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Causes of Mesothelioma and Excavating Asbestos

asbestos exposure and mesothelioma causes

One of the causes of mesothelioma is prolonged exposure to asbestos. Due to health risks associated with asbestos, precautionary measures should be taken in order to prevent the spread of airborne asbestos fibers. In certain places, asbestos minerals reside in the earth. For centuries, asbestos was used for thousands of applications. Asbestos tensile strength and fire-resistant property were once highly regarded as a staple for building products in the construction industry.

For decades, asbestos was used quite heavily in commercial buildings and residential homes. From the late 1970s to the early 1980s, asbestos was still used all over the states. After years of widespread use conducted throughout most industrialized nations, asbestos remains within structures around the world. Upon discovery, widespread illness caused by asbestos exposure, such as being one of the most found mesothelioma causes, led the movement to curb large-scale use of asbestos in human-made products.

Mesothelioma Causes Such as Airborne Asbestos Fibers

Asbestos fibers are a serious health risk, and even low levels of exposure to them can cause lung disease and mesothelioma cancer. All over the world, many countries have either restricted the use or banned asbestos altogether. Asbestos is only considered a hazard if it is disturbed. If asbestos begins to crumble or is physically crushed, fibers will then release into the air. Most of the fibers, when airborne, are microscopic, which not only makes them impossible to see but can also be inhaled unknowingly at the time.

Asbestos Exists Alongside Other Minerals

Since asbestos does reside in the earth, it has found to also exist naturally alongside other minerals. Exposure to asbestos is widely known in industries, such as construction and mining. Asbestos mining has been banned in the United States since 2003, but asbestos is still legal for limited use only. One such occurrence of natural asbestos contamination, on record, is the large-scale vermiculite disaster near Libby, MT. Here the whole town was subjected to years of airborne asbestos exposure due to cross-contaminated vermiculite exposure from a local mine and it was one of the main causes of mesothelioma in the area.

Standard Work Practice Guidelines Geared Toward Known Asbestos Contamination

Since the implementation of standard construction work practice guidelines established by OSHA and the EPA, the process of various construction practices changed. Since asbestos mining has shutdown, regulatory guidelines regarding contact with asbestos seem to focus more on exposure from human-made asbestos products.

As a result, asbestos abatement or removal is an essential ordeal because it is required to be done, with few exceptions, before specific construction projects such as remodeling, renovating, or demolition can occur. Inevitably, this type of construction has a known variable that asbestos is already present. Here pre-demolition or site inspections were done because they knew asbestos materials had been installed years before.

Excavation Sites Challenging To Monitor And Manage

No matter what, OSHA guidelines mandate that all worksites shall be free of all known hazards which could cause serious harm or death- including the situation that excessive exposure to asbestos becomes one of the main mesothelioma causes. These guidelines are bound into one single duty that all employers must adhere to, which is known as the OSHA General Duty Clause. There are no exceptions to the clause, even if a harmful danger such as asbestos is found.

This can be a challenge for any supervisor or site manager to uphold; therefore, making precautionary and proactive measures an important part of work sites. Those challenges are some significant factors that can make excavation work a tough job to handle.

Asbestos Contamination Possible On Excavation Sites Even If Not Immediately Located

Unlike construction trades such as building or demolition, excavation work may uncover asbestos that was not present when the work began. All excavation sites may possess a hidden factor that asbestos might exist beneath the surface of the ground. Generally, other natural resources mined can still pose a risk of being cross-contaminated with residual asbestos. Mining is the extraction of a natural resource or mineral from the earth. In comparison, an open-pit mine is operated by digging and extracting the minerals or soils directly from the ground. Similar in nature, the same threat issues of asbestos contamination, one of the leading causes of mesothelioma, can happen with excavation work.

Excavation At Times Poses The Same Risk As Mining

Excavation is a form of construction performed daily all over the world. Technically, it is the closest relative to mining. On the other hand, excavation construction work involving dirt work, grading, digging, trenching, or drilling involving new construction could expose others to airborne asbestos fibers.

Excavation Sites May Be Unknown For Existing Asbestos

Areas of excavation sites may be asbestos-free, but there are possibilities where other areas on-site might possess the asbestos fibers within the ground. Ultimately, asbestos would not be known to be present unless excavated.

