About Asbestos Exposure

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the generic name for a group of six naturally occurring minerals found as groups of fibers: chrysotile, crocidolite, anthophyllite, and the fibrous forms of actinolite, amosite, and tremolite.

What are the different types of asbestos?

Chrysotile, the most widely used form of asbestos, belongs to the family of minerals known as serpentine and the other five forms belong to the family known as amphiboles. The forms that have been used commercially are chrysotile, anthophyllite, amosite, and crocidolite.

How is asbestos used?

Asbestos is still used in some products but was once widely used in many products utilized by various industries. Use of asbestos peaked in the 1960’s when asbestos was contained in at least 3,000 products. Asbestos has been used in insulation, floor tiles, door gaskets, soundproofing, roofing, patching compounds, hairdryers, fireproof gloves, ironing board covers, and brake pads, as well as for the insulation of many older homes, commercial and public buildings around the country, including some schools.

Why has asbestos been so widely used?

Asbestos has been applied widely in many different industries because it develops into long, thin, easily separated fibers that are flexible enough to be woven. The fibers are very strong and durable threads that are resistant to heat, fire and chemicals, and do not conduct electricity. The fibers do not dissolve in water and are resistant to heat, fire, chemical, and biological degradation. These characteristics have made asbestos useful in many industrial applications.

Is all asbestos dangerous?

Intact, undisturbed asbestos and undisturbed asbestos-containing materials (ACM) generally do not pose health risks but may pose risks if they are damaged or disturbed in some manner, or if ACM deteriorate over time, releasing asbestos fibers into the air.

What happens when asbestos is disturbed?

When asbestos is disturbed small fibers enter the air. These fibers can remain airborne for a long period of time and be carried long distances by the wind before settling.

How are asbestos fibers released into the air?

Asbestos can enter the environment from natural mineral deposits which have been exposed to the weather, and fiber releases arising from the application, disturbance and removal of ACM. Asbestos fibers in non-friable ACM are so tightly bound in the material that they are in, that they do not easily release fibers.  However, if the material is abraded, sanded or sawed, the material can easily be made friable and release fibers into the air.

What happens when asbestos fibers are released?

Asbestos fibers have characteristics that tend to increase human exposure to them once they are released. Asbestos fibers are odorless and largely invisible, presenting risk to persons who are not aware that they are being exposed. Asbestos fibers are durable and can exist for a long time in the environment while possessing aerodynamic properties that allow them to remain suspended in the air for extended periods of time.

Why do you need to be concerned about asbestos?

When microscopic asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs they create the potential for serious health problems. In addition, all forms of asbestos have been labeled carcinogenic. Asbestos fibers have no odor or taste and are often microscopic.

How do asbestos fibers enter the body?

Generally, asbestos fibers enter the body through inhalation or ingestion. Very few, if any, fibers enter through the skin.

What happens when asbestos fibers are breathed in?

When asbestos fibers are breathed in they can become trapped in the lungs. Most fibers are removed from your lungs a few hours after entering by being carried away or coughed up with mucus but fibers reaching the deepest parts of the lungs are removed more slowly. In fact, some fibers may remain in place for many years and some never be removed from your body.

What are the health risks associated with asbestos exposure?

There is considerable epidemiological data that establish strong relationships between asbestos exposure and various severe illnesses, including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer, as well as other non-malignant pleural conditions such as pleural plaques.

Does being exposed to asbestos guarantee health problems?

Asbestos exposure is always potentially dangerous but health risks are associated with the amount and length of time of exposure to asbestos.  The more prolonged and intense the exposure, the greater is the risk of developing a health problem.

Who is at risk for an asbestos-related disease?

Although it is clear that the health risks from asbestos increase with heavier exposure and longer exposure time, investigators have found asbestos-related diseases in individuals with only brief exposures. 

What factors affect the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease?

Several factors can help to determine how asbestos exposure affects an individual, Including how much asbestos an individual was exposed to, how long an individual was exposed, size, shape, and chemical makeup of the asbestos fibers, source of the exposure, and individual risk factors, such as smoking and pre-existing lung disease. 

Who is at risk for developing asbestos related diseases?

Most people do not become ill from environmental exposure, usually people develop an asbestos related disease after sustained occupational exposure in a job where they work directly with the material or through substantial environmental contact in which they are exposed to asbestos on a regular basis

Throughout most of the 20th century, asbestos was widely used in many industries and many of the people at risk for workplace asbestos exposure are those involved in industries which used asbestos until its use was limited in the late 80’s. 

Those at risk include former miners, factory workers, insulation manufacturers and installers, railroad and automotive workers, ship builders, gas mask manufacturers, and construction workers. Veterans have been exposed and more recently people involved in efforts at the world trade center rescue or relief efforts may have been exposed.

Family members of people exposed to asbestos at work also have an increased risk of exposure because asbestos fibers can be carried home on the clothes of the workers.

How long does it take asbestos related diseases to develop?

Generally, those who develop asbestos-related diseases show no signs of illness for a substantial amount of time after their first exposure. It can take 10 to 50 years or more for symptoms of an asbestos-related condition to appear.

What is Asbestosis?

Asbestosis is a serious fibrotic lung disease associated with high levels of occupational exposure to asbestos. All types of asbestos have been associated with the development of asbestosis.

Epidemiological data indicate that the incidence rate increases and the disease becomes more severe with increasing dust level and duration of exposure. But evidence also suggests that non-occupational exposure or low-level exposure causes asbestosis.

