What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) that’s heat-resistant, durable, and a good insulator. Many companies used asbestos to make thousands of products due to these properties.
However, asbestos can break down and release microscopic fibers into the air that you could inhale. Your body may have trouble removing the fibers since they’re so strong. Over time, asbestos fibers can cause irritation that leads to life-threatening health problems like cancer.
Asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer if fibers get stuck in your lungs. Asbestos is also the only known cause of a rare cancer called mesothelioma, and a noncancerous illness called asbestosis.
Companies that made and sold asbestos-containing products knew the health hazards as far back as the 1930s. But they concealed the truth for decades because asbestos could make them millions of dollars.
Over 27 million people had been exposed to asbestos by the time the health risks became well-known in the early 1980s. Thousands of workers and their family members develop lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases every year.
An asbestos lung cancer diagnosis is terrible — but Lung Cancer Group may be able to help you pay for medical care and other expenses. Get started right now with a free case review.
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Asbestos exposure is a public health crisis: 40,000 Americans die from asbestos-related diseases each year. Learn about the most notable asbestos diseases below.
Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Roughly 8,000 to 10,000 people die of asbestos-related lung cancer every year.
Asbestos can cause lung cancer if microscopic fibers get stuck in your lungs. The fibers will then burrow into your lung tissue, irritating it for decades. This irritation can eventually mutate healthy cells into cancerous ones.
Though smoking accounts for most cases of lung cancer, asbestos worsens the damage that cigarette smoke does to the body.
“Smokers who are also exposed to asbestos have a risk of developing lung cancer that is greater than the individual risks from asbestos and smoking added together.”
— National Cancer Institute (NCI)
The only known cause of malignant mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. You can develop mesothelioma if asbestos fibers get stuck in the lining of your lungs, heart, abdomen, or testicles.
About 3,000 people develop mesothelioma each year. There is currently no cure, and this cancer is very aggressive. Most patients only live a few years (at most) after diagnosis.
Asbestosis is a lung disease in which the lungs get stiffer over time. Like mesothelioma, the only known cause of asbestosis is exposure to asbestos.
Asbestosis is not a form of cancer, but it’s still very dangerous. You may suffer from symptoms like difficulty breathing and chest pain as asbestos fibers damage your lungs.
Unfortunately, you could develop lung cancer or mesothelioma while still suffering from asbestosis.
Other Asbestos-Related Illnesses
Lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis are just a handful of diseases linked to asbestos exposure.
Other asbestos diseases include:
- Cancers: Asbestos exposure may increase the risk of colorectal cancer, throat cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer.
- Pleural effusions: This is a buildup of fluid in the lining of the lungs that causes shortness of breath and chest pain. Mesothelioma patients often suffer from pleural effusions.
- Pleural plaques: Collagen (a protein made by the body) builds up around asbestos fibers in the lung linings to form pleural plaques. They are harmless and cause no symptoms.
Thankfully, help is available for many types of asbestos-related diseases. Learn about your options by calling (877) 446-5767. Our Patient Advocates can tell you more about getting medical care and financial compensation.
Types of Asbestos
There are six types of asbestos fibers. Each type belongs to one of two groups: amphibole and serpentine.
Any type of asbestos can put you at risk of lung cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
All but one of the asbestos types are part of the amphibole group. The asbestos fibers in the amphibole group are straight and sharp.
Types of amphibole asbestos include:
- Actinolite asbestos: This type of asbestos has a dark color and was once used to make insulation, drywall, cement, and more.
- Amosite asbestos: Also known as brown asbestos, amosite asbestos was used in tile, roofing, gaskets, cement, and many kinds of insulation.
- Anthophyllite asbestos: This form of asbestos is yellow or brown in color. It was only used in some types of cement and insulation since it was less common than the other types.
- Crocidolite asbestos: Also known as blue asbestos, this type of asbestos was rarely used because it wasn’t as fire-resistant as the other types. It was sometimes used in tiles, insulation, and cement.
- Tremolite asbestos: Tremolite asbestos was very heat-resistant, so it was often used in insulation, paint, plumbing materials, and more. It also occurs alongside other minerals like vermiculite and talc in natural rock deposits.
