There was a time when asbestos was seemingly in everything. Among other things, it was used in building materials such as pipe covering, cements, gaskets, pumps, clothing, gloves, and shipbuilding materials. This was due to its durability and high resistance to heat and corrosion as well as the fact it could be so easily processed. Although asbestos was widely used, it causes several diseases and it has been a known carcinogen since the 1940s.
What is Asbestos?
Before we go any further, we should probably discuss exactly what asbestos is. Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring, fibrous minerals that have been mined and used by people for over 4,000 years. Asbestos fibers are incredibly durable and are known for their resistance to heat, fire, electricity and chemical damage.
Asbestos was commonly used for years in the United States in the textile, steel making, shipbuilding and construction industries. It hasn’t been widely used since the late 1970s, but it was so common that asbestos can still be found in the drywall and plumbing of buildings built before the late 1970s. It is especially common in buildings built between the 1930s and 1950s.
What Makes Asbestos So Dangerous?
Asbestos fibers are dangerous when they become airborne and are inhaled. They become airborne through the cutting of asbestos containing materials such as block, pipe covering and rope, and the manipulation, abrasion and disturbance of other products such as gloves, clothing and gaskets. Asbestos fibers are so durable that they can remain in the body for years, which causes the formation of scar tissue in the lungs, known as asbestosis. These fibers also cause cellular damage in the lungs and other organs that lead to lung cancer.
What Kinds of Cancers are Caused by Asbestos Exposure?
Of all of these cancers, mesothelioma is the one that is the most associated with asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma affects the mesothelium, or the lining around the body’s internal organs. It is usually seen in the lungs, although it can appear in other organs as well. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and abdominal pain. These symptoms usually don’t occur until 30-50 years after the victim’s first exposure to asbestos. There is no known cure for mesothelioma, but treatments are available to help minimize symptoms. Most patients diagnosed with mesothelioma die within 18 months of their diagnosis.
Because asbestos usage has dropped significantly in the United States, new asbestos exposure is relatively unlikely. However, factory workers, construction workers, power plant workers, chemical plant workers and workers who worked in the steel industry before the 1980s were exposed to asbestos. These workers’ families may also have been exposed if asbestos dust was tracked into their home.
[This post originally appeared on gpwlaw.com]