbestos is a natural insulator. Because this naturally occurring mineral is not a good conductor of electricity or heat, it is often used as an electrical insulator. For years, asbestos was used in a variety of insulation materials, including those used in walls, around plumbing elements, furnaces, heaters, pumps, and around wires used in electrical systems. Insulation for wiring may include paper or cloth materials, tapes, and other materials. Any of these materials may be impregnated with asbestos fibers.
How Electricians May Be Exposed
There are several ways electricians may be exposed to airborne asbestos fibers. The first is from the electrical wiring itself. Electrical wires must be insulated to contain electrical charge. Since asbestos has properties that make it good for insulating purposes, it was once commonly used for this purpose. For years before the dangers of asbestos were fully understood, the materials used to coat and insulate electrical wires were largely made with asbestos fibers.
Electricians working in older buildings can be exposed simply by working with wires insulated with materials containing asbestos. Removing old wires and stripping old insulation to recover the copper underneath can disturb asbestos, potentially causing tiny asbestos fibers to become airborne. Drilling into walls that contain asbestos is particularly dangerous. This process often produces dust. However, this is often unavoidable as electricians must drill to access wiring and create conduits.
Another way electricians are exposed to asbestos is on construction sites. Even when electricians are not working with wiring that contains asbestos, others on the site may disturb asbestos. Often wall insulation or ceiling tiles that contain asbestos are damaged in the process, causing tiny fibers to drift into the air. These fibers often exist in construction site dust, putting workers at risk of inhalation.
Research Finds Asbestos Risk Elevated for Electricians
Several studies have been conducted to determine common exposure levels of electricians. Some studies have found the risk to be moderately elevated. Others have found the risk to be increased, but still within acceptable limits. What is known with certainty is electricians are exposed to more asbestos than the average person.
In one study, research was not restricted to electricians. It did, however, include electricians in the participant group. Researchers looked for mesothelioma biomarkers in over 100 workers known to have been exposed to asbestos on the job. Biomarkers, proteins that indicate the presence of mesothelioma cancer cells, were present in the group’s electricians. Electricians were among those at highest risk of mesothelioma biomarkers.
Another study investigated electricians specifically, attempting to determine if exposure risk was a direct result of electrical products. Researchers found that while electricians have higher rates of mesothelioma, the increased risk may not be due to electrical products themselves. The exposure more likely comes from asbestos fibers in dust on renovation sites.
Still another study examined the exposure risks for electricians working on stripping old insulation from wires. Stripping old wires is a common practice to reuse or recycle underlying copper wiring. Machines are commonly used to do this, however researchers were looking to see in electricians working the machines were exposed to dangerous asbestos levels. Researchers discovered that workers were exposed to airborne asbestos fibers but levels were within the acceptable range.
Over the years, many people have filed lawsuits related to asbestos exposure at work and later diagnosed with mesothelioma or other serious illnesses. Many lawsuits were specifically filed by electricians. In one case, a former electrician for Carnival Cruise lines died of lung cancer caused by years of asbestos exposure on ships. The man’s surviving family successfully sued Carnival Cruise lines, winning a settlement on his behalf.
In another case, an Indiana man worked for 40 years as an electrician, breathing asbestos fibers without understanding the risks. At 78 years-old, he filed lawsuits because of developing malignant pleural mesothelioma. His doctors informed him that his work as an electrician and his smoking habit led to the diagnosis decades later. The case is expected to be complex, however he and his family are fighting for justice and compensation.
There have even also been lawsuits filed by the children of electricians. Secondary exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma or lung cancer. When an electrician inadvertently brings home asbestos fibers on his or her clothing, those fibers enter the air of the home, putting their children at risk. This is known as take-home exposure and puts more people at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases.
Electrical wiring contained asbestos in insulation materials for decades. Electricians working with those wires, as well as those working on construction sites that contained sources of asbestos, were put at risk of exposure. Those exposed are at risk of developing debilitating and life-threatening illnesses like mesothelioma. Now, many of those workers are seeking justice and compensation through lawsuits and settlements.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.