Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure for Construction Workers

Construction work was the highest-risk occupation for asbestos exposure. The mineral asbestos helped keep building components such as drywall joint compounds and plasters, roof shingles, floor tiles and more resistant to heat.

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

Reviewed By

Retired LCDR Carl Jewett

VA-Accredited Claims Agent


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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure for Construction Workers

  • Asbestos’ durability and strength made it an ideal component of roof shingles, wallboards, siding, sheetrock, floor tiles, bricks, drywall joint compounds and more.
  • One study found nearly 150 cases of construction workers diagnosed with mesothelioma.
  • Legacy asbestos exposure presents a risk to construction workers today. Legacy asbestos refers to leftover or already-in-place asbestos in old homes and office buildings.

Asbestos in Construction Work: How Construction Workers Were Exposed

Every day, if you leave the house, you’ll probably see people working in construction jobs. They could be building a house, office building, skyscraper, or a public service like road or a highway. Construction work is an important part of American life – either working in this industry or witnessing it as a bystander.

Asbestos was a major part of the construction industry during the 20th century. Think of nearly any component of constructing a building or even a road or highway, and there’s a good chance asbestos was used – at least until the 1980s. During the end of the 20th century, the general public learned asbestos was dangerous and most industries were forced to find alternatives.

The mineral’s durability and strength made it an ideal component of roof shingles, wallboards, siding, sheetrock, ceiling and floor tiles, acoustical plasters , drywall joint compounds and more. As a fire-resistant substance, asbestos was used for steel beams and columns in multistory buildings, plus cement in pipes and fireplaces. Household appliances, such as toasters and baking ovens and even hairdryers, also included asbestos to protect from fires.

All of these uses protected buildings, both commercial and residential, from fire damage and quick degradation. However, the construction workers who handled or worked around asbestos were not protected from the mineral’s capability to cause cancer.

How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma for Construction Workers

Asbestos has a flaky texture. Tiny, unseen-to-the-naked-eye fibers can break off and enter the air, contaminating the oxygen that enters your body. These fragments are sharp, and their pointed edges are like razor blades for your body’s tissue cells.

Once inhaled or swallowed, these asbestos fibers can travel to the lining of the lungs or abdominal cavity. These linings include layers of tissue that when cancerous forms mesothelioma tumors.

Simply touching asbestos with your fingers or tools could disturb the substance and cause fibers to break away and enter the air. Considering the prevalence of asbestos in construction materials, this interaction was common for decades.

Toward the end of the 20th century, the general public learned that asbestos was dangerous. This knowledge led to reduced use of asbestos in construction jobs, which one would think meant that the risk was eliminated. However, that is a common misconception.

Most, if not all, construction workers knew nothing about these dangers, though. The scientific connection between asbestos and cancer was hidden from them by the manufacturing companies that wished to continue making millions of dollars from selling the product.

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Rates of Mesothelioma Among Construction Workers

Construction workers rank high on the list of occupations leading to mesothelioma. In fact, it’s considered the top occupation excluding work in the military or building ships.

Researchers at Georgetown University and Duke University compiled a list of the top occupations linked to mesothelioma cases. They found 1,445 total cases linked to occupational asbestos exposure, and construction workers were third on the list behind shipbuilders and U.S. Navy veterans. There were 134 documented cases of mesothelioma where the patient was a construction worker many years before their diagnosis.

Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, listed this occupation as one of the most at risk for mesothelioma. In one study conducted among workers in Italy, more than 25% of the 952 analyzed mesothelioma cases involved construction workers.

Legacy Asbestos Exposure for Construction Workers

Despite the drop in the use of asbestos during the 1980s, construction workers in the 1990s, 2000s and even in this decade are at risk of mesothelioma. The reason is “legacy asbestos.”

Legacy asbestos refers to uses of asbestos from the 20th century that have not been removed or replaced. Old homes and office buildings likely have asbestos mixtures hiding in walls, floorboards, ceiling tiles, roof shingles, appliances, electrical sockets, insulation and more. Any renovations or construction work may reveal these asbestos mixtures and disturb the frail fragments, which can contaminate the air and put workers at risk.

Any renovation or demolition projects could expose construction workers to the deadly mineral. For instance, remodeling an old home often could involve replacing roof shingles, drywall, sheetrock and other construction aspects that likely used asbestos. Knocking down a wall will certainly disturb any asbestos present and send many loose fibers into the air. Demolishing an old building will do the same.

Legal Options for Construction Workers With Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Guide can help you understand your legal options and connect you with the best treatment specialists for your mesothelioma diagnosis. Construction workers deserve compensation for their asbestos diseases, particularly because asbestos manufacturing companies knew asbestos was dangerous yet continued to promote the use of the mineral.

Contact our patient advocates for help.
Email either of our patient advocates — Karen Ritter, RN (karen@mesotheliomaguide.com) or Carl Jewett (cjewett@mesotheliomaguide.com) — to get more information.

Sources & Author

    1. Malignant Mesothelioma and Occupational Exposure to Asbestos: a clinicopathological correlation of 1445 Cases. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12036093/. Accessed: 02/13/2023.
    2. Who Is at Risk of Exposure to Asbestos? Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Regsitry. Retrieved from: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/asbestos/who_is_at_risk.html. Accessed: 06/26/2023.
Devin Golden

About the Writer, Devin Golden

Devin Golden is a content writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He produces mesothelioma-related content on various mediums, including the Mesothelioma Guide website and social media channels. Devin's objective is to translate complex information regarding mesothelioma into informative, easily absorbable content to help patients and their loved ones.