In the last half of the twentieth century, asbestos use has drastically declined. Although asbestos may not be used for all of the applications, the natural state of asbestos existing under the ground will not change. Even if asbestos is known to be found in a naturally occurring area, there are ways to minimize the presence of airborne asbestos fibers during excavation.

Excavation Site Recommendations For Controlling Asbestos Exposure

A majority of the time, asbestos is found deep within the bedrock in the ground. At times, asbestos can be found mixed in with the soil if the area was previously excavated or disturbed. One of the most considerable risks of asbestos exposure comes from operations such as drilling, blasting, or heavy trenching. If the excavation does not reach down to the rock or sub soiled area where asbestos might be, then the chance of exposure is low. Accordingly, when exposure is low, it does not become one of the causes of mesothelioma.

Develop a Site or Construction Plan

One of the first ways to minimize asbestos exposure on an excavation or construction site is to develop a construction plan. An evaluation of the site can determine if the bedrock and the subsoil mixed from previous activity. Also, samples can be taken from the surface to test for any asbestos presence. This action of testing may need to be done before any large-scale earthmoving projects take place.

Apply Water To Control Dust Or Airborne Contaminants (Asbestos)

Another way to stop the spread of airborne asbestos is to prevent dust at the site from ‘clouding up.’ Water application is a critical element in controlling and preventing dust from forming. In drier conditions, dust accumulation can become extreme. Applying water to areas where heavy traffic or activity will occur can help eliminate the risk of airborne asbestos. Also, all spoiled areas of ‘dug-up’ dirt and rock need to stay damp when necessary. Water application can be made by using portable sprayers located on tractors, four-wheelers, or employ the use of a commercial water tank truck.

Establish Air Monitoring For Permissible Exposure Levels (PEL)

Before applying any measures to combat airborne asbestos, a test would be beneficial to understand what condition the site entails. The most definite way to tell what the airborne asbestos fiber level is at a worksite will be to initiate certified air monitoring. Monitoring the air on-site, will establish an initial air concentration of asbestos fibers that will measure OSHA regulated Permissible Exposure Limits (PEL).

To be compliant with regulations, OSHA requires sampling to be done around the site worker’s breathing areas during an 8– hour duration of a typical workday and a 30 minute-period while performing work that is most likely to unleash asbestos exposure, such as excavation, trenching, or drilling. Not doing so can lead to unwarranted asbestos exposure and result in lung cancer or be one of the causes of mesothelioma.

Supply Workers With Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Supplying and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is another way to prevent asbestos exposure. Site workers are going to get dirty and carry the remnants of any contaminant that might be hidden in the ground. Workers are issued protective clothing such as boots and a coverall suit or Tyvek suit, which is an inexpensive coverall, used to cover clothing while working and can be thrown away or laundered at the end of each workday. If PEL levels are above the standard OSHA regulated limit of 0.1 fibers/cc per 8-hours, then a respirator would be required. Respirators that are appropriately selected and fit-tested per OSHA regulated guidelines should then become available.

Another necessary measure observed alongside the practice of wearing PPE should be to wash off all boots, tools, equipment, and vehicles that may be leaving the job site. Besides, washing will also keep free-flowing airborne asbestos from leaving the site.

Properly Dispose of Asbestos Contaminated Spoils Or Contaminated Materials

Another way to prevent asbestos from re-entering the area is to dispose of any excavated spoils from the site properly. Spoils left unattended can revert to becoming dry or loose and can erode or accumulate into clouds of airborne asbestos particles. Keeping these spoils moist until they can be loaded and hauled off in a covered-dump trailer or truck would be the most effective way to prevent the spread of airborne asbestos.

Sites Can Expose Others And Should Not Be Overlooked

Excavation sites should not be overlooked just because there may be no clue or inkling that asbestos would be present. Contractors and individuals should be vigilant when it comes to learning about areas of concern or, in general, about what is present within a potential excavation site.

The unearthed ground may be harmless, but there could be the underlying danger of asbestos that is waiting below. Remember being cautious is the same as being careful when trying to work safely. Seeing what lies in front of you is better than finding out after the fact, especially, unknowingly excavating asbestos.

If you or a loved one feel like you may be suffering from the harmful effects of asbestos exposure due to past dealings with excavation, mining, or other construction trades, please feel free to contact an experienced asbestos attorney.

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