Potential Exposure to Asbestos From Washing a Loved One’s Clothing: What Everyone Needs to Know

There have been several incidences in which daughters and wives who have washed the clothing of a loved one who was exposed to asbestos have also in some cases been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Who’s Most at Risk

There has been little information out there to notify the public of what is known as secondary risk to asbestos exposure, and the potential dangers that exist for what is referred to as a “secondary” family member. What this means is that not only are the people who are exposed to asbestos are in danger of being diagnosed with mesothelioma years after the initial exposure, but our loved ones are most at risk from “take-home toxins,” which can be carried into the home on one’s clothing or person. The risk is especially great for the person who is in charge of washing the clothing which could have been laden with asbestos.

Examples of Take-Home Toxins

According to NIOSH, there are several examples of take-home toxins, other than asbestos, which may put our family at risk and that these toxins have been inadvertently taken home by workers.
Contaminants that caused health effects have among workers’ families include:
• beryllium
Nearly 40 reported cases of chronic beryllium disease were identified among workers’ families.
• asbestos
Asbestos reaching workers’ homes has occurred worldwide, resulting in all forms of asbestos disease among workers’ family members, including over 100 identified deaths from mesothelioma in the United States. Although asbestos is now used less and regulated more, there is still the chance for exposure among workers’ families, especially among construction workers.
• lead
Nearly 80 reported cases of workers’ family exposure to lead contamination were identified. More than half of the reports on workers’ children have occurred since 1990.
• mercury
In six reported cases, workers’ homes were contaminated with mercury. The occupations of the workers involved included working at a chlor-alkali plant, the manufacturing of thermometers, and extracting gold at home.
• arsenic
Arsenic in mine and smelter dust brought home on a worker’s clothing was considered a source of a child’s poisoning.
• cadmium
Cadmium in the homes of lead-smelter workers resulted in increased levels in the workers’ children.
• pesticides
Pesticide poisoning resulted in fatal and nonfatal cases in workers’ household members. Most reports occurred before 1980, but three more recent cases exist.
• caustic farm products
More than 40 farm children have been poisoned by caustic farm products.
• chlorinated hydrocarbons
Family members have been exposed when workers brought these substances home on their clothing.
• estrogenic substances
Boys and girls have been affected by hormone-like chemicals brought home on the clothing of farmers and drug-company workers.
• asthmagens and allergens
Family members have had allergic reactions to allergens from animals, mushroom farming, grain dust, and other materials.
• fibrous glass
Family members have developed irritated skin after their clothing was washed with an insulation worker’s work clothes.
• cyclothriethylenetriamine (RDX)
One child had epileptic seizures from this chemical brought home on a parent’s work clothes.
• infectious agents
Family members have caught diseases such as scabies and Q fever from the clothing and skin of workers from hospitals, laboratories, and agricultural facilities.

For asbestos, there are two points of exposure. One is through asbestos dust and asbestos fibers that can be carried in the air. The other point of exposure is by touching asbestos-laden clothing as you carry it from the hamper or in some cases, the floor, and place it into the washer to clean the clothing.

How to Protect Your Family from Take-Home Toxins

Unfortunately, it is hard to protect your family if you work in a corporation who knew about the dangers of asbestos at your job or work site, but didn’t let the workers know that they would be handling asbestos. In cases such as these, workers can expose their families without knowing the dangers ahead of time.

In other cases when you know that you have handled asbestos, there are some things that you can do (though the only true way to prevent asbestos exposure is to not touch or handle asbestos at all).

Although this list is not complete by any stretch of the imagination, here are a couple of tips that immediately come to my mind. Of course, you also need to review the articles and pamphlets referenced above.

1. “Decontaminate” before leaving work. If you work in a job that’s dusty or dirty, make sure you wash-up and possibly shower before coming home. Although this will not eliminate the unseen toxins which may still exist in the form of asbestos dust or asbestos fibers, it will at least decrease the amount of contaminate you take into your home.

2. “Contain” any potential toxins in your Work-clothes. Any potential toxins in dirty or dusty work-clothes should be contained by placing the work-clothes in a plastic bag or in a bin with a tight-fitting lid. Many employers require workers to change clothes before going home and provide containment bins for dirty clothes. If yours does not, use a heavy-weight plastic bag to prevent any dust from contaminating your car — and your home — and wipe down the outside of the bag with a wet cloth to remove any dust and/or toxins that might be clinging to the plastic.

3. Keep work-clothes isolated. Wash your work-clothes separately and make sure that the washer tub is clean and thoroughly rinsed out before starting another load in order to prevent any cross-contamination to other clothes.

4. Reduce dust generation when washing. When handling and washing work clothes, reduce the generation of dust as much as possible. Most take-home toxins enter the body through inhalation so do NOT shake out the clothes. Get them wet as soon as possible in order to prevent any dust – as well as any potential toxins – from becoming airborne. If you bring your work-clothes in a plastic bag, you might consider hosing down the bag in the front yard as you open it and then proceeding to hose down the clothes themselves. Again, your intent is to reduce bringing in any dust, fibers, and potential toxins into your home.

5. Wash your hands after handling dirty work-clothes. This one should be obvious.

6. Don’t bring work home.

Like most potential hazards, awareness is the best form of prevention. Knowing what can happen and being proactive to make sure it doesn’t is your best defense against “take-home toxins.” If you were exposed at work, and you were not told of the dangers of asbestos, you may want to contact an attorney to discuss whether you have a lawsuit. To find out more, contact the attorneys at Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. at 888-375-7600.

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