The only known cause of mesothelioma cancer is asbestos exposure. This asbestos-related cancer is known to linger for decades before it severely damages several parts of the body, including the lungs, abdominal organs and heart.
Asbestos Exposure & Product Identification
Identifying the asbestos products you were exposed to will determine which companies are responsible for your exposure.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a broad term for a group of minerals that look like rocks and can be separated into long and fluffy fibers. Early man discovered that these fibers could be utilized in fabric, clay and other materials because they are heat, chemical and fire resistant. Artisans mixed the fibers into pottery to make earthenware stronger and fabrics to make them fire resistant. Byzantine monks from the 12th century used the material to provide a smooth surface for painting.
There are six main types of asbestos, but only three are commonly used:
- Chrysotile - As the most commonly used type of asbestos rock, chrysotile asbestos, also called white asbestos, is used in roofing materials, ceilings and floor tiles. It is also found in vehicle brakes and pipe insulation.
- Crocidolite -- Also called blue asbestos, it is considered the most dangerous form of asbestos. It has the best heat resistance and is commonly used in steam engines, pipe insulation and other areas where heat is a concern.
- Amosite -- This type of asbestos is mostly found in cement sheets and pipe insulation. It is commonly called brown asbestos and has needle-like fibers.
Exposed to Asbestos?
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Other forms of asbestos are tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. While they are not widely used in commercial applications, they can be found as contaminates in asbestos products. They pose the same health risks as other types of asbestos.
As early as the Roman era, researchers and physicians identified asbestos as the source of severe lung problems. However, that didn’t stop anyone from using it. By the late 19th century in burgeoning cities across the United States, asbestos was coveted for it’s indestructible properties. It was used in drywall compounds, cements, paints and roofing materials to make them more durable, weather resistant and insulated.
By the start of World War II, U.S. military leaders saw asbestos as a way to protect military vehicles, equipment and soldiers and was used in all military applications. Even today, many asbestos-laden equipment and vehicles remain in service.
Asbestos use continues despite the known risks. While it is regulated, asbestos is not outlawed in the U.S. Many occupations are still at risk for direct contact with the mineral and the dangers:
- Military - Navy veterans were effected the most, but veterans from other military branches were also exposed to products containing asbestos.
- First Responders - Occupational hazards for police officers, firefighters, EMT's.
- Construction Workers - Many homes built on or before the early 1990s have many asbestos-containing products. This includes roofing shingles, popcorn ceilings, joint compounds and flooring tiles.
- Factory Workers - Occupations that take place in steel mills, paper mills, shipyards, textile mills, factories and chemical plants.
- Mechanics - Many car brakes and clutch facings contain asbestos materials. It’s important to be especially cautious when examining heavy equipment, railroad machinery and elevators.
Other jobs that deal with the hazards of asbestos include miners, plumbers, and electricians.
While many workers who are injured from direct asbestos contact, a large number of others are injured from secondhand exposure.
When a worker carries asbestos materials on clothing and hair, an unsuspecting bystander may be contaminated. Many of these bystanders are the wives and children of workers who unknowingly bring asbestos fibers home on dusty clothes, shoes and hair. One study showed that more than 50 percent of all women diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer came as a result of secondhand exposure.
Another common way that patients are indirectly exposed to asbestos is by living in close proximity to an asbestos company or mine. Such is the case in Libby, Mont., where hundreds of town residents have developed asbestos-related diseases as a result of the nearby vermiculite mine.
Environmentalchemistry.com. “A Brief History of Asbestos Use and Associated Health Risks.” Retrieved from http://environmentalchemistry.com/yogi/environmental/asbestoshistory2004.html
Live Science. “With Study of Asbestos, Geologists Take on Key Health Problem.” Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/43562-geologists-study-mesothelioma-asbestos-link-nsf-ria.html.”