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Agricultural workers use machines and work by hand to grow and harvest crops and to raise animals. Mesothelioma in farmers and agricultural workers occurs because of asbestos exposure through equipment, soil, and vermiculite.
Are Farm Workers Exposed to Asbestos?
They used asbestos in equipment, fireproofing and insulation materials, vehicles, gaskets, boilers, furnaces, and many other parts and materials used daily on the job.
Agriculture is not often associated with asbestos exposure, but it has happened in the past, and it is still a risk for many workers. Farmers and farmworkers are at risk for asbestos exposure through old buildings, equipment, soil, and vermiculite.
Asbestos in Farm Buildings
- Cement board and pipe
- Electrical conduits
- Fireproofing materials
- Flooring materials
- Pipe covering
- Roofing materials
Farm workers responsible for maintenance in buildings where asbestos exists risk exposure. When these materials get disrupted by work, the fibers can become airborne, causing exposure and later illness.
Demolition of older buildings on farms presents a serious risk of exposure. If not done safely or if the presence of asbestos is unknown, those working on it and anyone in the area could inhale disturbed asbestos fibers.
Asbestos in Farm Equipment
Machinery and equipment in all industries have contained asbestos in the past, and many still do today. Brakes and clutches, for instance, in tractors contained asbestos to reduce overheating from friction. Other components with asbestos included:
- Vehicle hood liners
- Gaskets and seals
- Insulating panels
- Under sprays
Workers on farms who maintain machinery and make repairs can be exposed to asbestos. When they remove and change parts, the particles of asbestos can become airborne. When inhaled, those fibers can trigger damage that leads to mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer.
Vermiculite with Asbestos
Like asbestos, vermiculite is a natural mineral with many industrial uses. Unlike asbestos, it is also used in farming and is not linked with cancer. Vermiculite can be harmful if it is contaminated with asbestos. These two minerals often occur together, and when vermiculite is mined, it may carry harmful asbestos fibers.
Farms use vermiculite for several purposes, many similar to those of asbestos: insulation, fireproofing, and building materials. Vermiculite also has several farm-specific applications:
- Soil amendments
- Seed encapsulation
- Seed germination
- Sowing composts
- Potting mix
- Root cuttings
- Animal feed
Farmers and agricultural workers handling contaminated vermiculite could be exposed to asbestos. Even those farms not actively using vermiculite may have some residual material in the soil from past use. Stirring up the dust from this soil can cause exposure.
Vermiculite does not always contain asbestos, but the case of the W.R. Grace mine in Libby, Montana highlighted this reality:
- For decades the company mined vermiculite contaminated with asbestos and shipped it to processing plants around the country.
- From there the vermiculite went out to farms and other industries for use.
- Miners and local residents in Libby experienced asbestos exposure, and thousands of people got sick.
- Any residual Libby vermiculite on farms still poses a risk to workers today.
Asbestos in Soil
Farming is dusty work, with the soil disturbed on nearly a daily basis. If there is any asbestos in the soil, it may harm workers. Asbestos in soil may come from past contamination, such as vermiculite or natural occurrences.
Asbestos is not widespread in soil, but there are localized areas where higher concentrations pose a risk:
- Scientists have found areas of southern Nevada with significant amounts of asbestos in the soil. These areas are near farms and put workers at risk. They found that this contaminated soil contributed to higher-than-average rates of mesothelioma in women and younger people in the region.
- Another study looked at naturally-occurring asbestos in California. It contributed to elevated cases of mesothelioma in local farmers.
- In Mexico, farmers may be at risk from soil exposure to erionite. This is a mineral that is similar to asbestos and has been shown to be a contributing factor in mesothelioma.
What Is the Mesothelioma Risk for Farmers?
The specific risk of mesothelioma in farmers has not been well studied. However, researchers have found that farmers and farm workers are more likely to die from respiratory illnesses when compared to the general population.
Researchers have also found that farmers are often exposed to silica dust. Although asbestos has the strongest association with mesothelioma, there is some indication from studies that silica could play a role in the disease as well.
Preventing Asbestos Exposure in Farm Workers
Agricultural employers have a responsibility to keep their workers safe from asbestos exposure. Workers should also know their rights and protections before working in a risky area. Some steps to take to reduce exposure risks include:
- Testing the soil for asbestos
- Providing workers with safety gear if working with asbestos
- Training employees to work safely with and around asbestos
- Finding out where there is asbestos in farm buildings
- Regularly checking on building asbestos materials to keep them secure
- Following all state laws regarding the safe removal or abatement of asbestos in buildings
All Asbestos-Exposed Workers Eligible for Compensation
If you have worked on a farm or were a farmer and later received a diagnosis of asbestos-related illnesses, you have legal options. A mesothelioma lawyer specializing in these cases can help you determine the negligent party, often a manufacturer of asbestos products, like insulation or vermiculite.
It is essential to understand that all workers are eligible to seek compensation for negligent asbestos exposure. You do not need to be a citizen or even a legal resident to take action for justice and compensation for your illness. Let an experienced mesothelioma or asbestos lawyer outline your options and help you take the next steps.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Anne Courtney, AOCNP, DNP
Anne Courtney has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and is an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner. She has years of oncology experience working with patients with malignant mesothelioma, as well as other types of cancer. Dr. Courtney currently works at University of Texas LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.