Asbestos is a mineral fiber that is found in rock and soil. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos has been used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant. The mineral has also been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings. It was used in machinery such as pumps and valves, and used in labatories.
Asbestos is a human carcinogen that is known to cause serious illnesses, including a cancer known as mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers are especially dangerous when they are disturbed and become airborne. When the fibers are inhaled, they become permanently lodged in the lungs and other organs, sometimes for decades, before causing mesothelioma. There is NO safe level of asbestos. Even small amounts of asbestos fiber and infrequent exposure create a risk for developing a serious illness.
Major health effects associated with asbestos exposure include: mesothelioma; lung cancer, a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lung, abdomen and heart; and asbestosis, a chronic, non-cancerous disease of the lungs.
Asbestos was widely used in many products and building materials during much of the 20th century. Many asbestos-containing materials remain in houses and buildings today. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 33 million houses and businesses in the United States contain insulation tainted with asbestos. Most people who develop mesothelioma were exposed to asbestos on the job or during military service. Some were exposed in their own homes. Families of workers who were exposed to asbestos in the workplace are also at risk. Asbestos fibers often clung to the clothing and hair of workers, then fell off at home, exposing family members to the risk of mesothelioma.
Insulation, ceiling tile, floor tiles, roofing, piping, textured paint and patching compounds are all examples of products that were made with asbestos. Renovation and demolition projects can disturb the asbestos.
Asbestos was also one of the primary ingredients in many industrial products including boilers, turbines, pumps, valves, brakes, joint compounds, pipe insulation, tanks, generators and electrical equipment.
Since there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, it is important to be aware of asbestos sources and to avoid exposure to all asbestos fibers.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Asbestos
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Protect Your Family from Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite Insulation
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and National Institutes of Health, 12th Report on Carcinogens (RoC)