What is asbestos exposure?

Asbestos is a rocky mineral naturally occurring in the ground all over America and in other parts of the world. In its natural, rocky state, asbestos is harmless. But unlike other minerals, asbestos can be crushed and torn into thin, soft fibers. In its silky, fibrous state, asbestos can be deadly.

Exposure to asbestos can cause irreversible lung damage, several kinds of cancers, and even a rare but aggressive malignancy known as mesothelioma that swiftly kills its victims. But what exactly is asbestos exposure? What are the signs and symptoms of asbestos exposure to watch for?

Exposure to asbestos occurs when the microscopic airborne fibers of the mineral asbestos are inhaled through the mouth or nose or swallowed. When a product containing asbestos fiber is crushed or abraded, microscopic asbestos fibrils are released, where they can remain airborne a long time, increasing the likelihood that you might breathe them or ingest them if you are anywhere nearby This exposure can occur where products containing asbestos are being installed, removed or manufactured.

Why is asbestos exposure dangerous?

The asbestos mineral is made up of fibers so small that 80,000 of them can fit onto a single grain of rice. Yet, pound for pound, asbestos is stronger than steel. It is the asbestos fiber’s strength that makes exposure to asbestos so deadly. Asbestos fibers typically enter the body by being breathed in while airborne. You cannot see or feel them, so you do not know you are inhaling a deadly mineral. Asbestos fibers penetrate cells in the lining of the lungs and become stuck there. The body’s defense mechanisms cannot break down the tough, resilient fibrils, so instead the body builds up scar tissue around them, which can eventually restrict breathing and cause cancer. Asbestos fibers can also be swallowed. Strong and slender, the tiny spear-tipped fibers penetrate the cell tissues of the digestive tract, where they might fester for years before building up enough scar tissue to potentially induce a cancerous tumor.

Health risks of asbestos exposure

Whether inhaled or ingested, the sharp, narrow fibers of asbestos become deeply embedded in the body’s cellular walls. They cannot be dislodged by our natural defense mechanisms. Over many years, embedded asbestos fibers can cause cancerous cells to develop in the mesothelium, a sac-like membrane that lines and protects most of our internal organs. This mesothelium surrounds the lungs and abdomen, two of the most common spots for malignant mesothelioma to develop.

Several serious health conditions can be caused by exposure to asbestos. The worst of these is malignant mesothelioma, pronounced Mĕz-oh-thee-lee-oh-mŭh, an aggressive and always fatal cancer that typically kills its victims within 6-18 months of diagnosis.


Some of the cancers that can be caused by exposure to asbestos include:

  • Carcinoma of the lung
  • Carcinoma of the larynx
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Pleural mesothelioma
  • Peritoneal mesothelioma
  • Pericardial mesothelioma
  • Testicular mesothelioma

Other Diseases

In addition to cancer, exposure to asbestos can also cause other diseases, which can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. Some of the other diseases caused by exposure to asbestos include:

  • Pleural Plaques
  • Diffuse Pleural Thickening
  • Asbestosis

Signs and symptoms of asbestos exposure

Microscopic asbestos fibers, once taken in through breath or swallowed, cannot easily be broken down, destroyed or removed by the body’s natural defenses. When asbestos is inhaled or ingested, its needle-like points burrow deep into the linings of the lungs and other internal organs, where they can fester for years, decades even, before any signs or symptoms of asbestos disease occur.

Asbestos fibers are sturdy and virtually indestructible. The body cannot get rid of them, so it builds up scar tissue around each fiber. The slow evolution that transforms millions of embedded microscopic fibers into a mass of scar tissue capable of inducing a cancerous tumor is a long one, typically taking from ten to 70 years.

