Asbestos: What it Is, and How to Avoid it

The word cancer often evokes a sense of fear and uncertainty in people. About 38.5% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime so it is important to understand what you can do to help prevent this deadly disease. Though there are many known and unknown causes of cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer are due to exposure to toxins in varying forms. Avoiding exposure to toxins such as asbestos, radon, lead, tobacco, and secondhand smoke could potentially one day save your life as well as the lives of those around you.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring group of minerals, often found in products commonly used in the construction industry, such as building materials, floor tiles, and insulation.  Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma and can also cause asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural effusion, pleural plaque, pneumothorax, and asbestos warts. There are six types of asbestos; chrysotile, amosite, tremolite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite. Each one carries a different level of hazard, but all commercial forms of asbestos are carcinogenic.

Asbestos, the only known cause of mesothelioma.

As objects containing asbestos begin to fall apart, the microscopic fibers become airborne. Someone who directly works with asbestos can develop mesothelioma by inhaling these rigid fibers, and he or she can also cause second-hand exposure to others by bringing asbestos home on items like clothing, skin, and/or hair. Once asbestos fibers are disrupted and become inhaled or ingested, they can be lodged in the lining of the abdomen, lungs, or heart to develop disease up to 10-50 years later. Those most at risk for developing mesothelioma are military veterans and occupational workers such as construction workers, firefighters, or mechanics. In fact, approximately thirty percent of all mesothelioma diagnoses occur among veteran populations.

Asbestos is generally safe when undisturbed, presenting a threat to health only when asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested. Prolonged exposure to asbestos is particularly harmful, making it important to be aware of the symptoms of asbestos related disease as it can take up to 10-50 years to experience symptoms following exposure. If you are an occupational worker, be mindful of asbestos-contaminated clothing and the possibility of carrying asbestos fibers and particles on your hair and body. Inform yourself of OSHA’s asbestos guidelines for your safety and health. If you live in a house where you think asbestos might be present and want to do construction make sure to contact a certified and accredited asbestos professional so they can do an inspection of the house. Finally, though asbestos is known to cause mesothelioma as well as other deadly diseases, it is not yet banned from use in the United States, as well as in 70% of the world. Learn more about asbestos legislation and make sure your lawmakers know your opinion on asbestos and why it should not be legal to use.