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Hairdressers and Mesothelioma The Hazardous Tool of the Trade

A hairdresser or stylist is another occupation that placed many workers in the cosmetology industry at risk for developing mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a deadly tumor that invades the linings of organs, such as the lungs, heart, or abdomen. A large number of hand-held hairdryers produced before the 1980s contained asbestos materials. Hairdryers posed a chilling risk of exposure to asbestos. This is because the air blowing from the hairdryer was propelled into the user’s breathing zone. 

Holding an occupation as a hairdresser does not fit in with the other common occupations traditionally associated with asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. Other professions, such as a mechanic, firefighter, construction worker, or military personnel, face the highest risk for developing mesothelioma. The levels of exposure to asbestos were remarkably high. Even today, workers in these occupations come into contact with asbestos fibers. 

The Occupational Hazard for Salon Workers 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that in 2018 there were approximately 766,100 individuals employed as hairdressers, stylists, and cosmetologists in the United States. The bureau also projects an 8% job growth from 2018-2028, which demonstrates a faster than average growth among other professions. The three states with the highest level of employment in this occupation include California, New York, and Texas.

Today, the threat of hairdressers in a salon setting that come into contact with asbestos is relatively low. Products used in salons, such as hairdryers, have not been manufactured or distributed since the 1980s. However, some salons used and may still use products that contain high levels of toxins that could lead to the contraction of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. Other trades at risk include: 

  • Cosmetologist
  • Manicurist
  • Barbers
  • Estheticians
  • Repair/Maintenance Workers

The toxin still presents a considerable health threat for those still using old equipment. Maintenance specialists who have performed maintenance and other repairs on the small appliance are also at risk. 

As with any occupation where workers come into direct contact with asbestos, that risk also extends to anyone they may come in contact with after work. This typically includes family members or other individuals sharing a living space. This is known as secondhand exposure to asbestos. The fibers can cling to skin, clothing, and other materials that can transfer to others, putting them at risk.

Asbestos Discovered in Hairdryers by Mistake

A photographer “accidentally” discovered the presence of asbestos fibers by mistake when he was using a hairdryer to dry film. He observed tiny white flecks on the film that turned out to be asbestos. Asbestos release from hairdryers was discovered by accident when a photographer used a hairdryer to dry film and noted white flecks on the film. Asbestos-containing hairdryers were used well up to and throughout the 1980s.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Investigation (CPSC)

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which under the Federal Hazardous Substance Act, regulates hazardous consumer products, announced a recall of hairdryers and other related salon and consumer-related materials in 1979. Approximately 90% of hairdryer manufacturers used asbestos as an insulator. A few notable manufacturers included:

  • Clairol
  • Conair 
  • General Electric 
  • Hamilton-Beach
  • J.C. Penney 
  • Sears, Roebuck, & Company
  • Remington
  • Sunbeam 

In 1979, after the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released the findings of their investigation into the release of asbestos, several manufacturers voluntarily stopped using asbestos in their models. The New York Times (NYT) published an informative piece on October 30, 1980, titled, “Home Hazards Change with Technology” The New York Times’ Ralph Blumenthal wrote:

 “…last year asbestos fibers were discovered blowing out of hairdryers, prompting a recall–although only 3 million of the 18 million made with asbestos were ever fully accounted for.”

The Department of Energy’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) studied 30 hairdryers, “…23 were home-use hand-held appliances, three were table-top hooded models, one was a hobby heat gun, and one was a heavy-duty commercial salon style dryer.” According to a source, the airborne asbestos concentrations produced by the dryers ranged from “0 to 0.11 structures/cm/sup 3/ and the mass concentrations ranged from 0 to 7652 nanograms/cm/sup 3/.” 

The study also discovered that the 23 hand-held hairdryers generated a flow rate reaching up to 2 m3/min, which provided enough force to push asbestos fibers into the environment. This release of asbestos fibers offered an ample opportunity for fiber inhalation. Additionally, the study found that “[n]o significant differences were noted whether the dryers were operated at high heat or at cycled heat.”

With such strong evidence of the severe health risks now linked to the use of the hairdryers, the health threat was significant; therefore finding good cause to cease the production and distribution of hairdryers containing asbestos materials.  

