Left alone, asbestos looks like any other rock. But when this mineral is broken, fine fluffy strands are released into the air. It’s these strands that researchers say are toxic. Once inhaled, they can cause asbestos-related cancers.
As far back as the Roman Empire, asbestos was coveted for its heat- and fire-resistant properties. Early man would weave asbestos fibers into fabric and use it in cookware. In modern times, researchers found the link to mesothelioma, but that didn’t deter businesses, manufacturers and even the federal government from using ample amounts of asbestos and putting the public in danger. Even today, asbestos is extensively used throughout the United States. There is no ban in this country on asbestos use.
Popular Types of Asbestos
There are five widely used types of asbestos that are found in the U.S. and abroad. These five types belong to either the amphibole or serpentine mineral class:
- Chrysotile - Also called white asbestos, this is the most frequently used type of asbestos.
- Amosite - Also called brown asbestos, this is one of the more dangerous types of asbestos. It is the second most commonly used type of asbestos.
- Tremolite - Not regularly used in the U.S. this has been found in talc, the softest mineral on earth. Talc is used in talcum powder.
- Crocidolite - Known as blue asbestos, this is the most dangerous type of asbestos because the fibers are so thin and easily inhaled.
- Anthophyllite - Of the several types of asbestos, this type poses the least risk for causing mesothelioma.
Exposed to Asbestos?
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How Was I Exposed?
Asbestos exposure can come in many different forms. For the miner, it can come from working closely with broken asbestos minerals. For the roofer, it can come from working with broken roofing tiles that contain asbestos. For first responders, asbestos exposure can come from working in a damaged old building. If asbestos-containing products are not broken or fractured in any way, they are likely harmless. It’s when these products break and the fibers become airborne that asbestos becomes a concern.
Even though asbestos is no longer mined in the U.S. it is used extensively. Asbestos-containing products are being shipped in from countries that include Canada and Brazil. In 2012 alone, the U.S. imported 1,060 tons of asbestos.
How Does Asbestos Relate to Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma starts when an unsuspecting and unprotected worker inhales or swallows asbestos fibers. These fibers are so short, fluffy and lightweight that they can linger in the air for long periods. Once they’re inside the body, they can travel to different areas, either through the airway, the lymph nodes or the gastrointestinal system. They become trapped and slowly form irritations. Over a period of decades, these irritations cause changes to cells and form tumors. It’s typically not until these tumors are so widespread and causing pain and discomfort that the victim notices problems. It usually takes between 15 and 50 years for mesothelioma to develop, with the median about 32 years.
Reinstein, Linda. “Real Chemical Reform Must Ban Asbestos.” Environmental Working Group. Retrieved from http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2013/07/real-chemical-reform-must-ban-asbestos
U.S. Geological Survey. “Reported Historic Asbestos Mines, Historic Asbestos Prospects, and Other Natural Occurrences of Asbestos in California.” Retrieved from ftp://ftp.consrv.ca.gov/pub/dmg/pubs/ms/59/MS59_Pamphlet.pdf