Below are some of the asbestos exposure symptoms that can occur with each type of asbestos disease:

Pleural Plaques

Pleural Plaques — While only from five to fifteen percent of people who worked with and around asbestos will develop uncalcified pleural plaques twenty years after their first exposure, the number of people who develop calcified (meaning hardened and stiff) pleural plaques after thirty years jumps to between a third to half of all workers exposed to asbestos. While plaques themselves do not cause lung cancer, some studies have shown that people who are diagnosed with pleural plaques are more likely to develop lung cancer and should therefore be screened regularly for changes to their lungs.

Diffuse Pleural Thickening

Diffuse Pleural Thickening — Diffuse pleural thickening can begin to occur in workers within a year of exposure to asbestos, although generally it is not detected and diagnosed until 15 to 30 years later when calcification occurs and the fibrosis becomes easier to see on an X-ray. It is when an asbestos-exposed worker sees a physician for an onset of painful breathing or shortness of breath, which can be the result of a pleural effusion, that a diagnosis of diffuse pleural thickening is often made. Diffuse pleural thickening can cause significant consequences for affected patients: severe shortness of breath, chest pain and, in rare cases, respiratory failure and death from lung constriction. A diagnosis of diffuse pleural thickening is, fortunately, much less common than pleural plaques in asbestos-exposed individuals.


Asbestosis — All forms of the mineral asbestos have been implicated in the development of asbestosis. Typically, more than twenty years elapse between the time of exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms, which can include chest pain and shortness of breath. In patients with severe breathlessness, there can also be significant pain from respiratory muscle fatigue occurring as a result of the increased work required to inflate lungs scarred by fibrosis.

Carcinoma of the Lung

Carcinoma of the Lung — Shortness of breath, chronic cough, chest pain, fatigue and weight loss are the primary symptoms of lung cancer. These symptoms tend to arise late in development of the disease. An X-ray is often the first test to show tumor growth around the lungs.

Carcinoma of the Larynx

Carcinoma of the Larynx — A persistently sore throat, hoarseness, chronic coughing, enlarged lymph nodes, ear pain, constant phlegm production and difficulty speaking, or swallowing are all symptoms of potential throat cancer. Imaging tests, chest X-rays and barium swallows provide useful information about the extent and location of the cancer, but a definitive diagnosis is always made by conducting a biopsy of the tumor.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer — Most scientists believe that colon cancer caused by asbestos occurs when inhaled asbestos fibers are cleared from the lung during exhalation and then are inadvertently swallowed. These fibers eventually penetrate the gastrointestinal mucosa and can initiate tumor formation as the immune system’s defense mechanisms build up scar tissue around the fibers. Symptoms of colon cancer can include rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, extreme weakness and fatigue, prolonged gas, bloating, abdominal cramps and fullness, a change in bowel habits, a feeling that the bowel is not emptying completely, or no symptoms at all.


Mesothelioma — Despite different types of mesothelioma tumors and differing mesothelioma cell types, all forms of mesothelioma have in common their main cause, which is exposure to the mineral asbestos.

Pleural mesothelioma is the most common of the malignant mesotheliomas, accounting for about 75 percent of all cases. Pleural mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs, called the pleura.

Peritoneal mesothelioma develops in the lining of the abdomen, known as the peritoneum. This is the second most common type of mesothelioma, accounting for about twenty percent of all cases. Peritoneal mesothelioma is more aggressive than other mesotheliomas, spreading quickly from the abdomen to other parts of the body.

Pericardial mesothelioma is one of the rarest of the mesotheliomas. This cancer develops in the lining of the heart, known as the pericardium. Only about one percent of all mesothelioma patients develop pericardial mesothelioma.

Testicular mesothelioma develops in the lining of the testicles, in tissue known as the tunica vaginalis. It is the rarest of mesothelioma cancers, making misdiagnosis quite common.

Coughing, chest pain and severe shortness of breath from fluid buildup in the lining of the lungs, or distention, belly pain and digestive issues from the pressing of a tumor on organs in the abdomen, are possible symptoms of mesothelioma. Additionally, patients with mesothelioma can experience a range of emotional distress, from fear, anger, anxiety and depression to hopelessness and despair.

