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Construction workers at risk of asbestos exposure

Construction workers in the San Diego area are often tasked with demolition duties of older homes, buildings and warehouses. In many cases, the materials that were used in the construction of these older buildings contain the dangerous minerals known as asbestos.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, asbestos is "a group of naturally occurring minerals that are resistant to heat and corrosion." For these reasons, asbestos was previously used in a variety of building materials including insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, shingles and siding. When exposed to asbestos fibers, the crystal-like molecules can become lodged and build-up in an individual's lungs.

Asbestos exposure has been linked to a number of adverse lung diseases and cancers including asbestosis and mesothelioma, both of which are fatal. Through the enaction of both the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Clean Air Act, the federal government has taken steps to ban the use of asbestos in some building products. However, asbestos is still used in other building materials including cement, vinyl flooring and roofing materials.

When disturbed, materials containing asbestos travel like dust particles through the air. These particles may be breathed in and also cling to an individual's clothing, which means that family members can also suffer damaging health effects due to second-hand asbestos exposure.

OSHA asserts that "there is no 'safe' level of asbestos exposure." Despite this, the deadly minerals continue to be used in many building materials thereby putting construction workers as risk. Employers are required to both monitor asbestos levels and also provide workers with safety masks. In cases where a worker develops an occupational illness or disease due to his or her exposure to asbestos, workers' compensation benefits should be awarded to cover medical expenses and disability. Additionally, in some cases, a third-party liability lawsuit may be filed.

Source: OSHA, "Asbestos, "Occupational Safety & Health Administration," April 15, 2015

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