How Much Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma?

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you have almost certainly been exposed to asbestos at some point during the last 20 to 40 years. The risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses increases with high levels of exposure. However, it is possible to develop mesothelioma even if your exposure was minimal.

Mesothelioma is a deadly illness with a poor prognosis. The risk of developing mesothelioma begins to accumulate the first time an individual is exposed to asbestos. Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma and other incurable diseases, including the following:

Mesothelioma has a latency period that ranges from 10 to 40 years and longer in some cases. If you have been exposed to asbestos, you probably did not experience symptoms to alert you that you had inhaled the microscopic fibers.

The absence of symptoms can create the illusion that there is no danger. However, there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Every exposure has the potential to cause a deadly disease.

Can a one-time exposure to asbestos lead to mesothelioma?

Most cases of mesothelioma affect people who were exposed to significant amounts of asbestos over an extended period. If you were exposed to a low level of asbestos one time, your risk of developing an asbestos-related illness is significantly lower compared to someone who experienced high levels of exposure over an extended period of time.

However, the risk still exists. Your risk is heightened if the exposure level is higher, even if it only occurs once.

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Examples of Short-Term Asbestos Exposure That Led to Mesothelioma

Anyone who lived or worked near the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, may have experienced a one-time or short-term exposure to asbestos, but the risk of developing an illness is significantly heightened due to the vast quantity of asbestos present in the World Trade Center’s toxic plume.

A case study by Dumortier and De Vuyst found that two workers exposed to asbestos during a one-time job that was one week in duration retained high levels of asbestos fibers in their lungs 18 and 22 months later. The researchers concluded that this points to a risk of developing asbestos-related lung disease from one short-term exposure to asbestos.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, and you can only identify one limited exposure to asbestos, that exposure was significant enough to be responsible for your condition.

Risk Factors for Developing Mesothelioma

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, the development of mesothelioma cannot always be predicted. Some individuals with extensive asbestos exposure never develop mesothelioma, while others develop the deadly illness after a single, limited exposure to asbestos.

The National Cancer Institute has identified specific risk factors that may contribute to the development of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses.


Any concentration of asbestos has the potential to cause mesothelioma. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) allows workers to be exposed to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter. However, OSHA acknowledges that even at this low level of exposure, asbestos workers face a lifetime risk of developing asbestos-related cancers at a rate of 3.4 of every 1,000 workers.


Even with relatively low levels of exposure, the risk of developing mesothelioma is cumulative, which means the risk of developing mesothelioma increases the longer you are exposed to asbestos.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure

The most common cause of mesothelioma in women is secondary asbestos exposure. Secondary exposure occurs when a worker brings home asbestos fibers on work clothes, resulting in household members experiencing low levels of exposure.

While this exposure may be less than that experienced by the worker, if it occurs over a period of years, the cumulative exposure results in a significantly increased risk of family members developing mesothelioma.

Baby Powder

Another cause of asbestos cancers in women is asbestos-contaminated talc, which was found in Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder. Although the level of exposure to asbestos during each use is generally very low, women who use this daily over an extended time as a feminine hygiene product have contracted ovarian cancer and peritoneal mesothelioma.

Baby powder

Characteristics of the Asbestos Fibers

Every type of asbestos is hazardous to human health, but some forms are more hazardous than others. The type of asbestos fibers you were exposed to could increase your risk of developing mesothelioma, even with a low exposure level and short exposure period.

Although chrysotile asbestos is used in approximately 95 percent of asbestos products and in virtually every industry where asbestos is used, crocidolite asbestos fibers are more commonly associated with mesothelioma.

Crocidolite asbestos is part of the amphibole family. Amphibole asbestos is sharp and needle-like. Also known as blue asbestos, crocidolite is especially sharp and thin. It was most often used in cement, tiles, and certain insulation materials.

Amosite is another type of commercial amphibole asbestos. This type was commonly used in shipyards impacting:

According to The Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, amosite has 83 times the toxic potency of chrysotile asbestos. Crocidolite is 376 times more potent.

Two other types of amphibole asbestos, tremolite and anthophyllite, are considered non-commercial forms, but they have often been found as contaminants in products such as talc and vermiculite. Tremolite was historically used in sealants, insulation, roofing, plumbing materials, and textiles.

Genetic Factors

Some people may be genetically more vulnerable to contracting mesothelioma than others. A study of more than 16 million individuals in the Swedish-Family Cancer Database, the largest of its kind, revealed that workers in the asbestos industry with a first-degree relative that had been diagnosed with mesothelioma had a dramatically higher risk of developing mesothelioma themselves.

It is important to note that the same study found that family history alone did not significantly increase the risk of developing mesothelioma. Family history only played a role when combined with occupational exposure to asbestos.

According to the National Organization of Rare Disorders, the BRCA-1 germline mutation of the BAP-1 gene can increase the risk of developing mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. This could explain why some people with lower asbestos exposure contract mesothelioma and others with heavier exposure do not.

If you have contracted mesothelioma and you have this gene mutation, an asbestos company may attempt to use this against you in hopes of evading liability. However, asbestos exposure is a more significant risk factor for mesothelioma.


There is no causal link between smoking and mesothelioma. Still, the combination of smoking and asbestos exposures has a significant synergistic effect on lung cancer risk, meaning smoking increases the risk of contracting lung cancer by more than the sum of each factor individually.


What if I am not aware of having been
exposed to asbestos?

A mesothelioma diagnosis comes as a shock to many patients who were unaware that they had been exposed to asbestos. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you have almost certainly been exposed to asbestos during the last 60 years.

Due to the prevalent use of asbestos during most of the 20th century, most people have been exposed to at least a low level of asbestos. Determining how this occurred is a matter in which an experienced mesothelioma lawyer can help.

The Lanier Law Firm has built an extensive database of asbestos-containing products. This library helps clients identify sources of asbestos exposure so liability may be established and a lawsuit filed. You may have had only one short-term exposure, but most people are surprised that they were exposed through multiple sources.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related illness, the mesothelioma lawyers at The Lanier Law Firm can help you hold those accountable who caused you to develop this condition. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

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