The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration has contributed information regarding chemical exposure levels measured in various industries over a period ranging from the mid-1980s to 2011.
The data was compiled and analyzed by researchers studying occupational risks for asbestos-related illnesses such as malignant mesothelioma cancer. The results were published in May 2015 in the journal of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.
Information from two databases combined for the study
A team of researchers headed by Dr. Dallas M. Cowan compiled information from two OSHA-run databases: Integrated Management Information System and Chemical Exposure Health Data. Data from these two sources were combined in order to give researchers a bird’s-eye view of asbestos exposure levels across several career fields over time.
Findings reflected asbestos exposure levels consistently over the levels permissible by OSHA standards among several industries over the span of a decade.
Top four career fields exceeding OSHA standards for asbestos
The study found that people who worked as automotive mechanics, in the field of asbestos-containing material manufacture, building construction and the petroleum, chemical and rubber industries were exposed to higher-than-recommended levels of friable asbestos—sometimes ten times the amount deemed acceptable by OSHA standards.
Levels of airborne asbestos in workplaces were found to regularly be excessive in these fields over a ten-year timespan, from 2001 to 2011.
Troubling news for workers past and present
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral with carcinogenic properties, meaning it can give rise to cancer. The type of cancer associated with prolonged exposure to asbestos, malignant mesothelioma, is particularly aggressive and can often kill its victims within two years of diagnosis.
Mesothelioma often does not become symptomatic until it has reached its late stages, which may be several decades after the victim’s first asbestos exposure. The data from the study indicate that workers may still be risking their health and lives by continuing to work in these industries—although they may not know it until half a century from now.
The United States has yet to fully ban asbestos
In spite of the well-known health risks of asbestos, the United States has yet to join the dozens of other nations—both developed and developing—who have banned all production, mining, export and import of asbestos.
Although mining and processing asbestos is no longer allowed, the U.S. still uses asbestos-containing materials imported from other nations in building construction, provided their asbestos content meets a minimal threshold.
Since there is no established safe level of asbestos exposure or safe asbestos type, this continued refusal to institute a full ban on asbestos-containing materials may well pose a grave risk to the health of the general public.