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Asbestos Frequently Asked Questions

What is Asbestos?

(Dangers of Exposure)

The dangers of asbestos were known to many of the companies that made these products as early as the 1920s. However, asbestos was sold and used without warnings up until the 1980s — when most asbestos products were banned in the United States and other countries. Alternative materials were available during the entire period of awareness that could have been used in place of asbestos.

A wide array of workers were exposed to asbestos including shipyard workers, factory workers, pipefitters, sheet metal workers, plumbers, laborers, machinists, mechanics, powerhouse workers, and electricians. One cloud of dust from asbestos products can contain millions or billions of fibers, and even a small amount of asbestos can cause lung damage.

Click here to view a more complete list of trades that were at risk for exposure.

Often, individuals won’t recall how they were exposed to asbestos, and many mistakenly believe that they were not exposed to asbestos at all. A careful examination and review of a person’s work and life history often reveals exposures to asbestos products that may not be readily apparent.

Asbestos is so toxic that mesothelioma has been diagnosed in family members whose only exposure came from contact with the fibers that adhered to the clothes of the worker/tradesperson who actually worked with asbestos products.

Click here to learn more about exposure to asbestos in the home.

What Types of Injuries Are Caused By Asbestos?(continued)

Lung Cancer
Exposure to asbestos can also cause lung cancer. A person who does not smoke can still get lung cancer from being to exposed to asbestos. If you smoked in the past or are presently smoking, asbestos and tobacco act together, greatly increasing the risk of developing lung cancer. Many studies have shown the increased risk of lung cancer from the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure.Lung cancer, depending on its severity and the medical history of the individual, may be treated.
Other Cancers
Asbestos has also been associated with many other cancers, including cancers of the throat and stomach areas.

For information on cancer treatment centers, click here.

Why Was Asbestos Used in Building And Insulation Products?

The primary reason that asbestos was used in building products was as a binder or filler material. It was cheap and easily available. It is stringy and resilient, and thus makes a good binder. Its resilience also reduced the breakage of the products between the factory and the worksite. In pipe covering and other materials, asbestos created air pockets which provided heat resistance.

Asbestos was marketed for its fire-resistant qualities. In reality, at approximately 1200 degrees, asbestos transforms into an inert mineral. Other materials were available, even in the 1930s and thereafter, that could have been used (and, in fact, were used) as substitutes for asbestos without any sacrifice in product integrity or heat resistance. The asbestos industry peddled asbestos as a “magic mineral,” creating a demand for the material, without advising of the dangers of exposure. As a result, thousands of American workers were injured and killed. It was unnecessary and could have been avoided.

Asbestos Exposure Leads to Mesothelioma

Asbestos is a known carcinogen and is proven to cause mesothelioma. Mesothelioma typically affects the lining of the lungs, is highly aggressive and is resistant to many standard cancer treatments, limiting the treatment options.  Most patients do not receive a diagnosis until after symptoms appear, which can be 30 years or more after exposure. The latency period can be as many as 50 years.   The prognosis is usually grim with no known cures, and with the average survival time varying from 4 – 18 months after diagnosis.

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