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Secondary Exposure to Asbestos

Secondary asbestos exposure occurs when someone comes in contact with asbestos on the hair, skin, clothing, or equipment of an exposed worker who unknowingly carries microscopic asbestos fibers outside the workplace. It most often impacts family members when the worker arrives home. Secondary asbestos exposure may lead to mesothelioma, and it is the most common cause of mesothelioma in women.

Darron Berquist (1)

Legally Reviewed By: Darron E. Berquist
Managing Attorney | Mesothelioma & Asbestos in New York

Darron Berquist

Legally Reviewed By: Darron E. Berquist
Managing Attorney | Mesothelioma & Asbestos in New York

If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of secondary asbestos exposure, you may be eligible to recover substantial compensation through a mesothelioma claim. Call our nationally recognized mesothelioma lawyers today at (866) 702-7310 to schedule a free case evaluation.

What Is Secondary Asbestos Exposure?

Secondary asbestos exposure typically occurs when a worker brings asbestos fibers home after exposure to asbestos in the workplace. It is also known as secondhand, domestic, take-home, or para-occupational exposure.

Workers are exposed to asbestos when they handle it directly or work in areas where asbestos is present. This is known as primary asbestos exposure. Most victims of primary asbestos exposure are men because asbestos was mostly used in male-dominated occupations during the 20th century. Most secondary asbestos exposure victims are women and children.

How Dangerous Is Secondary Asbestos Exposure?

Although the asbestos levels people experience through secondhand asbestos exposure are lower than those experienced by workers, it still causes the same asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and other cancers. It is the leading cause of mesothelioma in women.

Workers with high levels of daily asbestos exposure can bring high concentrations of asbestos home daily. The longer a worker is employed, the more often it is carried home. Over time, asbestos in the home can accumulate to concentrations similar to those in the workplace, making the home just as hazardous.

How does secondary asbestos exposure occur?

Asbestos fibers are lightweight and microscopic, making it easy for billions of fibers to quickly spread and land on objects and people without anyone knowing. When a worker carries the fibers home, family members can be exposed to asbestos through the following:

  • Deadly hugs – Children and others hug a contaminated worker upon arriving home.
  • Laundry exposure – A family member shakes contaminated clothing to remove asbestos dust or launders it, directly exposing the family member and spreading the fibers throughout the home and to other clothing.
  • Exposure through ventilation system – Asbestos fibers accumulate in the home over time and enter the heating and cooling system, easily passing through most air filters.
  • Furniture exposure – A contaminated worker uses beds, couches, and other furniture and leaves asbestos fibers behind, allowing an accumulation to occur over time.
  • Exposure in flooring – Asbestos fibers fall from the worker onto the carpet or floors, where they are disturbed every time a family member walks, plays, vacuums, or sweeps.
  • Automobile exposure – Family members ride in the same vehicle the exposed worker drives home from work, which can be highly concentrated if the vehicle is enclosed and the exposure occurs over a long period.

Each time asbestos is disturbed, such as when a family member sits on furniture or enters a vehicle, or when the heat or air conditioning comes on, any asbestos present becomes airborne, allowing family members to inhale it. During the mid to late 1900s, when the public was largely unaware of the dangers of asbestos, it wasn’t unusual for workers to come home covered in visible asbestos dust. Most asbestos-related illnesses that occur today from secondary asbestos exposure are the result of exposures that happened decades ago. Today, workers are less likely to be exposed to asbestos at work.

However, occupational asbestos exposure does still occur, so the danger of secondhand exposure is still present. OSHA has instituted regulations to prevent secondary asbestos exposure by minimizing the worker’s exposure and preventing asbestos fibers from being carried home. OSHA regulations require employers to do the following:

  1. Enclose and seal off areas containing asbestos and require workers to wear protective clothing that can be disposed of or laundered on-site separately from other laundry in a way that doesn’t spread the fibers.
  2. Provide a decontamination area where employees can remove contaminated clothing and store or dispose of contaminated equipment and materials.
  3. Require employees to take a decontamination shower in the designated decontamination area before fully exiting the regulated area.

Who Is At Risk of Secondary Asbestos Exposure?

All family members are at risk of secondary asbestos exposure when a worker carries asbestos home, but it is more common in women and children.

According to the CDC, the risk of developing mesothelioma is ten times higher for women who live with an exposed worker than those who do not. It is the primary cause of mesothelioma in women. While the numbers vary, a study published in the European Respiratory Journal found that 91 percent of female mesothelioma patients observed had been exposed to asbestos secondhand.

