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Telephone Repairmen Exposed to Asbestos

Telephone repairmen are required to install as well as repair telephone lines. During installation, they are called upon to drill through sections of the house to allow the telephone wire to pass through. They are also responsible for identifying and repairing faults in the telephone line as and when required.

Exposure to Asbestos

Telephone repairmen can be exposed to asbestos in various ways. Being a good insulator, asbestos was extensively used to line floors, walls and ceilings of residential as well as commercial buildings. Drilling through these segments would diffuse asbestos fumes into the environment, which may be inhaled by the telephone repairmen. Telephone lines were also insulated with asbestos to enhance their longevity and protect them from flames and lightning. Telephone repairmen are required to cut and intertwine the telephone lines while making repairs, thereby disturbing asbestos fibers and causing contamination. To accentuate matters, telephone repairmen are always in close proximity when such disturbance is caused, leading to inhalation of larger amounts of asbestos fumes.

Risk of Sporadic Exposure

Telephone repairmen, as opposed to other workers in an asbestos-contaminated environment, are not always exposed to asbestos. They experience sporadic exposure to asbestos, depending on the demand for installation or repair of telephone lines. Studies were undertaken to unravel the effect of sporadic exposure to asbestos. The study initially established that telephone linesmen were indeed exposed to asbestos, either while drilling through building segments with asbestos lining, or working with asbestos insulated telephone lines. Even though exposure to asbestos was less than that experienced by workers in a confined asbestos environment, the risk of asbestos-related cancer was highly prevalent. The study thereby concluded that even a sporadic exposure to asbestos was dangerous and should be avoided as much as possible.

On-the-job Risks

While certain occupations, such as firefighter, flagman, or rodeo bull rider, are associated with obvious and well-understood dangers, we all realize that many jobs present a chance for work-related injuries. Still, in modern America, we generally expect that job-related dangers will be kept to a minimum, risks will be clearly communicated, and companies will attempt to create a safe workplace. Sadly, as little as 15 years ago, these expectations were not always met in terms of exposure to asbestos, and workers were subjected to conditions that placed their health at risk.

The Kinds of Asbestos and How They Affect Health

There are two major types of asbestos. Chrysotile, often called "white" asbestos, is the only member of the serpentine category and was the kind most frequently utilized. Usually not associated with asbestos cancer or mesothelioma, it is a relatively pliable form of the mineral. However, when breathed in, serpentine asbestos may result in abrasions on the inner surfaces of the lungs. This then causes an accumulation of scar tissue, which is a major cause of asbestosis.

Amphibole asbestos is the other category and is considered deadlier. A fairly rare, and generally lethal, asbestos-related disease called mesothelioma is linked to inhaling asbestos, particularly the amphibole forms. The pleural form of the disease, one that attacks the tissue that lies between the lungs and the pleural cavity, is the most prevalent. Extensive contact with amphibole asbestos is also linked to pericardial or peritoneal mesotheliomas, which affect tissue surrounding the heart and stomach, respectively.

The Benefits of Asbestos?

Asbestos was, ironically, generally used because of its ability to protect people's lives. Chrysotile asbestos is one of the best insulators known when it comes to fire and temperature extremes and has been used for the purpose throughout history. The amphiboles also had other properties that made them useful in industry. For instance, "brown" asbestos, or amosite, has a high iron content, making it impervious to caustic chemicals. "Blue" asbestos, or crocidolite, was commonly used around electrical equipment since it is highly resistant to electrical current. Depending on the application, various types of fibers were combined to create asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) that safeguarded lives and property against fire, heat, electrical contact and caustic chemicals.

As long as it was solid, asbestos offered almost no hazard. However, when ACMs got older, they were prone to becoming friable, or able to be reduced to powder by hand pressure alone. When they are friable, asbestos particles are readily dispersed into the air; once they enter one's body via swallowing or breathing, they may cause various health problems. Unfortunately, it wasn't just telephone repairmen who were in danger; secondary exposure frequently happened when people brought asbestos particles home on their skin, in their hair or on their clothing.

The Hidden Hazard of Asbestos

As opposed to typical work-related injuries, which are easily observed and known about soon after the causing incident, asbestos-related diseases may take ten, twenty, or even thirty years to develop. Given such a long time between exposure and the onset of symptoms, a worker might not even connect his or her current health problem with work done many years earlier. Especially with mesothelioma, the earlier it is diagnosed, the better the odds of survival or at the least of enjoying an improved quality of life. Therefore, if you were employed as a telephone repairman, or spent significant time around someone who did; it is vital that you notify your physician about the possibility of exposure to asbestos. It is commonly known that the mesothelioma survival rate is grim, yet early diagnosis and utilizing treatments like mesothelioma radiation can improve the prognosis for this disease.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari

Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)

Djamila Meguellati-Hakkas, et. al - Lung Cancer Mortality and Occupational Exposure to Asbestos Among Telephone Linemen: A Historical Cohort Study in France

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) - Laboratories and Shops

University of Wisconsin - Asbestos Disposal

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