Written By: Devin Golden

Asbestos Exposure Among Textile Workers

Textile workers in manufacturing plants and mills were frequently exposed to asbestos during the 20th century. Textile workers handled fabrics with asbestos throughout the day, which creates a link between textile jobs and mesothelioma cancer.


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Important Facts About Asbestos Exposure Among Textile Workers

  • Asbestos was a regular component of textile work during the 20th century. Textile workers turned fabric into yarn to make clothing and other household products more durable.
  • The rate of incidence among textile workers is much higher than the rate among the general population regardless of occupation.
  • While asbestos is not part of textile work today, many workers from the 20th century are at risk of developing this rare cancer now due to the long time the disease takes to develop.

Description of Textile Work

Textile workers are involved in the production, manufacturing and processing of textiles and fabrics. They source natural and artificial materials to transform the fibers into yarn. This yarn is used to create clothing, household products and other industrial goods. 

There are various positions and processes in the textile industry: designers, spinners, weavers, colorists, sewing machine operators and inspectors. Each position performs a specific function, which requires close contact with potential asbestos-containing materials. 

The textile industry occupation existed in the United States for centuries. Ity began in the United States during the 18th century in New England and quickly spread to other states as the country grew.

Textile work remains strong today. According to the National Council for Textile Organizations, there were around 538,000 textile workers in 2022. The country’s textile and apparel shipments totaled $65.8 billion that year.

How Asbestos Affects Textile Workers

Unfortunately, the nature of textile work in the 20th century often involved handling asbestos, a known carcinogen. Asbestos is the only cause of a rare cancer called mesothelioma. This cancer usually forms in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. Asbestos exposure can also cause lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and a deadly lung scarring disease called asbestosis.

For a long time, many of the fabrics used in textile work were made with asbestos. The naturally occurring mineral is durable and became a cost-effective option to preserve fabrics. Therefore, a lot of the goods and products produced in textile mills were made with asbestos. 

The substance’s presence, and the requirement for textile workers to handle these items, led to regular occupational asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a sensitive mineral, and the slightest touch or disturbance could cause razor-sharp fibers to be inhaled or swallowed, potentially causing infection, cell mutation and tumor formation.

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How 20th Century Textile Work Can Cause Mesothelioma

Towards the end of the 20th century, asbestos was phased out of most industrial uses,including asbestos in textiles. By the turn of the 21st century, on-the-job asbestos exposure was no longer a significant concern for textile workers.

However, any textile jobs from the 1980s and earlier likely included asbestos fabrics. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, which means the cancer does not develop for at least 10-20 years after exposure. In some instances, mesothelioma doesn’t develop for 40-50 years. This means that many textile workers from the 1970s and 1980s may have just been diagnosed with the disease – or soon will be.

Incidence Rate of Mesothelioma Among Textile Workers

A study from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) covers asbestos exposure among textile manufacturing jobs through 1975. It includes 2,722 men and 554 women who held textile manufacturing jobs.

Among them, 17 died of mesothelioma. The incidence rate (0.5%) is much higher than the incidence of mesothelioma among all types of workers.

The incidence rate on a per-100,000 basis is around 16% per 100,000 textile workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the overall rate of mesothelioma per 100,000 people is approximately 1%.

Another study published in Cancer Medicine found 108 mesothelioma deaths among asbestos textile workers, further proving the danger’s existence.

Patient Advocates to Help Former Textile Workers With Mesothelioma

If you ever worked in a textile manufacturing plant and now have mesothelioma, contact our medical team. Email our patient advocate and registered nurse Karen Ritter at karen@mesotheliomaguide.com for guidance on finding treatment. She can also assist with legal options to help you and your family recover money from lost wages, medical bills and more hardships.

Sources & Author

    1. U.S. Textile Industry. National Council of Textile Organizations. Retrieved from: http://www.ncto.org/facts-figures/us-textile-industry/. Accessed: 05/31/2023.
    2. Asbestos Textile, Friction, and Packing Plant Workers (Asbestos). National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pgms/worknotify/asbestos.html. Accessed: 11/05/2020.
    3. Updated mortality study of a cohort of asbestos textile workers. Cancer Medicine. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cam4.824. Accessed: 11/05/2020.
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.