Migrant Workers and Mesothelioma
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Foreign and migrant workers and mesothelioma is an issue that is too often ignored. Many of these workers have language barriers and may fear losing work or facing deportation for reporting unsafe working conditions. They often work in industries where asbestos exposure occurs, such as agriculture and construction.
How Are Migrant Workers at Risk for Asbestos Exposure?
Migrant workers are a vulnerable population in many ways. They often work in dangerous jobs and because many are not legal residents, they are often afraid to speak up about hazardous conditions.
Some of the industries with the highest numbers of immigrant workers still come with risks of asbestos exposure:
Some employers exploit these workers and their fear of deportation, giving them dangerous jobs with higher exposure risks. Workers fear speaking out, which puts them at greater risk of harm.
Finally, language barriers make it more difficult to educate some migrant workers about the risks of asbestos. They might not fully understand the dangers, safety training, or important precautions.
Asbestos in Agricultural Work
Agricultural work puts people at a greater risk of developing mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure. There are several ways that farmworkers, who are often migrants, can encounter and be harmed by asbestos:
- Old buildings, constructed when asbestos was in heavy use, can contaminate the air and surfaces when materials get disturbed. Renovations, repair work, and maintenance can disturb asbestos insulation, for instance, leading to exposure.
- Asbestos in farming machinery and equipment can also cause exposure when workers maintain or make repairs to vehicles, tractors and other equipment.
- Farms often use vermiculite, a natural mineral. It is found in construction materials but is also used as a soil amendment. Vermiculite is sometimes contaminated with asbestos.
- Naturally occurring asbestos exists in the soil in many places throughout the country. When the soil is disturbed and dust gets in the air, as often occurs on farms, workers may inhale the harmful fibers.
Studies have shown that these types of exposure to asbestos shave led to higher rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos illnesses in farmers, agricultural workers, and their families.
Asbestos in Construction Work
The construction industry contains asbestos in many materials. Regulations in place now ban most of these past uses of asbestos. Many older buildings, however, still have those older materials with asbestos, which may include:
- Roofing materials
- Boilers and furnaces
- Electrical conduits
- Fireproofing and heat-resistant fabrics
- Textured paints
- Patching compounds
- Flooring tiles
Studies have proven that men and women who worked in or work in construction have higher rates of mesothelioma than the general population. Migrants often work in construction and are put at risk as a result.
Many of these workers are day laborers. Companies take on these temporary workers, often to do the worst work. This includes handling hazardous materials like asbestos. With the work being temporary, there is little to no safety training or precautions. This means migrant workers may be at an even higher risk of exposure and harm than other types of construction workers.
Foreign Workers in Demolition and Asbestos Abatement
Foreign and migrant workers are prevalent in certain types of construction that have an elevated risk of asbestos exposure:
- Demolition. The demolition of older buildings poses a serious risk of asbestos exposure. The work exposes old materials, many of which contain asbestos. Fibers in the dust in the air cause exposure in anyone in the area.
- Asbestos abatement. Abatement, or removal, of asbestos from buildings should be conducted by trained professionals. Not all workers are protected, though. The rate of in asbestos-related disease in these workers is high.
In one case of migrant workers from Mexico, a construction company in Illinois negligently exposed them to asbestos during abatement projects. The company did not warn workers of the risks, failed to give them proper training for working with asbestos, and did not provide appropriate safety gear. Ultimately it was forced to pay nearly $2 million in fines.
Mesothelioma in Family Members of Migrant Workers
Migrant workers’ families are also at risk of mesothelioma due to secondhand exposure. When men and women working with asbestos come home, they may bring the fibers in on their clothing.
This is especially a risk for workers who do not receive a warning of the dangers, who have not received training in asbestos safety, or who have language barriers.
Studies consistently show that wives, children, and other relatives of workers who have asbestos on the job, have higher rates of mesothelioma than average. This is an ongoing problem, and while it is not limited to migrant workers, they are at particular risk.
Unscrupulous Employers Put Migrant Workers at Risk of Asbestos Exposure
Migrant workers are often vulnerable in ways others are not. They might fear speaking out about bad conditions if they are illegal residents, for instance. Language barriers also make it easier to hide dangers from them.
Some employers take advantage of these vulnerabilities. In 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined Kehrer Brothers Construction and an affiliated company $1.8 million for exposing migrant workers to asbestos.
The company hired workers from Mexico to perform asbestos abatement work. It did not, however, provide the required safety training and protective equipment.
Migrant Workers Have Legal Rights
Anyone who works in the U.S., whether here legally or not, has a right to a safe workplace. If you are a migrant worker exposed to dangerous conditions, you can file a complaint with OSHA to investigate the employer.
Migrant workers exposed to asbestos, who later become ill, have as much right as anyone to recover damages. They can file lawsuits and file claims with asbestos trust funds.
If you are a migrant worker in the United States and worried about asbestos exposure, contact a mesothelioma lawyer. They can help you understand your rights, provide advice, explain the laws, and help you take action to recover damages.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 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.