Asbestos Exposure Victims – the Bystander Effect

Asbestos Exposure Victims – the Bystander Effect

With many of the asbestos manufacturers having gone bankrupt, many cases today rarely involve victims who were heavily exposed to asbestos (i.e., working with the product directly). Instead, studies have found that victims of asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis are a result of bystander exposure or minimal asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma causes between 2,000 and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States; however, a critical review published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health believes that mesothelioma in both men and women are likely under-reported. This could be because of mesothelioma rates detected in women, who were typically non-asbestos workers during the height of asbestos consumption, were exposed through a non-occupational setting, like their own household, or other environmental factors.


The Take Home Case Phenomena

“Take home cases” specifically target with those suffering from an asbestos illness that was not physically present at the location where asbestos was handled. Asbestos is made up of tiny silicate fibers that can be easily separated and poses a threat when these fibers become friable, or airborne. The asbestos fibers attach to a worker’s clothing, shoes, work tools, and hair, allowing the carcinogen to be transferred home, contaminating the household.  Clothing that was dusted with asbestos was often laundered by other family members, contaminating other clothing in the wash or kicking up asbestos fibers into the air throughout the home. A father hugging his wife and child after a day’s work unknowingly causes his family members to breathe in the carcinogen.

One of the first documented instances of asbestos causing diseases in family members was in 1965 in London. The Newhouse study investigated the instances of mesotheliomas in households where a family member or relative worked in asbestos factories, textile plants, or boiler rooms from 2 to 41 years and were heavily exposed to asbestos fibers ; coming home daily completely covered from head to toe. While only nine spouses of asbestos workers were identified, the Newhouse study highlighted the risks of bystander exposure, leading to other control studies and investigations internationally.

In the past, cases filed for bystander exposure typically focused on households where the workers themselves had extensive asbestos exposure and years of at-home clothes washing.  Asbestos regulations in the United States have significantly decreased levels of exposure; however, as the population ages and mesothelioma is still being diagnosed, minimal asbestos exposure cases have become a focus, further proving that there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure.


Bystander Victims – You have rights!

Lawsuits for family members of workers who were exposed to asbestos can be a daunting and difficult task – those affected by secondhand asbestos exposure from the industry must prove their exposure. In many states, companies owe a duty to their employees and their family members and may be held liable if asbestos from a job site causes a member of the worker’s family to become ill.  A contributing factor to this decision was based upon aspects from Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108, a case that established a “duty of care “responsibility in situations where potential injury is relevant.

At Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C., we understand the devastating effects bystander exposure has on loved ones and are dedicated to helping workers injured by asbestos protect their rights and those of their families.  Our firm pioneered asbestos litigation in the 1970s and has actively represented working families ever since. Contact us for a free, no obligation consultation to speak to one of our experienced attorneys.



RA Leman, “Mesothelioma From Asbestos Exposures: Epidemiologic Patterns and Impact in the United States,” Journal of Toxicology Environmental Health (2016). [Link]

William L. Anderson, “The Unwarranted Basis for Today’s ‘Take Home’ Cases,”  American Journal of Trial Advocacy (2015). [Link]


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