Asbestos Exposure Is No. 1 Danger for Urban Explorers

Health & Wellness
Reading Time: 4 mins
Publication Date: 12/21/2015
Fact Checked
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Reviewed

Asbestos.com is the nation’s most trusted mesothelioma resource

The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com has provided patients and their loved ones the most updated and reliable information on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure since 2006.

Our team of Patient Advocates includes a medical doctor, a registered nurse, health services administrators, veterans, VA-accredited Claims Agents, an oncology patient navigator and hospice care expert. Their combined expertise means we help any mesothelioma patient or loved one through every step of their cancer journey.

More than 30 contributors, including mesothelioma doctors, survivors, health care professionals and other experts, have peer-reviewed our website and written unique research-driven articles to ensure you get the highest-quality medical and health information.

About The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com

  • Assisting mesothelioma patients and their loved ones since 2006.
  • Helps more than 50% of mesothelioma patients diagnosed annually in the U.S.
  • A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
  • 5-star reviewed mesothelioma and support organization.
Learn More About Us

Testimonials

"My family has only the highest compliment for the assistance and support that we received from The Mesothelioma Center. This is a staff of compassionate and knowledgeable individuals who respect what your family is experiencing and who go the extra mile to make an unfortunate diagnosis less stressful. Information and assistance were provided by The Mesothelioma Center at no cost to our family."
Lashawn
Mesothelioma patient’s daughter
  • Google Review Rating
  • BBB Review Rating

How to Cite Asbestos.com’s Article

APA

Swantek, B. (2020, October 16). Asbestos Exposure Is No. 1 Danger for Urban Explorers. Asbestos.com. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://www.asbestos.com/blog/2015/12/21/asbestos-exposure-urban-explorers/

MLA

Swantek, Beth. "Asbestos Exposure Is No. 1 Danger for Urban Explorers." Asbestos.com, 16 Oct 2020, https://www.asbestos.com/blog/2015/12/21/asbestos-exposure-urban-explorers/.

Chicago

Swantek, Beth. "Asbestos Exposure Is No. 1 Danger for Urban Explorers." Asbestos.com. Last modified October 16, 2020. https://www.asbestos.com/blog/2015/12/21/asbestos-exposure-urban-explorers/.

Abandoned buildings invite curiosity. What does it look like inside? Why is it abandoned? We want to know.

In recent years, that human inquisitiveness developed into a full-blown hobby for many enthusiasts around the world with a bona fide name, Urban exploration.

The pastime involves unauthorized exploration in abandoned factories, homes, underground tunnels, bridges and towers.

Professional and amateur photographers are among the explorers searching for spectacular sights in decaying ruins, but many fail to protect themselves against exposure to asbestos, a material once commonly used in the construction of buildings.

Some explorers have no idea the hobby may increase their risk of developing mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by asbestos, and other asbestos-related illnesses.

Dangers of Capturing Great Pictures

The clandestine visitors in abandoned buildings face a minefield of dangers such as structurally compromised flooring and stairwells, as well as nails and sharp objects underfoot.

However, asbestos ranks as the greatest health threat to urban explorers.

Abandoned warehouse

An abandoned Detroit warehouse with exposed building materials poses a risk of asbestos exposure and other dangers.

“Asbestos is absolutely the number one danger for urban explorers, and is often overlooked,” Jason Robinson, founder of the Ohio Exploration Society, told Asbestos.com. “Since asbestos fibers in the air cannot be seen with the naked eye, some urban explorers do not take proper precautions to protect themselves.”

Robinson warned: “The fibers are out of sight, out of mind.”

Asbestos is indeed not a substance to dismiss.

Three thousand new cases of mesothelioma emerge annually in the U.S. alone. The cancer develops after people inhale airborne asbestos fibers. Most people with the cancer survive an average of only one year after diagnosis.

The tiny mineral fibers lodge in lung tissue and eventually cause unrestrained tumor growth. It typically takes 20 to 50 years for mesothelioma to arise after the initial exposure to asbestos.

asbestos cancer guide
Exposed to Asbestos?
Get a free asbestos cancer guide shipped overnight.

Asbestos Prevalent in Building Materials

For centuries asbestos was known for its excellent fire retardant properties, but widespread use began during the industrial revolution. Mechanization and new mining methods allowed for greater ease in extracting the naturally occurring mineral from the ground.

The increasing need for cost-effective, mass-produced building materials at the start of World War II continued to drive asbestos use. Manufacturers rampantly used the fiber in a myriad of building products, including roofing, flooring, insulation and adhesives.

By 1977, there were 25 countries producing almost 4.8 million metric tons of asbestos per year, and 85 countries were manufacturing thousands of asbestos-containing products.

It’s no wonder abandoned facilities and structures worldwide often contain asbestos among their ruins.

Explorers Not Always on Their Guard

Maddy Eudy scouts structural relics in Detroit.

The towering Michigan Central Station, ghostly Northville Psychiatric Hospital and long-defunct Packard Plant make the list of her notable expeditions.

When Asbestos.com asked if she takes precautions against asbestos, Eudy responded that asbestos safety isn’t always her top priority.

“There are times when I am more aware of the asbestos in or around an area and other times I’m not,” she said. “I sometimes bring masks for whoever I am with, as well as myself, but sometimes I forget them.”

Professional explorers urge other hobbyists not to take asbestos contamination lightly. They recommend protective clothing and properly fitted respirators on all forays into relics of the past.

New Zealand-based urban exploration website Urbex Central advises explorers to use respirators with asbestos-rated filters, such as the 3M P100 Particulate Filter.

According to the website, “A standard paper dust mask will not protect you from asbestos dust; the asbestos fibers are small enough to pass right through and enter your respiratory tract.”

Robinson agrees.

“Thin paper masks or a handkerchief covering your nose and mouth will not do,” he said.

Seasoned pros also say explorers need to learn to recognize asbestos in structures in order to avoid it. Wide use of asbestos in flooring, for example, escalates the danger of explorers unknowingly tracking asbestos dust home on their shoes.

Experts recommend removing protective gear outside of the contaminated site, washing it off, and placing it in a sealed bag rather than taking it home and shaking it out.

Toxic Building Materials’ Potential to Harm Twice

Today’s newly diagnosed cases of mesothelioma primarily stem from exposures that happened decades earlier when asbestos use was higher and regulation was more lax.

The tainted building materials languishing in old structures likely passed through the hands of many people who unknowingly breathed in carcinogenic fibers while manufacturing materials or installing them during the original construction of buildings.

These same materials clinging to the now decaying structures maintain their lethal potency and ability to endanger a new population if urban explorers ignore warnings to protect themselves while on their covert adventures.

Free Mesothelioma Resources
Get Access to Free Resources for Patients & Loved Ones