These results don’t mean men are less likely to contract mesothelioma if they experience secondary asbestos exposure. Instead, when asbestos was commonly used, it was more common for men to work while their wives stayed home.

The most heavily exposed workers were blue-collar workers in traditionally male-dominated jobs, and these workers brought home high concentrations of asbestos fibers. These occupations include the following:

Although asbestos has been largely phased out, many workers are still exposed to asbestos today. Exposure can still occur because asbestos typically remains in place in older buildings, industrial equipment, and ships. Workers who must repair or demolish materials that contain asbestos could be exposed. When employers fail to follow OSHA regulations, these workers may carry asbestos fibers home.

Is Secondary Asbestos Exposure The Same As Environmental Asbestos Exposure?

Secondary asbestos exposure is often confused with environmental asbestos exposure, but they are two distinct types of exposure.

  • Environmental exposure occurs when a worker is present where someone else handles raw asbestos or an asbestos-containing product or asbestos is disturbed, whether in a building or a naturally occurring deposit.
  • Secondary asbestos exposure occurs when a family member exposed to asbestos carries the material from the original source and introduces it into an environment.

Environmental asbestos exposure is considered passive exposure because it occurs without the exposed person directly handling asbestos. Secondary asbestos exposure can become a form of environmental asbestos exposure, such as when it enters the home ventilation system.

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What Are the Risks of Secondary Exposure to Asbestos?

Asbestos occurs as microscopic fibers that readily become airborne when disturbed. You cannot see, smell, or otherwise detect them, but you can easily inhale or ingest them. The body cannot break down these fibers or expel most of them.

As a result, the fibers lodge deeply into the tissues and quietly cause damage over time. This process can lead to fatal diseases decades later, whether you are an exposed worker or a family member exposed to the worker.

In most cases, there are no warning signs or symptoms until you develop an advanced disease. After the disease manifests, it usually progresses rapidly. These diseases include the following:

  • Mesothelioma – an aggressive form of cancer that impacts the linings around the lungs, stomach, or other internal organs
  • Asbestos lung cancer – cancer that develops inside the lungs
  • Asbestosis – scarring of the lungs that can cause pain and difficulty breathing
  • Pleural plaques – thickening of the membranes around the lungs

Some studies have found that occupational asbestos exposure can also increase the risk of cancers of the colon, ovaries, esophagus, throat, and biliary ducts. While workers have a higher risk because their exposure level is higher, secondary asbestos exposure can cause the same illnesses.

We have represented many clients who developed mesothelioma from secondary asbestos exposure when the worker who introduced the material did not contract the disease. Thus, multiple risk factors aside from the exposure level can influence whether a person contracts mesothelioma. However, there is no reliable way to predict who may or may contract the disease.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure in Pets

Secondary asbestos exposure can affect everyone in the household, including pets. Although rare, pets can develop mesothelioma as a result of inhaling asbestos fibers. Dogs may develop mesothelioma in eight years or less. They can inhale or ingest high concentrations of asbestos during the following activities:

  • Greeting the worker upon their return home by jumping, licking, and sniffing
  • Sitting on the worker’s lap
  • Sniffing the worker’s clothing or shoes while the worker is away


Cats have developed mesothelioma in as little as 11 months to as long as 17 years after exposure. Their most significant source of asbestos exposure may occur during grooming when they lick asbestos fibers trapped in their fur.

If you have a pet that develops mesothelioma, this can also serve as a warning sign that you and other household members were exposed.

Legal Options if You’ve Been Harmed by Secondary Asbestos Exposure

If you’ve contracted an asbestos-related illness after living with a worker exposed to asbestos, you may be able to pursue substantial compensation by filing a mesothelioma lawsuit against those responsible for your exposure, including the companies that supplied asbestos or property owners where the asbestos was located. In some states, you can sue the employer for secondary exposure.

Damages in a mesothelioma lawsuit for secondary asbestos exposure may include the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Domestic services
  • Mental anguish
  • Pain and suffering
  • Hardships
  • Punitive damages

If you sue an employer or property owner for asbestos exposure, you will have to prove that all of the following elements of negligence are present:

  1. The defendant owed you a duty of care.
  2. The defendant breached the duty of care by exposing you to asbestos.
  3. You developed an asbestos-related illness, and this risk was foreseeable.
  4. The breach of duty is the actual and proximate cause of your diagnosis.

Secondary asbestos exposure lawsuits are especially complex because the asbestos exposure is indirect. Every state interprets the elements of negligence differently in secondary asbestos exposure claims, and some are more strict than others. This is an evolving area of law.