The only type of asbestos that belongs to the serpentine family is chrysotile asbestos. Chrysotile asbestos fibers are curly, flexible, and fireproof. Chrysotile asbestos became the most commonly used form of asbestos due to these properties.
Besides cement, insulation, and roofing materials, chrysotile asbestos was also used in rubber, plastics, brakes, and many other products.
Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center notes that chrysotile asbestos is the most common cause of asbestos-related diseases because it was used more than any other type.
Over 3,000 products were made with asbestos before the health risks were widely known. Everything from building materials to even some forms of toothpaste contained asbestos.
Notable asbestos products included:
- Brake pads and linings
- Fireproofing materials
- Joint compounds
- Popcorn ceilings
- Vinyl floor tiles
The use of asbestos in new products has been greatly restricted since the 1980s. However, many older structures still contain asbestos-based products today.
Asbestos-containing products don’t pose a threat unless they wear down or decay. Because of this, it was simply easier to leave many well-maintained products that contained asbestos in buildings, vehicles, and ships.
More than 700,000 buildings in the U.S. still contain asbestos as of 2022.
However, the asbestos-containing products that were left behind can still put people at risk if they break down. News stations and websites have recently reported about old asbestos in houses, military bases, and fire stations getting disturbed and threatening people’s health.
Manufacturers of Asbestos-Based Products
Hundreds of companies around the world made and sold asbestos-containing products for decades.
Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products include:
- Johns-Manville: The biggest producer of asbestos-containing materials, Johns-Manville started using asbestos in 1858.
- Raybestos: Raybestos made and sold brakes with asbestos in them starting in 1906. Its president knew the health dangers of asbestos back in the 1930s, but hid them.
- W.R. Grace: W.R. Grace operated an asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana from 1963 to 1990. One in 10 Libby residents now have an asbestos-related disease. Many more were also exposed to asbestos from W.R. Grace’s products.
These manufacturers and many others didn’t reveal the health risks of asbestos until millions had already been exposed. As a result, they faced thousands of lawsuits from those who had gotten sick.
You may be able to get financial aid from these companies (and many others not listed above) if you were exposed to asbestos and developed lung cancer or another illness. Our team can help you pursue compensation — call (877) 446-5767 to get started.
Do Companies Still Use Asbestos?
Yes. The use of asbestos is greatly restricted in the U.S., but it hasn’t been fully banned. Asbestos is still used today by companies despite the fact that it causes lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other deadly illnesses.
Three hundred metric tons of asbestos were imported into the U.S. in 2020 alone.
More than 27 million people were exposed to asbestos on the job between 1940 and 1979, according to the ATSDR.
- Boilermaking: Most boilers were built with asbestos-containing products like insulation before the 1980s. Boilermakers had to install or repair boilers in cramped spaces, where asbestos fibers could linger in the air and get inhaled.
- Construction work: Those who worked on construction sites may have been exposed to asbestos-based cement, paint, insulation, and tiles, among many other products.
- Military service: U.S. veterans are at a higher risk of asbestos-related diseases because all military branches relied on asbestos until the early 1980s. U.S. Navy veterans are at the greatest risk, as all U.S. Navy ships were required to have asbestos in them before the risks were known.
- Shipyard work: Shipyard workers had to install and remove asbestos-containing piping, wires, gaskets, insulation, and much more. One in three mesothelioma patients today are either former shipyard workers or U.S. Navy veterans.
The family members of those who worked around asbestos were also at risk of developing lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases due to secondhand (or take-home) exposure.
Asbestos workers could unknowingly bring asbestos fibers back to their homes on their clothing or skin. Their family might then inhale or swallow the fibers, becoming sick decades later.
Work with our team to get justice if you developed lung cancer or another disease from occupational asbestos exposure. Financial compensation is available.
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Avoiding Asbestos Exposure
Avoiding asbestos is the only way to prevent developing asbestos-related diseases. Don’t go near any product, vehicle, or building that may have damaged asbestos inside.
There’s no way to reduce your risk if you were exposed to asbestos decades ago. However, you can take steps to avoid asbestos exposure today.
