Asbestos is a fiber used in many applications including construction
materials (shingles, cement, tiles), automobile parts (brakes and clutches), and insulation. The material is extremely durable and heat resistant and has an appearence similar to fiberglass. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken an aggressive approach in regulating asbestos after its harmful characteristics were discovered.
According to the EPA, asbestos "presents an unreasonable risk of injury to human health," as inhaling the fibers greatly increases the odds of contracting asbestosis
, lung cancer
, gastrointestinal cancer, and other cancers
. Furthermore, EPA has called asbestos a "highly potent carcinogen" that causes "severe health effects after even short-term, high-level or longer-term, low-level exposure."
While asbestos occurs naturally in the environment, manmade products engineered for strength and heat resistance often contain a much higher level of asbestos fibers than is found in nature. Since the primary danger with respect to asbestos is in inhaling the fibers, it is critical not to disturb a product containing asbestos. The fiber becomes a threat when it escapes a product and becomes airborne. Unfortunately, asbestos is odorless, practically invisible, and highly mobile, all of which allow the fiber to permeate an area undetected. According to the EPA, asbestos is often released into the air through "mining of the substance, processing asbestos fibers into products, transporting, installing, using, maintaining, repairing, removing, and disposing of asbestos containing products." As far as handling a product that contains asbestos, the lesson appears to be "let the sleeping dog lie," lest you disturb and release the deadly fibers. An experienced professional should conduct an appraisal of a particular asbestos threat to determine the proper course of action.
Most asbestos fibers that are inhaled are removed through the body's natural process of coughing. However, some fibers cannot escape and remain lodged in the lungs
for many years. The presence of these trapped asbestos fibers will likely go unnoticed until they cause serious health problems some ten, twenty, or even thirty years after exposure.
In July 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released findings from a study on deaths linked to asbestos exposure. According to the report, nearly 1,500 people died from asbestos in 2000, compared to only 77 deaths in 1968. The CDC says the death rate will only continue to rise because of long-term exposure to the toxic substance. Unfortunately, asbestos is still found in more than 3,000 products, including insulation in older buildings.
It may be advisable to see your doctor if you have been exposed to asbestos, either in the workplace, home, school, or elsewhere. In addition, it may be important to contact an attorney
who can help you protect your legal rights. Please keep in mind that there may be time limits
within which you must commence suit.
- Toxic & Hazardous Substances
- Asbestosis: Overview
- Lung Cancer: Overview
- Asbestos Exposure: Frequently Asked Questions