Asbestos exposure hard to detect in half of affected

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Asbestos exposure hard to detect in half of affected

When a 40-year-old homemaker surnamed Kang was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, doctors asked her to carefully retrace her steps.

The cause of the fatal tumor was attributed to exposure to asbestos, a mineral with microscopic fibers mainly used in construction.

But Kang had no clue how she was exposed to the mineral with her job as a bank clerk.

“I have no idea when and where I was affected by asbestos,” Kang said.

The tale of the middle-aged homemaker is an example of the increasing number of people unable to identify how they were exposed to hazardous materials, challenging the common perception that only construction workers can be exposed and widening the spectrum of potential sufferers.

Half of those exposed to asbestos are not able to determine how or where it happened, according to data compiled by the Korean Environment Corporation.

The data showed that, among a total number of 1,065 people exposed to the mineral, 541, or 50.8, percent cannot explain how.

“In the past, asbestos made up 70-80 percent of construction materials. Therefore, construction workers were defenseless against exposure,” said Choi Ye-yong, the director of the Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health, a private non-profit organization working for those suffering from occupational health hazards.

“When people file a compensation claim for asbestos exposure, there have been many cases where they are unable to specifically tell when and where they were exposed,” said Ahn Sa-i, senior manager of the Asbestos Damage Relief Center, a state-affiliated body established in 2011 to offer compensation to those who suffer damage from exposure.

“One of the reasons is that it has a long latency period, usually taking 20-40 years to show symptoms,” the manager said.

Along with the launch of the compensation center, the government looks to control the exposure risk in face of the growing number of sufferers.

“The law designed to reduce the asbestos risk went into effect in April last year,” said Jung Gwan-jik, deputy director of the Ministry of Environment.

“We have also considered putting advertisements on the subway and television to raise awareness about the potential adverse effects of asbestos,” he said.

By Kang Chan-su, Park Eun-jee [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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