What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was commonly used in thousands of household, industrial, commercial and building materials throughout the 20th century. Asbestos is a carcinogen that has been shown to cause cancer and other life-threatening diseases among those who are exposed to it.

Despite its known dangers, asbestos has not been banned in the United States. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency warns that 33 million business and homes still contain the deadly material.

What Are the Health Risks Associated with Asbestos?

When materials containing asbestos are disturbed or become worn, microscopic fibers can be released into the air. Anyone in the vicinity may inhale the tiny asbestos fibers, which stick in the lining of the lungs, chest wall, or abdominal cavity. These fibers cause long-term irritation of the tissue and can eventually lead to:

  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer
  • Asbestosis or fibrosis
  • Pleural plaques or diffuse thickening
  • Pleural effusions
  • Rounded atelactasis
  • Pleurisy

Asbestos diseases can be hard to diagnose because symptoms may not appear until 15 to 60 years after a person was initially exposed to the dangerous fibers. Even then, symptoms may resemble those of other, less serious diseases such as the flu, so a diagnosis may be delayed.

If you or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos, tell your physician. If you are experiencing respiratory problems, your doctor will likely order an X-ray, MRI and/or CT scan, as well as a biopsy, to assist with a diagnosis. Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, your doctor may want to order regular chest X-rays to monitor your lung health.

Asbestos at Work

Mesothelioma and other asbestos illnesses are considered occupational diseases, frequently caused by exposure on the job. Many types of occupations put workers at risk of exposure, particularly:

  • Boilermakers and boiler tenders
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Engineers
  • Firefighters and rescue workers
  • Mechanics
  • Painters
  • Pipefitters
  • Plumbers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Steamfitters
  • Welders

Although employers are now required to provide safety equipment and monitor dangerous work environments to protect people from exposure, these efforts came too late for many. For decades, workers were exposed to cancer-causing asbestos products with no warning of the dangers.

Family members of workers have also developed asbestos diseases after being exposed to the fibers secondhand on uniforms, clothing, skin or hair.

Asbestos companies can and should be held responsible for the harm they have caused workers and their families. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with an asbestos disease, you should learn about your right to compensation.

Asbestos in the Military

The U.S. military commonly used asbestos-containing products and equipment in ships and shipyards, aircraft and hangars, tanks and other motor vehicles, barracks and mess halls, and many other buildings on bases across the country. Today, veterans account for about one-third of the 3,000 mesothelioma cases diagnosed each year in the United States.

Veterans who have been diagnosed with an asbestos disease may be eligible for compensation from the companies that sold the dangerous material to the military. They may also be entitled to VA benefits to help cover the cost of treatment. 

Asbestos in the Home

Houses built before the 1980s were constructed using asbestos materials. Still today, people can be exposed to the carcinogen while doing routine maintenance, repairs, renovations or demolition work at older homes.

Common materials and equipment in the home that may contain asbestos include:

  • Boilers and insulation in/around them
  • Insulation on pipes
  • Blown-in attic insulation
  • Vinyl floor tiles, as well as some types of linoleum and glue
  • Ceiling tiles
  • Caulking
  • Glazing on windows
  • Plaster and joint compound
  • Roofing
  • Siding
  • Corrugated panels

You should never try to remove asbestos materials in your home on your own. Talk to a qualified asbestos abatement professional about getting materials tested for asbestos and safely removing them if necessary.

Types of Asbestos

There are six types of asbestos, all of which fall under two broader categories of silicate fibers: serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos. Every type of asbestos has been shown to cause mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Chrysotile asbestos, also known as white asbestos or curly asbestos, is the most common type found in materials in the United States. Chrysotile asbestos fibers may be more than 10 centimeters long and are flexible. This type of asbestos comes from serpentinite rocks and is the only one in the serpentine mineral category.

  • Amosite asbestos, also referred to as brown asbestos, has long, straight fibers. It is known for being somewhat acid-resistant.
  • Crocidolite asbestos, known as blue asbestos, has flexible fibers that are short and thin. It is acid-resistant.
  • Anthophyllite asbestos, which may be grayish white, green or brownish gray, is a rare type. Its fibers are short and brittle.
  • Tremolite asbestos, which can be white or gray, has brittle fibers that are acid-resistant.
  • Actinolite asbestos, which can be various shades of green, has brittle fibers and is not acid-resistant.

There is no safe type of asbestos and no safe level of exposure. Anyone who has been exposed to the mineral, even secondhand, may develop an asbestos disease.

What to Do If You’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos

There is no way to predict whether your exposure will lead to an asbestos disease. Not everyone who is exposed develops an illness. However, you should be vigilant about monitoring for signs of respiratory problems if you know you have been exposed to asbestos.

You should also explain your history of exposure to your doctor and talk to him or her about whether you need regular chest X-rays and/or lung function tests. Early detection of mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases results in a better prognosis.

Financial Help for Those Diagnosed with Asbestos Diseases

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with mesothelioma, lung cancer or another asbestos disease? If so, you may be entitled to compensation from the company(s) responsible for your exposure.

Our partners at Mesothelioma Help can connect you with nationally recognized asbestos attorneys who can explain your options and handle all aspects of your claim. They can also help you explore your options for filing for veterans’ benefits, Social Security Disability benefits or workers’ compensation. In addition, Mesothelioma Help provides a wealth of medical resources and caregiving tips for patients and their families.

Visit Mesothelioma Help today to learn more.

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