Some jobs in Wisconsin are dangerous. They come with risks, both known and unknown. A worker in a chemical plant or a steel mill knows many of the substances and equipment in their plant create a great many risks. But some risks are tenuous and unknown, like that of asbestos.
Construction workers involved in demolition work or in renovations of older buildings could be exposed to asbestos in dozens of materials that were used in the construction of buildings during the last century. Asbestos was a valuable industrial product that had insulating and fireproofing qualities that meant it was used in insulation, roofing shingles, floor tile, plaster, wallboard, ceiling tiles, wrapping on steam pipes, as gaskets, and in brake shoes and pads.
But it has a dangerous quality. The microscopic mineral fibers, when sawed, drilled or sanded can become airborne and then inhaled. Those who work with these materials can be exposed to these fibers, which lodge deep in the lungs and eventually cause diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.
One other aspect of asbestos exposure makes it frightening for many workers. An industrial illness, such as mesothelioma, does not appear immediately or even within days after exposure.
No, these diseases lurk for years and sometimes decades after the exposure, and then, a worker feels as if they have developed a cough that does not go away. They visit a doctor and receive the diagnosis no one ever wants to receive.
For years, the industry denied responsibility, and attempts were made to ban the substance in the United States, but they were prevented by lawsuits brought by the asbestos industry.
While the new use of asbestos has been reduced in the U.S., for construction workers who work on structures that were built prior to the early 1990s, there is a continuing danger. Any demolition work on such structures should always have an asbestos assessment performed before work begins.