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What construction workers need to know about asbestos exposure

As a New Jersey construction worker, you probably are exposed to asbestos every day while at work. Even if you wear a protective dust mask, you likely constantly inhale innumerable microscopic asbestos fibers on every job site. Over time, these dangerous fibers build up in your lungs and eventually can cause asbestosis, a debilitating lung scarring condition.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found in many construction products and material. It breaks down over time and also is easily disturbed by such things as saws, sanders, drills and other construction equipment. Unlike most minerals, however, asbestos does not break down into simple dust. Its sharp microscopic fibers become airborne at the slightest indoor or outdoor breeze and disperse over a wide area, getting past regular dust masks and into your lungs.

Construction workers most at risk

While all construction workers are at high risk for asbestos exposure, your risk is highest if you are one of the following types of workers:

  • Bricklayer or stonemason
  • Drywall installer or plasterer
  • Plumber or electrician
  • Roofer
  • Painter
  • Floor and/or wall tile installer

Asbestosis symptoms

Asbestosis is a stealthy condition that scars the lining of your lungs but takes a long time to do so. You may have it, or at least its precursors, for years before you become aware of it. You may not notice major symptoms such as the following until 15-20 years after your initial asbestos exposure:

  • Frequent coughing, sometimes severe and sometimes including coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden fevers in excess of 101 degrees
  • Recurring respiratory infections
  • Unexplained weight loss

By the time these and other symptoms become severe enough that you seek medical attention, your lung capacity may have decreased by up to 25 percent. Asbestosis is incurable. The best your doctor can do is help you manage your condition and lessen your symptoms by means of supplemental oxygen therapies and/or prescription bronchodilators.

Since asbestosis is an incurable and progressive condition, you would do well to consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney at the first sign of asbestosis symptoms. It is possible, in fact likely, that your initial asbestos exposure occurred at job sites where you worked 15-20 years ago. It also is possible that your exposure continues to this day, exacerbating your condition. A skilled workers’ compensation attorney can help you get compensation for what are almost certain to become increasing medical bills and a decreasing ability to work.

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