What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a natural mineral that was widely used across the United States as a heat-proofing agent, insulator and fire retardant before it was found to be carcinogenic. Asbestos is not illegal in the United States and is used in brake pads, HVAC panels, laminate flooring, air ducts, electrical panels, and many other things.

There are six types of asbestos, but the most common form is a white powder called chrysotile. Chrysotile asbestos is the type that causes pleural mesothelioma, although inhalation of these fibers is also known to contribute to the development of other mesothelioma cancers. 

Chrysotile asbestos accounts for about 90 percent of all commercial asbestos in the world, and is comprised of curly, long fibers that can lodge inside the body.
For decades one of its largest exporters was the town Asbestos, Canada, but Canada’s Parti Quebecois, the governing party of the Province of Quebec, halted production when it took power in 2012. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer.

Asbestos is one of the greatest public health threats of our time. Asbestos is a carcinogen that has been used for thousands of years and killed untold numbers of people. The Greeks, Egyptians and Romans all used asbestos in one form or another, and that use continues to this day.

Even though the evidence is overwhelming regarding the health dangers of asbestos, it has not been banned in either the U.S. or Canada – even though dozens of countries worldwide no longer allow its use. Asbestos has been linked to several often-fatal diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and others. Canada is one of the most prolific producers of asbestos, regularly exporting it to China and India.

Where Does Asbestos Come From?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is mostly found underground, although amphibole asbestos can be found in the ground soil of a few places including Afghanistan, Greece and Finland. Currently the largest exporters of asbestos in order from greatest to least quantity include:

  • Russia
  • Kazakhstan
  • Brazil
  • China
  • India

The largest importers of asbestos are India and China, where it is widely used in construction, manufacturing and other household goods.

Asbestos use is in full force in many areas of the world, particularly portions of Africa as well as Southeast Asia – despite the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than 40,000 people die of asbestos-related diseases each year. Here are just a few of the other disturbing statistics regarding asbestos exposure as well as diseases caused by the material.

  • Approximately 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in the U.S. alone, according to the WHO, with another 10,000 diagnosed in Western Europe, Japan and Australia combined.
  • According to the WHO, mesothelioma deaths may be severely underreported worldwide. The organization estimates that there could be one fatality not reported for every four or five that are.
  • The WHO estimates that 125 million people around the world suffer asbestos exposure each year.
  • The largest producers of asbestos are Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and India, according to this United States Geological Survey (USGS).

What Types of Asbestos Are There?

Scientifically speaking, asbestos is actually a group of six fibrous minerals: chrysotile, amosite, antophyllite, actinolite, tremolite and crocidolite.

How Small Is Asbestos?
Chrysotile Asbestos – This is the most common form of asbestos, accounting for approximately 90 percent of commercial asbestos use around the world. It has long, curly fibers that can easily become lodged in the body, even though asbestos supporters argue that it is not as toxic as other kinds of asbestos. Scientific studies, however, have confirmed that chrysotile is just as dangerous and just as hazardous.

Amosite Asbestos – Most experts believe amosite is even more toxic than chrysotile. Amosite is found mostly in South Africa and used most often for construction-related projects. It is usually brown with straight, short fibers.

Antophyllite Asbestos – Among the most rare forms of asbestos, antophyllite is mined primarily in Finland, although deposits have also been mined in Georgia and North Carolina.

Actinolite Asbestos – Actinolite is typically used to make insulation but it is also found in paint as well as drywall. The fibers of this dark-colored mineral are straight.

Tremolite Asbestos – Tremolite is usually found near chrysotile asbestos. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports tremolite that contaminated a mine in Montana was used in attic insulation in approximately 35 million homes in America.

Crocidolite Asbestos – Crocidolite is not used as much as other types of asbestos because it does not offer as much resistance to heat. It is blue in color and has extremely thin fibers that can easily penetrate human tissue. Experts consider this to be the most dangerous form of the material.

What is Asbestos Used For?

Asbestos is comprised of microscopic fibers that are highly durable as well as fire-resistant. Because it is strong and has a great deal of resistance to heat, it is the material of choice for several products, including textiles, automotive parts, floor tiles, roofing shingles and many, many others.

The construction industry has historically been one of the most voracious consumers of asbestos. It was so prevalent, in fact, that if you live in a home that was built in 1975 or earlier, there is a very good chance it contains the material. That is why it is critically important you have a professional thoroughly check your home from top to bottom to see where asbestos may be found – especially if you are planning any sort of remodeling project. The reason is that if tiny, nearly invisible asbestos fibers are disturbed they can easily be inhaled or even ingested, potentially leading to the development of an extremely serious disease.

Asbestos guide: A Four Part Series
This is a Four-Part Guide to everything you need to know about asbestos. From what it is, to why it’s used to what the dangers are.

Part I: Asbestos Basics
Part II: Asbestos and Your Health
Part III: 20th Century Boom in Asbestos
Part IV: Asbestos in the Home Today

Why is Asbestos Hazardous?

When airborne asbestos fibers enter the body through the nasal passages and throat they can easily cling to the soft tissue within a person’s respiratory system. Microscopic asbestos fibers become lodged in areas such as the inner cavities and the lining of major organs such as the lungs, heart and abdomen. Although small in size, these fibers are extremely rigid, and as a result the body has a very hard time breaking them down or eliminating them. There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos – anyone who inhales fibers will be at risk of developing one of these potentially fatal respiratory diseases.

