Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that was widely used in industrial products and materials for its resistance to heat, electricity and chemical damage from the early 1900s through the 1980s, when the substance was banned by numerous countries. As of 1991, the United States banned asbestos in specific products, including flooring felt, rollboard, and corrugated, commercial or specialty paper, as well as products that have not historically contained asbestos fibers.
Outside of occupational and industrial exposure, asbestos is most commonly found in older homes, furnace and pipe insulation materials, asbestos shingles, millboard, textured paints and other coating materials, and floor tiles. Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur after asbestos-containing materials are disturbed by cutting, sanding or other remodeling activities. Improper attempts to remove these materials can release asbestos into the air. When inhaled, these fibers are strongly associated with numerous types of cancer and illness, including mesothelioma.
Inhaling asbestos fibers is associated with numerous types of cancer, including mesothelioma, as well as chronic and deadly fibrotic diseases of the lung. In addition to being indestructible, asbestos fibers are invisible, tasteless and odorless. Consequently, people are unknowingly exposed to this deadly mineral.
Asbestos Exposure in Jobsites & OccupationsAlthough statistics have shown a growing number of individuals who have never worked with asbestos are suffering with asbestos-related illness, most documented cases of such diseases are caused by occupational exposure.
This is due to the likeliness of repeated exposure, which occurs through standard operations in a variety of industries and jobsites.
JobsitesNaturally, jobsites such as asbestos mines, processing plants, and manufacturing plants where asbestos products were made, have a legacy of high occupational exposure.
However, there are many other jobsites such as shipyards, auto-manufacturing plants, metalworks, oil refineries, power plants, and chemical plants that also share a long history of asbestos exposure as well. Those who worked at these jobsites during the 1900's were probably exposed to a number of asbestos-containing products and materials and are now at risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses.
OccupationsCertain occupations also carry an elevated risk of asbestos exposure. Because asbestos was used in a wide variety of both industrial and domestic products, many occupations came in contact with the toxic substance.
For example, since asbestos was integrated into so many plumbing and electrical materials, both plumbers and electricians have an increased risk of contracting asbestos-related disease.
Firefighters also fall under this category because exposure can occur while working around older asbestos-contaminated homes. Many other occupations share a history of asbestos exposure as well, such as construction and railroad workers, auto mechanics, and machinists.
Asbestos & the Armed ForcesAsbestos products were widely used by every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, mainly for insulation purposes in buildings, aircraft, and vehicles.
But no other division of the Armed Forces utilized asbestos quite like the Navy, which found hundreds of uses for asbestos materials in its vessels and shipyards from the 1930s through the mid-1970s.
The need to supply World War II efforts caused a spike in demand, which led to increased production among the nation's shipyards. Over the decades, thousands of shipyard workers and Navy veterans who were stationed aboard the contaminated vessels were heavily exposed to asbestos, often in small places with little to no ventilation. For these reasons, veterans and shipyard workers have an elevated risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
Other Accounts of ExposureWhile most accounts of asbestos exposure occur in an occupational setting, accidental exposure is another way people have come in contact with this caustic substance.
For example, the World Trade Center attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 set an estimated 2,000 tons of asbestos into the air in the form of a fine dust.
According to a 2006 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, an alarming 62 percent of those caught in the dust cloud are coping with respiratory problems. Another incidence of accidental exposure was caused by the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history-Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane damaged thousands of older asbestos-contaminated homes, many of which remain standing today. Nearly three years after the storm hit, the area is still struggling to restore infrastructure and prevent asbestos exposure from the remaining asbestos-laden structures.