Study Linking a Hairdresser’s Mesothelioma Diagnosis to the Use of Asbestos-Containing Hairdryer

A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health that focused on consumer use of hairdryers (pre-1980s). The study researched the use of asbestos-containing hairdryers and the development of peritoneal mesothelioma. Peritoneal mesothelioma in the abdomen. Salon hairdressers were at a higher risk of exposure to asbestos simply due to the daily exposure and constant contact with asbestos fibers released by the hairdryers. 

The report studied a hairdresser whose only recorded exposure to asbestos was from hairdryers that contained asbestos. The subject worked as a makeup artist from 1976 to 1992, a total of 16 years. She operated an average of four to five, eight to fourteen-hour days. Furthermore, she used the same products each day from 1976 through 1985. She used hairdryers every day throughout her career until 1992.

She was 49 when she was diagnosed with malignant peritoneal cancer, mesothelioma tumors in the lining of the abdomen, in 2004, and lost her battle to the aggressive cancer two years later in 2006. The study concluded that “[h]airdryers are possible sources of asbestos exposure in patients with mesothelioma, and the asbestos exposure risk is higher for those who use hairdryers occupationally.”

The contact with asbestos and the subsequent development of mesothelioma can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years to start presenting symptoms. In this case study, the subject’s latency period from the contact to the official diagnosis was 28 years. According to the American Cancer Society, “[p]eritoneal mesothelioma can form in the abdomen when inhaled asbestos fibers are coughed up and then swallowed.” In turn, peritoneal mesothelioma,  is occasionally associated with longer and heavier exposures to asbestos.

The Hairdresser’s Lawsuit Ruled Out Other Possible Exposure to Asbestos

The subject retained a lawyer to fight on her behalf to obtain compensation for her damages as a result of her occupational development of mesothelioma. They found that the subject had no other possible exposure to asbestos and did not have any family members or relatives who worked in the asbestos industry. Her job history and resident history also revealed zero contact with the toxic mineral other than in her occupation as a hairdresser and use of asbestos-containing products in the workplace. 

Other Evidence Supporting Mesothelioma in the Stylist Profession

The Lombardy Mesothelioma Registry in Italy followed roughly 3,000 mesothelioma cases from 2000 to 2009. A total of 30 malignant mesothelioma diagnoses were found in hairdressers. According to the case report

“…researchers identified four cases whose only documented occupational asbestos exposure was asbestos-containing hairdryers. They also identified 13 cases of probable asbestos exposure in hairdressers. Twelve additional mesothelioma cases were identified among hairdressers, but all had other occupational exposure to asbestos.”

The research provided three criteria used to evaluate occupational exposure:

  1. Occupational exposure was likely if the malignant mesothelioma subjects reported that their hairdryers contained asbestos;
  2. Occupational exposure was possible if the malignant mesothelioma subjects if they worked with unidentified hairdryers for at least one year before the toxic mineral was banned;
  3. Exposure was unknown if the malignant mesothelioma subjects reported that they worked less than one year solely as “head-washer.”

Legal Remedies for Hairdressers and Salon Workers with Mesothelioma 

There are several legal remedies if you are a victim of occupational exposure to asbestos. If you have been diagnosed with asbestos, you should contact a mesothelioma lawyer to explore your legal remedies and the potential for compensation. A few damages available to potentially recover include:

  • Past and Future Economic Damages
  • Pain and Suffering Damages
  • Treble (3 times the award amount) Damages
  • Medical Expense Damages
  • Asbestos Trust Funds
  • Monetary Compensation Damages
  • Non-Economic Damages
  • Wrongful Death Claims
  • General Damages

There are other legal benefits you and your loved ones may be entitled to. Consulting an attorney is the most promising way to ensure you gain access to the compensation you deserve. Each state may have different statutes of limitations. That is the time allowed for you to file a claim. An asbestos attorney can review your potential claims and discuss your options. The risk of asbestos exposure is significantly lower today than it was several decades ago. However, the lethal carcinogen still remains a genuine threat to the development of serious health issues. If you worked as a hairdresser or in a salon up to the 1980s, it might be time to consult your healthcare provider for a screening. This is especially true if you have experienced any symptoms of mesothelioma.

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