I first saw the asbestos issue back in 1984, more than 20 years ago, when then-Senator Gary Hart of colorado brought in Johns-Manville. And this very tough issue has been very elusive for more than two decades, and it has mounted in problems, reaching a situation where we now have some 74 companies which have gone into bankruptcy, thousands of individuals who have been exposed to asbestos, with deadly diseases--mesothelioma and cancer--and who are not being compensated. And about two-thirds of the claims, oddly enough, are being filed by people who are unimpaired. The number of asbestos defendants has risen sharply from about 300 in the 1980s to more than 8,400 today, and most are users of the product. It spans some 85 percent of the U.S. economy. Some 60,000 workers have lost their jobs. Employees' retirement funds are said to have shrunken by some 25 percent. And beyond any question, the issue is one of catastrophic proportions.--Chairman Arlen Specter, at a January 11, 2005, Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing.
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The people at greatest risk from "second-hand" exposure to asbestos and consequent contraction of Mesothelioma, are those who handle the clothes as would occur in laundering. The person doing the laundry would pickup and handle the clothes when moving them to the laundry room, while sorting prior to washing, and in transferring them to the washing machine or wash water. Exposure to asbestos in water is far less important than exposure to asbestos in air. Others in the house would have little exposure compared to those handling the clothes and doing the laundry. Similar "second-hand" exposures can occur for families of workers in other industries that involve "dusts" or "particles" such as carbon black. Usually these particulates are not nearly as toxic as asbestos; however, while carbon black is non-toxic, the surface of the particles can absorb chemicals such as PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PAH's (polychromatic hydrocarbons) that are in the air. So, while the carbon black particles are non-toxic, they can concentrate and carry and deposit toxic chemicals in the lung as we breathe.
To eliminate these "second-hand" exposures, most industries have the workers change clothing on arrival and departure from work. The contaminated clothing is handled and laundered by personnel who are trained and who are provided the necessary protective clothing to prevent exposure. Many times showers are available for the workers to cleanse the skin and hair from any remaining particles. In this way, families are spared the "second-hand" exposure.
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