Where Does Asbestos Exposure Occur?

Your risk of exposure to asbestos in the natural environment, such as while out hiking, is low, since in its original, rocky state, the microscopic fibers which make asbestos so dangerous are not “friable” or airborne. It is only when asbestos ore is broken up, or fragmented, that it breaks down into microscopic toxic fibers that can be inhaled or ingested. In its fibrous state, asbestos can be deadly.

Asbestos in the workplace

As products containing asbestos rose in popularity before, during and after World War II, manufacturers began incorporating the toxic mineral into all sorts of industrial and consumer goods. Workers who toiled at the factories that made products containing asbestos, were exposed to copious amounts of asbestos dust on a daily basis.

Below are some of the types of industries where asbestos products were manufactured. Employment at any of these workplaces in the 1960s and 1970s might mean you have an elevated risk for developing asbestos disease:

  • Floor tile mills
  • Ceiling tile mills
  • Asbestos textile mills
  • Brake shoe factories
  • Wire and cable manufacturers
  • Gasket and packing manufacturers
  • Boiler and turbine manufacturers
  • Insulation manufacturers
  • Roof tile and asphalt shingle factories
  • Roofing felt and paper manufacturers
  • Plastic cement and roof coating manufacturers
  • Textured paint, plaster and stucco manufacturers
  • Cement pipe manufacturers
  • Pump and valve manufacturers
  • Millboard manufacturers
  • Drilling mud manufacturers
  • Furnace manufacturers
  • Cement siding manufacturers
  • Fireproofing manufacturers

In addition, workers in many trades were exposed to asbestos throughout the 1900s because they either used products containing asbestos themselves or worked in close proximity to those who did. Below are some of the trades that would likely have been exposed to dust from the use of asbestos-containing materials in their vicinity:

  • Insulators
  • Pipefitters
  • Shipfitters
  • Boilermakers
  • Crane operators inside manufacturing plants
  • Sheetrock finishers
  • Automotive mechanics
  • Steel mill workers
  • Steam plant workers
  • Oilfield workers
  • Electricians
  • Floor- and ceiling-tile installers
  • Roofers
  • Homebuilders

Asbestos in consumer products

From the 1950s to 1970s, the toxic, fibrous mineral asbestos could be found in numerous household products that were available to consumers from almost any catalog company, home goods seller, auto parts retailer or hardware store. Products as diverse as brake linings and clutch facings, ironing board pads and oven mitts, roof-flashing sealant and wall-patching compound, all contained asbestos and were widely sold throughout the United States.

Despite the EPA’s inability to get asbestos banned in the United States, a number of products containing asbestos have been outlawed here under a variety of Federal injunctions, including corrugated paper, rollboard and flooring felt. Pre-molded asbestos pipe covering and block insulation, as well as all sprayed-on asbestos materials such as fireproofing, were barred under the Clean Air Act in 1973.

In 1977, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned the use of asbestos in wall patching compounds and artificial fireplace embers. In 1978 the EPA banned pre-molded and sprayable asbestos products. But many consumer products containing asbestos fiber are still not banned in the United States, notably corrugated cement sheets, flat cement sheets, clothing, roofing felt, vinyl floor tile, cement shingles, cement pipe, millboard, roof coatings, automatic transmission components, clutch facings, gaskets, and friction materials such as disk brake pads and drum brake linings.

Asbestos in the home

Chances are, if you are living in a house or apartment that was constructed between 1940 and 1980, one or more products used in the interior of your home is likely to contain asbestos, a mineral now known to cause lung diseases and an aggressive, deadly cancer called mesothelioma. Asbestos was incorporated into all sorts of building products throughout the 1900s because it was inexpensive and provided strength, durability, sound deadening and insulating qualities, plus it was resistant to fire, corrosive substances and wood-destroying pests. Flooring, ceilings, walls, exterior siding, and roofs were typically constructed with asbestos containing materials. It is important to be mindful of the potential risk of asbestos exposure when you are renovating or repairing an older home.

