The qualities that make asbestos a highly desirable material also make it deadly. Once disturbed, asbestos fibers turn into microscopic airborne dust particles. Lingering in the air for hours or days, these fibers can attach to clothing or work instruments. If these fibers are inhaled, they can cause serious health problems. Asbestos exposure has been known to cause a number of cancers, the most notable being mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that normally attacks the lungs and abdomen.
Use the information below to learn more about the dangers and sources of asbestos exposure.
Although asbestos history dates back to ancient Greece, the mineral became most popular in the United States during the 20th century Industrial Revolution. Known as the “miracle fiber” for its tensile strength, electrical resistance and fireproof properties, asbestos was most commonly used in factories, oil refineries, railroad yards and shipyards. Numerous products were also made with asbestos, including:
By the middle of the 20th century, it was clear that asbestos was dangerous. Articles and reports were making connections between workplace asbestos exposure and diseases such as lung cancer and asbestosis. Despite the new found awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure, many companies continued to allow its use and failed to provide their workers with warnings.
Asbestos use finally began to decline in the early 1970s, when major asbestos lawsuits became more commonplace. Because asbestos exposure was so widespread, generations of workers were experiencing negative asbestos health effects and were seeking compensation for their injuries. The mountain of litigation drove many U.S. companies to seek refuge in bankruptcy and others to cease asbestos use in order to avoid lawsuits against themselves.
While some countries have completely banned asbestos, and other countries, like the U.S., have placed heavy regulations on its use, asbestos is still present and continues to be used.
The prevalence of asbestos use during the 20th century now poses serious health risks for more than one million U.S. workers. View a list of occupations most at risk for asbestos exposure.
Want to learn more about the history of asbestos use and mesothelioma? View the mesothelioma litigation timeline.