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Asbestos Use FAQ

Asbestos is a material that helps prevent fires. It also works as insulation. It was a popular material for use in the construction of buildings. However, years ago, experts learned that asbestos was extremely dangerous to humans.

Construction companies hired people to help with asbestos work. They immediately got to work ridding buildings of asbestos. Legislators passed special asbestos regulations to prevent future use of asbestos. There were also regulations that demanded asbestos removal from many private and public buildings.

This article covers some of the most frequently asked questions regarding asbestos and its effects.

What are the common types of asbestos?

Some of the more common types of asbestos include:

  • Crocidolite
  • Chrysotile
  • Amosite
  • Tremolite
  • Vermiculite
  • Actinolite

When you crush asbestos, it breaks up into fine fibers. These fibers aren't visible to the human eye. That's why many people became sick from working or living in buildings containing asbestos-containing material (ACM). Today, there are tests designed to detect the presence of asbestos.

When did builders 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. Homeowners and building owners were excited to have an inexpensive solution to help insulate and protect their properties.

Builders often used asbestos products to insulate, fireproof, and soundproof buildings. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly 1 million public and commercial buildings have a significant amount of asbestos-containing materials.

Asbestos has many features that make it appealing to builders and manufacturers. The material is strong but flexible. It is also fire-resistant. Asbestos is also an excellent insulator for heat and sound and resists corrosion. Unfortunately, the health hazards and negative health effects posed by asbestos mean it cannot be used safely.

What is asbestos used for today?

Studies have shown that approximately 3,000 commercial products contain asbestos. Of course, the levels of asbestos and the contained within each product varied. A product can contain as little as one percent all the way up to 100 percent.

Some of the products that are still made with asbestos include:

  • Plastics
  • Paper goods
  • Brake pads
  • Floor tiles
  • Textiles
  • Gaskets
  • Heavy machinery parts

Thankfully, asbestos abat​ement laws prohibit the processing, manufacturing, and importation of most asbestos-containing products today.

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 following are the three most common types of asbestos exposure:

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

Sadly, even workers who wear protective equipment are still exposed to certain levels of asbestos. For example, if a contractor pulls up vinyl flooring in a client's home, the contractor may come into contact with asbestos. The same is true for anybody who works in the removal of asbestos.

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, or spread, from their original site to other body parts. In 70 to 80 percent of all cases, patients report a history of asbestos exposure at work.

How do asbestos fibers cause lung cancer?

Asbestos fibers can end up causing out-of-control cell growth. These fibers can cause lung inflammation and lung scarring once breathed in. Sometimes, this causes non-cancerous asbestosis, but even small doses of asbestos fibers can trigger a "wrong turn" as your cells refresh/replicate over the years.

Can smokers sue for asbestos exposure?

It's difficult for smokers to sue for asbestos exposure because it can be impossible to determine the cause of their illness. If someone develops lung cancer, it could be due to several things, including exposure to asbestos materials. Unfortunately, it is just as likely caused by smoking.

Do OSHA standards cover workers exposed to asbestos?

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.

Can a medical test detect asbestos exposure?

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

How long do asbestos-related diseases take to appear after exposure?

It can take many years for you to develop asbestos-related illnesses. Many people who work around boilers or in the roofing business don't realize they're sick for quite some time. In fact, some people diagnosed today haven't worked around asbestos for years.

How can you identify asbestos insulation?

Without a label, it is difficult to determine whether the insulation contains asbestos. If you have doubts about a certain material, treat it as if it contains asbestos. You can also have it tested by a qualified professional. An asbestos abatement expert should take samples for analysis rather than test the materials on-site. There may be an increased human health risk if fibers are released.

This is why it's important that building maintenance companies conduct air monitoring to test for airborne asbestos. They should also look for other dangerous contaminants, especially in older buildings. The roofing materials used years ago contained asbestos. The same is true for some of the sealants used on older properties.

When inspecting a building, agents must look for all asbestos hazards, including:

  • Ceiling tiles with contaminants
  • Shingles
  • Pipe insulation
  • Fireproofing
  • Coatings and other building materials

It's also essential that professionals check to see if asbestos cement was used in your building's foundation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conducted extensive testing over the years. They have worked hard to warn asbestos workers about handling asbestos waste.

How can I get an asbestos claim assessment?

If you suspect you are exposed to asbestos at home or work, contact a professional. If you are sick and believe your illness was caused by asbestos exposure, you should talk to a local asbestos/mesothelioma attorney about your legal options. Most firms that deal with asbestosis cases offer clients a free case review.

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