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We’ve all seen those commercials urging as to call a random law firm if you or a loved one was exposed to asbestos and diagnosed with mesothelioma, but do you actually know what any of that is? Read on for details what asbestos is, why it’s dangerous and what you should do if you have been exposed.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a mixture of naturally occurring mineral substance that can be pulled into a fluffy consistency.

There are six types of legally recognized asbestos that fit into two categories:

  1. Serpentine asbestos – Chysotile
  2. Amphibole asbestos – Crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, actinolite

However, there are several other forms of asbestos that may be just as dangerous. Several laws and regulations have passed since the 80s but it is currently still legal to include asbestos in almost all types of American products, as long as the product does not contain more than 1% asbestos.

Before discovering its toxicity, asbestos was widely used due to its resistance to heat, electricity and chemical corrosion. It’s an effective insulator and can be mixed into cement, cloth, paper and plastic to make them stronger.

A few examples of products that used asbestos include:

  • Automotive parts – break pads, clutches, hood liners, gaskets, and valves
  • Tiles – flooring, ceiling and roofing tiles, as well as the adhesive used for flooring
  • Cement
  • Textiles – blankets, fireman suits, and rope
  • Insulation
  • Plastics and vinyl products
  • Cosmetics
  • Cigarette filters
  • Electrical cloth and panel partitions
  • Talcum powder
  • Fume hoods
  • Ductwork

Because of the many industrial uses for asbestos many people link their issues to occupational exposure. Workers in the following industries have a higher risk of developing issues from exposure to asbestos:

  • Mining
  • Construction
  • Firefighting
  • Heavy industry
  • Ship building
  • Electricity generation
  • Military service
  • Firefighting

Family members of these workers also have a higher risk of developing an asbestos related disease due to secondhand exposure.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

The recognition of respiratory issues stemming from exposure to asbestos was documented in the 1800s. Asbestos is now linked to asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos related illnesses will often take at least 20 years to develop because it takes time for the fibers to damage your body. Microscopic asbestos fibers may be inhaled or swallowed but they never dissolve, leaving the fibers to cause inflammation, scarring and genetic damage to cells.

What should be done if exposed to asbestos?

Thankfully, being exposed to asbestos does not mean you will develop an asbestos related health issue. Most people suffering from mesothelioma and other illnesses were exposed to it for long periods of time and at high frequencies. If you have been exposed to asbestos wash your body and clothes to reduce risk of ingesting it.

If your home or workplace was built before 1980 it is likely that many of the materials used in its construction were made with asbestos. If you believe there are asbestos containing materials in your space, don’t worry, contact the EPA to do a simple test. If there is asbestos in your home or workplace a professional should come in and remove those materials.