Asbestos was heavily used on jobsites as a chemical- and heat-resistant mineral that could withstand high temperatures, electricity and other elements. The mineral was most often used in structures built before 1980, in machines and equipment used in various industries and within a wide variety of products. Asbestos can still be found today at many jobsites. Though different types of asbestos were utilized in these industries, research has shown that all forms of asbestos are dangerous and can lead to serious health effects.
Workers at military sites and jobsites across numerous industries may still be exposed to harmful asbestos. An estimated 125 million workers are exposed to asbestos internationally each year, and research shows occupational exposure is the leading cause of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma and asbestos cancer.
All branches of the military used asbestos, putting veterans and other service men and women at risk of exposure. Asbestos was used heavily for its durability in the high-heat environments of buildings, planes and ships, and also for structural insulation. Many of these jobsites still have asbestos products in their structures today. As a result, many veterans and civilian workers are exposed and account for about one-third of mesothelioma diagnoses today.
The heavy use of asbestos in all branches of the military, including the Air Force, has led to a high cancer risk among veterans. Asbestos was often used in the construction of buildings at Air Force military bases, as well as for heat control and fireproofing on Air Force planes. Families of service men and women are also at risk if they lived on base and were exposed to asbestos fibers directly or from secondary exposure, if their loved one brought contaminated clothing home.
Many Navy veterans and civilian workers were exposed to asbestos from ships that used the mineral in boiler rooms, pipe insulation and for other insulation purposes. All types of Navy and public vessels can be assumed to have contained asbestos somewhere in their construction if they were built before 1980. Boiler room insulation alone used about 15% asbestos, and it was easily broken down due to frequent repairs. This means that millions of veterans and other ship workers have been exposed to asbestos fibers at some point during their time on board.
Shipyard workers are often exposed to asbestos when doing maintenance work or retiring old ships that used asbestos materials. Since most ships utilized asbestos somewhere, especially for boilers and insulation, and most maintenance work had to be done in tight quarters, shipyard workers were often at risk of exposure to concentrated asbestos dust in the air.
Commercial and Industrial Sites
In industries where chemical reactions and heat were frequently utilized, asbestos was often used in materials due to its chemical- and heat-resistant properties. Asbestos could be found almost anywhere on these jobsites, such as in cement, insulation, gaskets and protective clothing to prevent fires and control chemical reactions. Workers who were exposed to asbestos on these jobsites may develop mesothelioma cancer years later.
Aluminum plant workers are often exposed to asbestos from broken-down structural materials, and they could even be exposed from asbestos-containing protective gear that could withstand chemical reactions. The non-corrosive properties of asbestos made it ideal for aluminum smelting, but dangerous asbestos fibers put many of the 2.2 million people who work in the metal industry at risk of developing serious health problems.
Asbestos can typically be found in insulation and cement materials at brewing company jobsites today, but it was once used in combination with paper to filter beer, wine and other alcohol. With the brewing industry growing rapidly and more than 100 breweries that still have asbestos on their jobsite, there is a risk of exposure for brewery workers and visitors alike.
Workers in the chemical plant industry often wore asbestos-containing protective clothing to prevent chemical burns or other injuries. Chrysotile asbestos, which was deemed “good asbestos” during its peak use, was most often found in petrochemical industries where chemical reactions happened frequently. The mineral was also used in insulation and other structural materials that are still present on some chemical plant sites today. Inhaling chrysotile asbestos fibers can lead to mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, which leaves chemical plant workers at risk.
Building materials on oil refinery jobsites contain asbestos for insulation and durability purposes. Old gaskets may also contain asbestos, as the mineral does not break down as easily as other materials. Although gaskets stopped being produced with asbestos in 1980, old machinery and pipes may still have asbestos gaskets and other materials with the mineral, leaving workers at risk of being exposed to hazardous asbestos fibers.
High-heat environments such as power plants were constructed with asbestos due to its ability to resist heat and electricity. The mineral was frequently used in insulation, but it could also be found in protective clothing to allow workers to handle machinery without burning or catching fire. More than 150 plants in the United States still have harmful asbestos materials on site, which can cause mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Boilers, ovens, steel molds and other steel mill equipment used asbestos to make products lightweight and resistant to high temperatures. Steel mill workers also wore protective clothing made with asbestos to protect against hot steel and other high-heat materials. Wear and tear to asbestos clothing and materials can lead to asbestos dust, leaving workers at risk of dangerous exposure.
Asbestos was commonly found on many jobsites that required materials that could withstand heat and chemical reactions, but it could also be found in places like vehicles, houses, and schools built prior to 1980. Mechanics, construction workers and teachers are among the professions that may be exposed to asbestos at these sites, but even homeowners and the general public may be exposed from renovations at home, working on their own vehicles or from other buildings that contain asbestos.
Old car parts such as brakes, clutches and gaskets may contain asbestos fibers to prevent heat transfer and insulate parts. The mineral could also be used in paint and fiberglass due to its lightweight, heat-resistant properties. Older vehicles may still have lingering asbestos in their parts, leaving drivers, mechanics, technicians and car manufacturers at risk of asbestos exposure when cleaning or repairing an old automobile.
Asbestos was heavily used in the construction industry, putting homeowners at risk of exposure. The mineral was frequently utilized in tiles, insulation, roofing and other materials in older homes. Chrysotile asbestos, the most common form of the mineral, was often used in the construction materials of homes built before 1980. As a result, homeowners may still be at risk of asbestos exposure when renovating or making repairs on their homes or from general wear and tear as the home ages.
Crocidolite asbestos, also known as blue asbestos, could be found in tiles, cement and insulation of school buildings. The fibers of blue asbestos are extremely fine and particularly easy to inhale, which means that students, teachers and other school staff members in more than 40,000 old school buildings may still be at risk of asbestos exposure today.
Preventing Asbestos Exposure at Jobsites
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Though the mineral is a known carcinogen, it is still not completely banned in the United States, and old uses in many jobsites, homes and other buildings continue to put the public at risk. Agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) work to provide safe working environments for at-risk employees across a variety of industries. They help set laws and regulations to limit health hazards, ensure the risk of exposure to asbestos is mitigated and individuals are able to work in safe environments with the necessary protective equipment.
Author: Tara Strand
Senior Content WriterRead about Tara
Reviewer: Jennifer R. Lucarelli
Lawyer for Mesothelioma Victims and Their FamiliesRead about Jennifer
Environmental Protection Agency. Protecting workers from asbestos. Updated September 2018.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Work-Related Lung Disease Surveillance Report. Updated September 2008.
Pandey KR. Occupational cancer kills more than 200,000 people a year. The BMJ. May 2007; 334(7600): 925. doi: 10.1136/bmj.39202.548588.DB
United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA Fact Sheet: Asbestos.