Mesothelioma – There is only one known cause of mesothelioma, and that is the ingestion or inhalation of asbestos fibers. This is an almost-always fatal form of cancer that attacks the lining of some of the body’s most important organs – the lungs, abdomen and heart. Mesothelioma kills approximately 3,000 people in the U.S. each year.

Lung Cancer – While mesothelioma is the disease most closely linked to asbestos exposure, lung cancer is responsible for thousands of asbestos-related deaths as well. If someone has been exposed to asbestos fibers and also smokes, that person, according to researchers, is about 90 times more susceptible to lung cancer than someone who neither smokes nor has been subjected to asbestos exposure.

Asbestosis – Asbestosis is not a form of cancer but it is a serious respiratory disease nonetheless. When asbestos fibers are inhaled they can aggravate the lung tissues and lead to scarring. Symptoms include a crackling-type of sound when inhaling as well as shortness of breath. In some instances, asbestosis can lead to cardiac failure. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for asbestosis that has proven to be effective.

Other Cancers Linked to Asbestos – Asbestos use has also been linked to cancers of the kidney, colon, larynx, esophagus and mouth.

There are several factors that often determine how likely someone is to developing an asbestos-related disease. The duration and amount of exposure is one factor. Although, again, there is no safe level of exposure, those who are exposed more frequently are at a higher risk. Age is another important determining factor. The younger a person is when inhaling asbestos, the more likely that person will develop mesothelioma. There are many, many instances of children developing the disease later in life after inhaling fibers brought home on the clothing of parents who worked around asbestos.

Occupations at Risk for Asbestos Exposure

Since asbestos is used in thousands of commercial products, there are hundreds of occupations where workers are at risk of being exposed to the deadly material. Railroad workers, automotive mechanics, construction workers, power plant workers and plumbers are but a few.

Railroad Workers – People involved with rail track laying and equipment maintenance operations often encounter asbestos on the job, as do train engineers and operators. Yardmasters and conductors also suffer asbestos exposure on a regular basis.

Automotive Mechanics – Mechanics are exposed to asbestos when they work on several car components, including heat seals, brakes and many others. When these parts begin to disintegrate, asbestos fibers can quickly escape into the air and either be inhaled or latch onto their clothing.

Construction Workers – Construction is one of the most dangerous occupations – especially when it comes to asbestos exposure. Painters, roofers, drywall installers and tile installers are just some of the professions that carry the highest risks. Others include bricklayers, pipefitters, plumbers, demolition crews and many, many others.

Power Plant Workers – Power plants are full of machinery that generate heat and produce friction, and as a result contain insulation to prevent fires and overheating. Much of this insulation contains asbestos. Other products commonly used in power plants that contain asbestos include gaskets, blocks, plaster and others.

Plumbers – Plumbers commonly encounter asbestos, particularly when they are part of a construction crew that is performing a remodeling project. But plumbers who work on their own are also at risk when they work with thermal insulation, gaskets, valves, joint compounds and other materials.

Asbestos Exposure in the Military

As prevalent as asbestos exposure is in civilian life, it is even a bigger problem in the military. In fact, veterans comprise about 30 percent of all mesothelioma patients in the U.S. Asbestos was used in just about every facet of military life, from the housing in which enlisted personnel stayed to the trucks, ships, planes and tanks they used day after day. In the Navy alone, more than 300 products containing asbestos were used on a regular basis. But no branch of the military was safe – bases around the world were covered with asbestos-laden materials.

The Asbestos Cover-Up

For decades, asbestos manufacturers were well aware that their products were deadly, yet they worked to keep that knowledge from their workers and the general public. Some companies went so far as to order scientific studies of the dangers of asbestos, only to later claim ownership of those studies and keep them from being published. Other manufacturers simply opted to ignore the risks, putting profits ahead of the health of workers and their families.

Evidence exists that shows some asbestos manufacturers knew of the risks going back as far as the late 19th century. In 1918, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported asbestos workers were dying at an unusually high rate. Scientists in 1930 stated asbestos workers faced a definite occupational risk.

Filing an Asbestos Lawsuit

Even though the evidence continued to pile up, asbestos manufacturers pressed on and refused to admit how dangerous the material really was. Finally, workers began to fight back.

The first plaintiff to file a lawsuit against an asbestos manufacturer was Clarence Borel in 1973. Unfortunately, he did not live to see his victory in court. By 2002, approximately 730,000 lawsuits had been filed against about 8,400 asbestos companies. Some experts predict that the number of filings will ultimately exceed 1 million.

As a response to these lawsuits, about 100 companies have filed for bankruptcy protection, establishing asbestos trusts to compensate plaintiffs. The Government Accountability Office reports that the combined value of these trusts is $37 billion.

Read the asbestos guide for more information.

How Baron & Budd Can Help

There are no federal laws in regard to litigation involving asbestos so each state handles claims separately. It is imperative, then, that people contemplating filing a lawsuit hire an experienced asbestos lawyer. Baron & Budd attorneys have that experience, and may be able to help if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.

What is asbestos? It’s a killer – plain and simple. If you would like to learn more about potentially filing a lawsuit due to asbestos exposure, get in touch with Baron & Budd. Call us at 855-280-7664 or complete our contact form. We will let you know if you may qualify to take legal action against those responsible for your suffering.