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Is there a safe level of asbestos exposure?

The most straightforward answer to this question is that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. However, according to most experts, "brief exposure" to asbestos just a few times will probably not cause long-term problems.

In most cases of asbestos-related diseases, workers have suffered from years of constant exposure to high amounts of asbestos. Employees who have experienced these kinds of conditions will have a high chance of developing mesothelioma, cancer, asbestosis or other problems in their lungs.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that workers exposed to air with 44 asbestos fibers per cubic centimeter -- which is a high concentration -- experience a 2.8 percent higher likelihood of developing lung cancer. There is a lot of evidence showing the statistical effects of high levels of asbestos exposure; however, we don't know a lot about the effects of long-term low-level exposure. All we know is that it's dangerous too and can lead to fatal diseases.

In Libby, Montana -- where for seven decades the biggest employer of townspeople was a vermiculite mine -- instances of asbestosis were 40 to 60 times greater. The problem is that the specifics related to this data are largely unknown.

The federal government has created air standards for employers. These air standards require workers not to be exposed to more than .1 asbestos fiber per cubic centimeter of air during an 8-hour work period. However, certain industries have higher allowance levels -- like in the plastics industry -- where limits can go up to .5 fibers for every cubic centimeter of air.

It's better to be safe than sorry. Some Pennsylvania workers can make it through their lives and their careers without developing symptoms of asbestosis. However, others cannot, and these workers may need to pursue workers' compensation benefits to pay for the medical care required to treat their disease symptoms.

Source: Slate, "How Much Asbestos Is Too Much?," Michelle Tsai, accessed Oct. 24, 2017

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