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Asbestos Use FAQs

Types of Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral that is an effective flame retardant and insulator. Asbestos use was once quite common. It was a popular material for use in the construction of buildings. The most common varieties of asbestos, are crocidolite, chrysotile, and amosite. While most minerals turn into dust when crushed, asbestos is unique in that it breaks up into fine fibers. These fibers are too small to be seen by the unaided human eye. Asbestos fibers often were combined with substances that bind them together, creating asbestos-containing material (ACM). In the past, these materials were used extensively in construction projects and consumer products.

When did They Stop Using Asbestos in Homes?

Asbestos was first introduced in the United States in the early 20th century as an insulator for steam engines. From the end of World War II up until the mid-1970s, contractors often used asbestos in their building and renovation projects, including schools. Asbestos products were often utilized to insulate, fireproof, and soundproof buildings. Nearly 1 million public and commercial buildings have a significant amount of asbestos-containing materials, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Asbestos has many features that made it appealing to builders and manufacturers. The material is strong but flexible in addition to being fire resistant. Asbestos is also an excellent insulator for both heat and sound and resists corrosion.

What is Asbestos Used for Today?

One research study found that around 3,000 different commercial products contained asbestos, but the amount within each product can vary. A product can contain as little as 1 percent asbestos all the way up to 100 percent. Typical products made with asbestos include older plastics, paper goods, brake pads, floor tiles, and textiles. In addition, many heavy machinery parts contain asbestos. The law now prohibits the processing, manufacturing, and importation of most asbestos containing products.

How Does Asbestos Exposure Occur?

Because asbestos fibers are thin and light, they can remain in the air for long periods of time without detection. Many individuals who experienced continuous exposure to these fibers developed serious health complications. The three most common ways for people to be exposed to asbestos are:

  • Occupational exposure - Many jobs bring workers directly into contact with asbestos, such as contractors and construction workers
  • Paraoccupational exposure - The friends and family members of workers may inhale asbestos fibers carried home on the workers clothes or in the hair
  • Neighborhood exposure - People who simply live or work near sites with asbestos-containing materials may inhale asbestos fibers

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a disease in which cells in the lining of the chest or abdominal cavities become abnormal and divide without control or order. The cancerous cells can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also metastasize (spread) from their original site to other parts of the body. A history of asbestos exposure at work is reported in about 70 to 80 percent of all cases.

Are There OSHA Standards That Cover Workers Exposed to Asbestos as Part of Their Jobs?

Yes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has three standards to protect workers from exposure to asbestos in the workplace. One regulates construction work, including alteration, repair, renovation, and demolition of structures containing asbestos. Another covers asbestos exposure during work in shipyards. The third applies to asbestos exposure in general industry, such as exposure during brake and clutch repair.

Is There a Medical Test for Asbestos Exposure?

Chest x-rays cannot show asbestos fibers, but can detect early signs of certain lung diseases. Other tests, such as lung function tests and high resolution CT scans, can also detect changes in the lungs caused by asbestos. These changes usually are not detectable until years after exposure.

How to Identify Asbestos Insulation

Unless a material is labeled, it is difficult to determine whether it contains asbestos simply by looking at it. If you have any doubts about the material, you should treat it as if it contains asbestos, or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional. A professional should take samples for analysis, because there may be an increased health risk if fibers are released.

How can I Get a Legal Asbestos Claim Assessment?

Due to the time frame involved and the difficulty in proving asbestos exposure, bringing an asbestos claim can be a complicated affair. That's why it's a good idea to consult with an attorney about your legal options before moving forward. A great first step is to contact a local asbestos/mesothelioma attorney to for a case review to discuss your claim.

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