Office Workers

Professionals Can Be Exposed on the Job

Mesothelioma risk comes from working with or near asbestos.This toxic mineral was common in workplaces for much of the 20th century.
Thousands of people who have developed mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos on the job as boilermakers, electricians or military servicemen.
But blue-collar workers are not the only ones at risk for mesothelioma.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health notes that mesothelioma risk also runs high among:

  • School teachers
  • Office personnel
  • Barbers and beauticians
  • Dentists and dental technicians


Teachers are especially at risk for mesothelioma if they were assigned to classrooms in old, crumbling schools. Asbestos in walls, ceilings, floor tiles, and window caulk would have found its way into classroom air as those construction materials aged and deteriorated.


Office personnel who worked in older buildings are at risk for much the same reason as teachers. Asbestos fibers from the building get into the air, especially if there has been any renovation work done. Inhaling the dust, or having it settle on clothes or hair, puts a person at risk.


Barbers and beauticians are at risk because blow dryers and other electrically powered tools used in the past employed asbestos to prevent burns.

Dentists and lab technicians who made gold castings for patients risked exposure because it once was routine to use asbestos in the molds.

It can be difficult to know if you’ve been exposed to asbestos, and it takes 20 to 50 years for mesothelioma symptoms to appear. You should always tell your doctor right away if you believe you were exposed to asbestos at work. And if you need help determining your exposure history, you can get in touch with our patient support center.

A Chain of Exposures

A single asbestos-containing product can put dozens or even hundreds of workers at risk.

Paint is a good example. Years ago, paint could be bought already blended with asbestos. Many builders used this mix in their school and office construction projects to improve fire safety.

They also used it to prevent children and adults who accidentally touched exposed steam pipes or heat ducts from being burned.

The chain of asbestos exposures in this illustration began when workers dynamited rocks at a strip-mining site in order to harvest asbestos for processing. Asbestos ore was hauled away either aboard trucks or trains and transported to a processing plant.

At the processing plant, the arriving asbestos created dust clouds as it was unloaded and brought into the production staging area. The tiny particles in those clouds found their way into the lungs of the plant workers.

The processor’s corporate office was located next to the plant. That meant receptionists, clerks, secretaries, marketers, product developers, mid-level managers and executives also inhaled the asbestos dust kicked up by the plant’s activities.

Once refined, the asbestos was packaged and shipped to the paint manufacturer. The production environment there was much cleaner. As a result, direct asbestos exposure was limited to the factory hands operating the machines that make the paint and pour it into cans.

However, white-collar workers at the paint factory might have suffered secondary exposure to asbestos. It would have happened if they shared the facility’s lunchroom or bathrooms with the production workers.

The American Cancer Society explains that secondary asbestos exposure occurs when you come into contact with anyone who has asbestos dust on his clothing. Ordinary indoor air circulation lifts some of that dust from the other person and deposits it on you.

Paint in the can was then shipped to a retailer who sold it to the construction subcontractor responsible for painting the school or office. No further asbestos exposure occurred until the can was opened and the paint applied.

A few years later, the aging paint started flaking. This permitted the asbestos particles within to escape into the room air. The people occupying the painted classrooms and offices suffered asbestos exposure at this time, without even knowing it was possible.


Your Risk

If you have worked in any of these professions, it’s possible you were exposed to asbestos. This risk does not mean you will develop mesothelioma, but it means you should closely monitor your health, and get frequent medical checkups.
Mention to your doctor that you worked around asbestos, and consider collecting documentation related to your employment. If you have questions about occupational asbestos exposure, can contact our patient support center.