Farmers and homesteaders are not typically the first people you think of when discussing asbestos exposure, but in fact, farmers can be exposed to asbestos and other dangerous materials each and every day.
Upon closer examination, there are hundreds of asbestos products and materials found within the farming community and the material can be found everywhere from building materials, machinery and farm equipment, to feed and fertilizer products.
When homesteaders unknowingly come into contact with asbestos, the risk of developing health problems increases. Unfortunately, symptoms of asbestos exposure don’t present themselves until years after exposure has occurred and are frequently misdiagnosed during early stages of the disease.
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Asbestos is a small, fibrous, organic mineral known for being incredibly heat resistant and strong. Its durable fireproofing qualities made asbestos a popular addition to many products and it was mined extensively throughout the 20th century. It wasn’t until the mid 1970s that exposure to asbestos was linked with causing health problems, initiating the start of an ongoing asbestos ban throughout the US.
Despite its useful properties, when asbestos becomes airborne, it contaminates everything in its vicinity. Once inhaled, asbestos fibers embed into the lining of the body’s organs and cause a buildup of scar tissue, leading to a variety of illnesses such as asbestosis, ovarian cancer, lung disease and other asbestos-related illnesses.
Diagnosing the signs and symptoms of asbestos related diseases isn’t always a straightforward path. It can take anywhere between 10 to 50 years before symptoms of asbestos exposure present themselves. This also makes it harder to determine how or when exposure occurred. Signs and symptoms of asbestos exposure include:
- Persistent dry cough or wheezing
- Difficulty breathing
- Fatigue or general malaise
- Muscle weakness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal, chest, pelvic, or testicular pain
The symptoms of asbestos exposure can vary widely from person to person and will depend both on the amount of exposure accumulated over time and where the disease is within the body. Since symptoms initially present as mild, many people are incorrectly diagnosed with less serious conditions until the illness becomes more severe and treatment options become demonstrably low.
While asbestos use has waned, farmers are still at-risk for asbestos exposure alongside other agriculture trades. A short list of professions impacted includes:
- Livestock, poultry, and dairy farmers
- Farm workers
- Farm mechanics
Because asbestos was widely used across many industries, there are several ways exposure can occur. Here are some of the most common areas where asbestos can be found:
Farmers who perform their own mechanical work and maintenance on their equipment are at a higher risk for asbestos exposure. Farming equipment and machinery are notorious for containing products with asbestos because of its insulation and fire protection capabilities. Asbestos was regularly applied to tractor parts and other vehicular machinery, like gaskets, brake pads, engine parts, and anything else designed to withstand heat or friction.
US Manufacturers haven’t produced brake parts with asbestos, specifically since the 1900s. But, that didn’t take products off the shelf or keep them out of circulation. Since then, companies like John Deere, and most recently Ford, have had several lawsuits filed against them for asbestos related illness.
Regardless of where you live, any property with a building either built, renovated, maintained, or demolished prior to the 1980s will likely have used materials that contain asbestos. Besides the average farmhouse, barn structures, sheds, chicken coops, and garages are a few examples of where asbestos can be present. Asbestos can lurk within walls and insulation, in or around an attic, basement, or hayloft, and more.
Building and construction materials like roof shingles, siding, cement, sealants, pipes, and floor tiles are all common places to find asbestos. The presence of asbestos in building materials isn’t an immediate health concern if it’s in an undamaged non-friable state. If you suspect a product is made with materials that contain asbestos, reduce your chance of asbestos exposure and make sure you get in touch with a building inspector to help you assess your risks and find the proper solution moving forward.
Whether human, livestock, poultry, or otherwise — no amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe. Findings from a recent publication in the National Library of Medicine found asbestos fibers in the lungs of Corsican goats with peritoneal mesothelioma. The paper concluded that environmental asbestos exposure occurred from grazing on and inhaling contaminated soil.
Animals with mesothelioma will exhibit signs of:
- Labored or rapid breathing
- Shortness of breath and/or cough
- Abdominal swelling or distention
This is a short list of what symptoms your animal could exhibit if exposed to asbestos or other environmental diseases. If your animals exhibit any symptoms of illness, contact your veterinarian, and have any helpful documentation, logs, or ledgers available that contain information about your animals feed, fertilizers, equipment, housing etc.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) classifies asbestos as a toxic and hazardous substance. If you suspect your property might contain asbestos, it’s important to reduce your chances of exposure and to call a licensed asbestos professional in your area.
If you know you have asbestos on your property, call a licensed abatement company that specializes in asbestos removal. If you’re not sure whether something is contaminated with asbestos, you should get it tested to be safe.
It’s important to remember to never try to remove asbestos on your own without having the right equipment. Be aware that even washing clothes contaminated with asbestos is hazardous. Make sure to dispose of any clothing or materials that might have asbestos contamination.
Many cases of asbestos related illness occur due to second hand exposure. Asbestos fibers attach easily to hair, skin, clothing, and even furniture, transferring asbestos from one person to another without anybody knowing. If at any time you think you or your family have been exposed to asbestos, talk to your doctor as soon as you can before health complications arise.
If you or a loved one is a farmer that has been diagnosed with an asbestos or lung-related disease, you could receive financial compensation. Consult an attorney to discuss your legal options.
One of the best ways to keep our community safe is by spreading awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure, so share this information with friends who might be at risk. Together, we can lower the rate of mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease.