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Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is a mineral occurring naturally in the earth that has been mined for thousands of years for use in industrial, manufacturing and building construction activities. It has been highly desirable for a wide variety of uses in the past because of its unusual physical characteristics, which include:

  • High tensile strength
  • Chemically inert
  • Highly heat resistant
  • Acid and alkaline resistant
  • Flexible and able to be woven and spun
  • Highly resilient
  • Resistant to abrasion

These, along with other various physical properties, have earned asbestos the nickname of "the magic mineral" in the past and have encouraged its use in hundreds of products and processes. It is also carcinogenic, known to be responsible for causing a rare, aggressive cancer called mesothelioma in those who are exposed, either through ingestion or inhalation. While the mining and the use of asbestos have been highly restricted or banned in most first-world countries, its use continues in many parts of the world, despite the known health risks.

Who is at Risk From Asbestos Exposure?

Because low amounts of asbestos can be found throughout the environment, in the water, soil and air, nearly everyone will experience some casual exposure but will not contract mesothelioma cancer, also known as asbestosis. Most who become ill are those who have come in regular contact with the mineral, generally as a consequence of their jobs. Some typical trades that show high incidence of workers contracting asbestos-related cancer include:

  • Asbestos mining and milling
  • Manufacture of asbestos textiles (such as fireproof suits for race car drivers) or other products containing the mineral
  • Shipbuilding
  • Building construction
  • Demolition workers
  • Firefighters
  • Drywall, carpet and roof removers
  • Asbestos abatement workers
  • HVAC technicians

Incidents of Casual or Secondary Exposure

If you live in a home that was built prior to the 1970s, there is a very good chance that your home contains asbestos in a variety of places. Prior to the severe restrictions now in place limiting the use of asbestos in manufacturing processes and building construction, it was used extensively, including home building. If you do any remodeling in your home, chances are good that you will encounter exposure to this dangerous material, as it was used in the insulation of pipes, water lines and electrical wires, drywall, carpeting, roofing, as well as in many adhesives and surface finishes. This is only a partial listing.

Second-hand exposure has also been documented when, for example, someone who has had first-hand exposure in the workplace brings home residual materials lodged in their clothing, hair or skin. Someone doing laundry containing clothes that have been exposed to asbestos dust or fibers runs a definite risk of becoming exposed also.

Cancer caused by exposure to asbestos is relatively rare, affecting from 2,000 to 3,000 people annually. These numbers are expected to increase because the latency period of this disease is usually between 20 and 50 years. Those suspecting a problem and experiencing any of the typical symptoms should consult a specialist. Early detection is key in ensuring survival.