Asbestosis can both appear and progress many years after exposure. This scarred tissue impairs the ability of the lungs and heart to adequately provide oxygen to the body, so breathing becomes difficult. Blood flow to the lung may also be decreased and this causes the heart to enlarge. Asbestosis can eventually lead to disability or death in people exposed to high amount of asbestos over a long period.

What cancers are associated with Asbestos?

Those with long-term exposure to asbestos have increased risks of two principal types of cancer: lung cancer and mesothelioma. There is also inconclusive evidence that breathing in asbestos fibers can increase the chances of getting other cancers in other locations.

Lung cancer is usually fatal while mesothelioma is almost always fatal, often within a few months of diagnosis. Members of the public who are exposed to lower levels of asbestos may also have increased chances of getting cancer but the risks are usually small and difficult to measure directly.

Lung cancer is associated with occupational exposure to all the principal commercial asbestos mineral types. The latency period for the disease is generally twenty years or more after exposure. Most people who develop lung cancer die within two years of exposure. Asbestos and cigarette smoking together appear to work synergistically to increase cancer risk in humans. The most important factors to consider when assessing risk of lung cancer related to asbestos exposure is how long you were exposed to asbestos, how long it has been since your exposure began, and whether you smoked cigarettes.

Mesothelioma has been associated with occupational exposure to chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite. Epidemiological studies suggest that mesothelial risk rises rapidly with time from the beginning of exposure, and also increases with both intensity and duration of exposure. The latency period for the disease is generally between twenty five and thirty years. In almost all instance the disease is rapidly fatal with survival rates less than two years. There is no evidence that cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing asbestos induced mesothelioma. Cases of mesothelioma have also been seen in individuals without occupational asbestos exposure who live close to asbestos mines.

There is some evidence that family members of workers heavily exposed to asbestos face an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. This risk is thought to result from exposure to asbestos fibers brought into the home on the shoes, clothing, skin, and hair of workers facing occupational exposure.

Most epidemiological studies focus on long-term exposure but short term exposure seems to be dangerous. Many documented cases of mesothelioma have been linked to extremely brief exposure to relatively high concentrations of asbestos.

Do people who don’t have occupational exposure get sick?

There is evidence of adverse health effects from non-occupational asbestos exposure. Increased risk of pleural abnormalities and mesothelioma have been observed in families of asbestos workers, assumed to be due to fibers scattered from contaminated work clothes. Mesotheliomas have also been documented in populations whose only identified exposure was living near asbestos mines or asbestos product factories or shipyards with heavy asbestos use.

Is one type of asbestos more dangerous than another?

There have been more cases of Mesothelioma and cancer found in people working with Crocidolite than any other type of asbestos. Even though there appear to be fewer incidences of disease in workers who deal only with Chrysotile, all asbestos forms are considered carcinogenic and any asbestos exposure, especially sustained exposure, is considered dangerous.  

What are the symptoms of an asbestos related disease?

Symptoms may include shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, persistent cough, blood in the fluid coughed up from lungs, pain or tightening in the chest, difficulty swallowing, swelling of the neck or face, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, and anemia.

When will I develop symptoms if I do have an asbestos related disease?

The symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may not become apparent for many decades after the exposure.

How can I determine if I have an asbestos related disease?

The most common test used to determine if you have received harmful exposure to asbestos is a chest x-ray. A chest x-ray is recommended for detecting asbestos exposure only in persons who have sustained relatively heavy exposure. A chest x-ray is of no value for detecting evidence of asbestos exposure in a person whose exposure to asbestos has only been brief or transient. The x-ray can’t detect the fibers themselves but it can detect early signs of lung disease caused by asbestos.

A test can also be run to determine the presence of asbestos fibers in material rinsed out of the lung. Asbestos fibers can also be detected in bodily fluids but these tests are not reliable for determining how much asbestos is in your lungs since low levels of asbestos are commonly found in these fluids.

The most reliable test to determine if you have been exposed to asbestos is a search for microscopic asbestos fibers in pieces of lung tissue removed by surgery, a lung biopsy.

Wasn’t the use and manufacture of asbestos banned?

In the late 1970s, the use of asbestos in certain products was banned because the asbestos fibers in these products could be released into the environment during normal use. Others voluntarily stopped using asbestos in their products.

In 1989, all new uses of asbestos were banned, however, uses developed before 1989 are still allowed. The ban ended close to 94% of asbestos use but in 1991 part of the ban was overturned.

Regulations have been established that require school systems to inspect buildings for the presence of damaged asbestos and to eliminate or reduce asbestos exposure to occupants by removing the asbestos or encasing it. The regulations described above and other actions, coupled with widespread public concern about the health hazards of asbestos, have resulted in a significant annual decline in the U.S. use of asbestos.  Domestic consumption of asbestos amounted to about 803,000 metric tons in 1973, but it had dropped to about 2,400 metric tons by 2005.

Does the overturn of the ban on asbestos mean that there are no restrictions on the use of asbestos in the U.S.?

The court upholds portions of EPA’s rule that banned the new manufacture of asbestos-containing products that were no longer being manufactured in 1989.

If I think I have been harmed by asbestos what should I do?

If you have developed an asbestos related disease you need to get proper advice and guidance and the Law Office of Eric H Weinberg is here to help you. We can help you determine your next legal step and help you figure out whether or not you are entitled to any type of compensation because of your exposure to asbestos.

Fill out a Free Legal Case Evaluation and we will be sure to contact you.  You may also contact us toll free at 1-877-934-6274.