General Information on Asbestos

Asbestos is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of minerals that have been used for centuries because of their combined flexibility and strength. It is found in two different physical compositions, amphibole and serpentine, and mined from deposits located all around the world.

Asbestos has many characteristics that have made it invaluable in manufacturing, construction, and the fabrication of numerous materials. It is flexible and easily spun into strands that can be incorporated into cloth or mixed with other materials, yet it is extremely strong and nearly indestructible. It does not burn and does not conduct heat or electricity.

In addition to its strength and other characteristics, asbestos is also widely available and inexpensive. Though it has been in use since the days of the Ancient Greeks, it became especially popular during the Industrial Revolution and the years thereafter, when it was used by industries ranging from manufacturing and textile fabrication to construction and shipbuilding.

Unfortunately, despite its many benefits, asbestos can break down into small fibers that can easily become airborne and inhaled or ingested. Once inside the human body, it can lead to a number of different serious — and even fatal — illnesses. Though many in the asbestos industry were aware of its dangers, they chose to keep it a secret so that they could continue to earn profits from its use, thus exposing countless workers and consumers to the risk of illness.

Asbestos-related diseases are unique in that they tend to have extremely long latency periods. This means that it takes a long time for the illness to progress to the point where it begins to manifest symptoms. Some illnesses do not begin to appear until ten years after the exposure to the material, while others can take as long as 50 years. The most common illnesses caused by exposure to asbestos include:

  • Mesothelioma
  • Asbestosis
  • Asbestos-related Lung Cancer
  • Laryngeal Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Pleural Plaques
  • Pleural Thickening
  • Pleural Effusion
  • COPD

Though the mechanism by which asbestos causes these illnesses is not completely understood, it is believed that when asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they become embedded in the cells of the organs that line the lungs and abdomen. Once there, they cause cell death and create inflammation that leads to genetic changes in the surrounding cells. These can result in cancerous tumors, fibrous growths, and scarring of the lungs.

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