For example, in Utah, no laws were on the books explicitly stating that employers and property owners owed a duty of care to workers’ family members until 2021. In 2021, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that employers and premises owners have a duty of care to family members and are thus liable for asbestos-related illnesses that stem from secondary asbestos exposure.

Our Utah mesothelioma lawyers recently recovered $2.3 million for a client in a secondary asbestos exposure case in the state. California and Alabama have issued similar rulings in recent years.

Several states have ruled against secondary asbestos exposure victims in the higher courts, including the following:

However, you shouldn’t let this deter you from contacting a knowledgeable mesothelioma lawyer if you’re the victim of secondary asbestos exposure in any of these states. Our award-winning mesothelioma lawyers can overcome the legal hurdles to pursue the compensation you deserve.

Our Texas mesothelioma attorneys recently won a $1.899 million verdict on behalf of a take-home asbestos exposure victim in Texas.

Regardless of state rulings regarding employer and premises owner liability, you may also be able to file a claim against the manufacturers and distributors that sold asbestos products to the employer. Proving negligence in these cases is generally unnecessary because product liability laws apply, meaning you will only need to prove that one of the following led to your asbestos-related illness:

  • You were exposed to an inherently harmful product.
  • You were exposed to a product that was harmful due to a defect.
  • The defendant failed to provide adequate warnings.

We will go to the lengths necessary to ensure you recover the compensation you deserve. We provide representation in all 50 states, but in some cases, our resourceful mesothelioma lawyers can move your secondary asbestos exposure case to a more favorable state if that is what it takes to maximize your compensation.

Contact the Lanier Law Firm Today if You’re the Victim of Secondary Exposure to Asbestos

If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma because of secondary asbestos exposure, you may be able to recover a significant financial award. Mesothelioma cases are always complex because they involve large companies with significant resources.

Secondary asbestos exposure cases require significant knowledge of asbestos litigation and product liability laws. You will need the assistance of a reputable mesothelioma lawyer with special knowledge of how to handle these cases. Only trust the most elite mesothelioma attorneys to handle secondary asbestos exposure cases.

We are a nationwide mesothelioma law firm with more than 25 years of experience handling mesothelioma cases and more than $20 billion in successful verdicts and settlements. We are one of the world’s most respected and experienced mesothelioma law firms, with experience you can trust.

We have received national recognition for our outstanding results. Our lawyers have been named Trial Lawyer of the Year, The Best Lawyers in America, and Super Lawyers. The New York Times has referred to our founder, Mark Lanier, as “one of the top civil trial lawyers in America.” He is a popular speaker and mentor of attorneys in mesothelioma litigation.

Our successful mesothelioma case results for secondhand exposure victims include the following:

$3.859 million
secondary asbestos exposure settlement in Louisiana

$2 million
settlement for a wife exposed to industrial talc through her husband’s work clothes

$1.895 million
 secondary asbestos exposure settlement in Louisiana

$1.5 million
settlement for the wife of an automotive mechanic exposed to asbestos through her husband’s work clothes and cosmetic talc

We won’t take no for an answer or settle for less than you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Secondary Asbestos Exposure

Below are our answers to common questions about secondary asbestos exposure.

What Is the Safe Level of Asbestos Exposure?

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Most cases of mesothelioma affect workers who were exposed to high concentrations of asbestos daily for an extended period. However, even a small dose of asbestos can lead to disease.

Do All Asbestos-Exposed Individuals Get an Asbestos Disease?

Although nearly everyone who contracts mesothelioma has been exposed to asbestos, everyone exposed to asbestos does not develop mesothelioma. The same is true of other asbestos-related illnesses.

Nearly everyone has been exposed to asbestos during their lifetime, yet mesothelioma remains a rare cancer, affecting approximately 3,000 Americans per year.

Asbestos lung cancer is more common, but being exposed to asbestos also does not guarantee you will get lung cancer. A study published in BMC Cancer found that the risk of lung cancer increases by about 28 percent when you’ve been exposed to asbestos.

Will I Get Cancer From One-Time Asbestos Exposure?

It is unlikely that you will get cancer from a one-time exposure to asbestos, but it is not impossible. The risk is highest when the one-time exposure involves a high level of asbestos. For example, one-time and short-term asbestos exposure on 9/11 has led to mesothelioma, and this could impact those workers’ family members as well.

Most secondary asbestos exposure involves lower concentrations of the material, so the likelihood of developing a disease from a single secondary exposure is low.

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