You probably won’t be able to tell if something contains asbestos by yourself. You’ll need to call a professional to have asbestos testing done. Avoid touching the product or material if it’s damaged or crumbling.
Professionals can use asbestos test kits to see if the product in question contains asbestos. They can then recommend next steps to keep you and your family safe.
Removing or Abating Asbestos
Asbestos-containing products can be either removed, abated (sealed), or left alone depending on their condition.
Friable asbestos is wearing down or damaged and could release fibers into the air. There are two options to address friable asbestos, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Removal: Usually recommended if the product in question is greatly damaged or a major home renovation is taking place.
- Repair: Abating the asbestos-containing product by covering it with a protective coating or wrapping, so fibers won’t be released.
You’ll need to work with asbestos abatement professionals in either case. Work that’s not done by experts could release more asbestos into the air and put you in danger.
Non-friable asbestos products don’t pose a threat to human health, so no action will be needed. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends leaving asbestos-based products alone if they’re not damaged.
That said, you could ask a professional to remove the asbestos for your peace of mind.
Phasing Out Asbestos
Asbestos use is nowhere near as prevalent as it was in the mid-20th century. After the health risks became public knowledge, many major companies stopped using asbestos in their products.
The U.S. government also passed several laws to limit the use of asbestos. Asbestos was totally banned with the 1989 Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule, but a court decision overturned it in 1991. Thankfully, the use of asbestos was still greatly limited.
More recently, the EPA proposed a ban on all new uses of chrysotile asbestos in April 2022. This is a big step toward totally banning asbestos in this country.
Asbestos Lawsuits & Compensation
Manufacturers of asbestos-based products faced thousands of lawsuits after the health risks became public knowledge in the early 1980s.
You may be able to get legal help if you or a loved one developed lung cancer, mesothelioma, or another illness after being exposed to asbestos. Lawsuits can force manufacturers of asbestos-containing products to pay for the harm they’ve caused.
Compensation from asbestos lawsuits can cover:
- Health care expenses
- Lost wages if you can’t work after getting sick
- Living costs (e.g., mortgage, bills, and rent)
- Medical bills
- Any other costs related to a diagnosis
Remember: The harmful health effects of asbestos were hidden by manufacturers. They put you, your family, and millions of others at risk all in the name of profits.
Our team may be able to help you secure compensation for asbestos lung cancer and other illnesses. Call (877) 446-5767 right now to learn more.
Common Questions About Asbestos
How do you know if you were exposed to asbestos?
You may remember working with or around asbestos-containing products at your job or home. Health care providers can also check for asbestos-related diseases by running chest X-rays and other tests that look for signs of asbestos exposure (such as pleural plaques).
If you don’t remember being exposed to asbestos and now have lung cancer or another illness, contact our team.
Lung Cancer Group has a database of work sites that have used asbestos, some dating back several decades. We’ll use this database, the information you give us, and other resources to see if your illness is asbestos-related.
What does asbestos do to the body?
You likely won’t feel any different shortly after being exposed to asbestos. However, once the fibers are inside your body, they’ll slowly damage healthy tissues and organs over a long period of time.
This irritation can eventually cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, or other asbestos-related diseases 10-50 years after exposure.
Doctors can’t predict which asbestos-related disease (if any) you’ll develop after being exposed.
Is asbestos banned?
Almost 70 countries have totally banned asbestos, but the U.S. is not one of them. The EPA tried to ban asbestos in 1989, but its efforts were overturned in 1991.
Most uses of asbestos are restricted in the U.S., but contrary to popular belief, tons of it continue to be imported and used today.
Is all asbestos dangerous?
Yes. There are six types of asbestos, and all of them cause cancer. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that no level of asbestos exposure is safe.
Anyone exposed to asbestos can go on to develop lung cancer, mesothelioma, or other diseases. Those at the highest risk of getting sick worked with asbestos-containing products on a frequent basis and/or for long periods of time.
Where does asbestos come from?
Asbestos naturally forms in rock deposits all over the world. Manufacturers mined asbestos from the ground and processed it for use in various products.
Asbestos mining operations were shut down in the U.S. after the health risks became public knowledge. However, asbestos is still mined in countries like China and Russia today.