Second-Hand Asbestos Exposure: Effects on Women and Children of Occupational Workers

The Dangers of Second-Hand Asbestos Exposure for Women and Children

When one thinks of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely occupational hazards. However, occupational workers are not the only people who can be exposed to asbestos. Asbestos fibers when airborne, can stick to clothing and be carried around without anyone knowing. These fibers on clothing can contribute to second-hand exposure to those who come in contact with it. On average, women and children are more susceptible to second-hand exposure from a family member that may have brought asbestos home from work. Regardless of the how much contact was made, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Studies have even shown that trace amounts of asbestos, even in one off situations, can be just as dangerous as exposure to high concentrations of this toxin.

Women and Second-Hand Exposure

While there are women who are exposed to asbestos first hand, many women are exposed to this toxin through second-hand exposure. In one study of over 90 female mesothelioma patients, researchers found that 64% came in contact with asbestos through non-occupational exposure. Most women are usually exposed to asbestos from clothing their loved ones working in an occupational job have brought home. While being in close proximity or while laundering clothing, women and children can be susceptible to the airborne toxin, without having any knowledge of it.

Women and Talcum Powder

On the job and second-hand exposure are not the only ways in which women may be exposed to  asbestos. As recently as March 12th, talcum (talc) powder containing asbestos has been found in a number of beauty products. Recently the FDA advised consumers not to use specific cosmetic items after tests concluded that they contained asbestos. Three products, specifically their eye shadow, compact powder, and contour palette, all tested positive for asbestos and were prohibited from being sold.

Asbestos can also be found hiding within talc used in baby powder products. There have been reports of baby powder containing talc and asbestos over the years. Talc is one of the main ingredients used in baby powder and is harvested from talc mines where asbestos can also be found. Companies who utilize talc can no longer assume that mines where talcum powder is found are guaranteed to be asbestos-free.

Women who use either of these products, or any others that may unknowingly contain asbestos, could be in danger of exposure. This can lead to lung diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis, which develop over time.

Women and Mesothelioma

For women who have been exposed to asbestos, learning about diseases like mesothelioma is essential in order to understand potential warning signs. For women who develop mesothelioma, diagnosis is the same as men. However, while it still might take anywhere from 10-50 years for symptoms to appear, women on average tend to be diagnosed at a younger age. Women also present different symptoms than male patients might. While the most common symptom is difficulty breathing, women are more likely to experience a cough or chest pain.

Women are more likely to develop peritoneal mesothelioma, which is when tumors caused from burrowed asbestos fibers develop in the abdomen instead of the lungs. However, women and children who experience second hand exposure are more likely to develop pleural mesothelioma.

In comparison to men, it is more common for women to have distant metastasis, or the spreading of this cancer, however, female patients were found to have a better prognosis. According to Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) databases, from 1973-2009 women had a 5-year survival rate of 13.4% while men had a 5-year survival rate of 4.5%. This information stands regardless of age and treatment type. Researchers also found that survival rate after surgery and the survival rate for patients with epithelial mesothelioma tumors were both higher in women patients on average.

It is believed that the increased survival rate in women may be linked to estrogen levels and the link between estrogen and mesothelioma suppression. Female estrogen receptors also work as a cancer growth suppressor, which could also determine a better outcome for younger women with mesothelioma in comparison to older women, who would produce less estrogen.

While women are less likely to develop the disease on average, they have a better survival rate than their male counterparts.

How to Avoid Exposure

There are many ways to avoid coming in contact with asbestos. In general older homes should always be checked for asbestos exposure. If there is any disruption in the walls, ceilings, or tile flooring of an older home, get them checked immediately.

Another thing to be aware of is the construction that may be happening in the area. If there is work happening close to home, keep your windows closed and avoid using door mats indoors. Cloth like doormats would accumulate asbestos until it’s stepped on and becomes airborne. Keep doormats outside and remove shoes before stepping inside.

Cleaning your home properly is extremely essential. Using a wet mop and rag on hard surfaces to clean and dust is important to keep toxins from getting airborne. When vacuuming be sure to use a high efficiency HEPA filter to trap the toxins. Using washable area rugs can be easy for quick cleaning toxins that might be trapped on the floors.

For those who work in the occupational field, make sure to keep safe and wear protective gear, but keep asbestos contaminated clothes at work. If possible, those working in a field with the potential of exposure should change at work before he or she comes home. Keeping clothing at work and in a contained plastic bag can help keep the exposure to a minimum. Those doing the laundry should also wear protective gear when handling linens that could be exposed to toxins.

While women are less likely to be exposed to toxins such as asbestos, there are still dangers when it comes to asbestos exposure and second-hand exposure. For women and families who have a family member in the occupational field living with them, they should be hyper focused on finding ways to prevent asbestos from sneaking into their homes and their lives. For anyone who might be using products containing toxins, be sure to check what’s in your everyday items and remember, there is no level of asbestos is safe, and take the proper precautions to protect yourself.

-Anna Dussing (