Asbestos in the military

All branches of the United States military embraced the fireproof, corrosion-proof and soundproof qualities of asbestos products early on. Wanting to protect their service personnel from the catastrophic effects of fire in enclosed spaces, the U.S. military has been the nation’s largest consumer of asbestos-containing products since the late 1930s. Below, we take a look at how each branch of the U.S. military utilized asbestos components:


Navy — Asbestos was used heavily throughout construction of the Navy’s fleet of vessels and vehicles during World War II and after, many of which are still in use today. Asbestos insulation was used in boiler rooms, sleeping quarters, munitions holds and mess halls. Asbestos fibers were also incorporated into shipboard components from electric boards in the radar towers and radio rooms to centrifuge units in the sick bay laboratories, from shipboard armaments to the kitchen ovens in which the daily bread was baked.


Army – As the largest branch of the American military, the United States Army placed a high value on asbestos insulation for its inexpensive, fire-resistant properties. The lightweight, durable fibers were incorporated into cement boards, plaster and paint, floor and ceiling tile and numerous other building products used in the construction of military bases on American soil and around the world.

Air Force

Air Force – By the time the Air Force was designated an independent branch of the United States military in 1947, the use of asbestos products supplied by American manufacturers to the armed forces was widespread. Valued for its tensile strength and light weight, its fire resistance and superior sound and heat insulating characteristics, asbestos fibers were incorporated into all sorts of materials used in the construction of Air Force bases and radar stations on American soil.


Marines — The construction of forward bases in the mid-1900s required material that was lightweight, flexible, strong and resistant to heat and chemical damage. Asbestos fibers were incorporated not only into the buildings erected, but were also used in armored vehicles, aircraft, and the sea-going vessels that transported Marines into combat.

Coast Guard

Coast Guard — Members of the U.S. Coast Guard, like those in all branches of military service, were exposed to asbestos in the normal discharge of their duties. Spread across 48 states and in 26 foreign countries, the USCG has established more than a thousand stations from which to enforce maritime laws, protect coastlines and ports, perform drug and border enforcement, and effect water rescues, most of which contained asbestos building and insulating materials.

Household asbestos exposure

The fact is that secondhand, or household, exposure to asbestos was documented as early as 1960. By 1965, a case-controlled study had been conducted in London that identified instances of mesothelioma in patients whose relatives worked with asbestos, even though the patients themselves never did. North American studies conducted on women in 1978 and 1980 further documented the phenomena of asbestos contamination carried home from work by family members.

Microscopic particles of asbestos, which could be released by the millions into the air during installation or removal of many ordinary construction products, tended to settle onto clothes while workers toiled at dusty jobs, such as sanding wall-joint compound, mixing powdered plaster, sawing through floor tile, cutting roof shingles or blowing dust from a wheel well when changing brakes.

Deadly asbestos fibrils, so thin they can penetrate internal organs once inhaled or ingested, came home on the backs of the workers who labored at construction, factory and industrial jobs across America and the world throughout the 1900s, where their spouses and other family members collected the soiled garments for washing. The majority of female mesothelioma patients report having shaken out their husbands’ dusty work clothes before putting them into the washing machine, causing clouds of asbestos-laden dust to rise into the air, no matter whether that shaking occurred outdoors, on a back porch, or inside a confined laundry room or basement.

Secondhand exposure to asbestos can occur in other ways, as well. Neighborhood exposure to asbestos emissions from nearby asbestos-product manufacturing facilities or asbestos mines or proximate construction work involving asbestos, and also from using asbestos-containing products at home, such as during remodeling. But contracting mesothelioma from the laundering of a loved one’s contaminated clothing remains one of the most tragic ways in which women and children have been exposed to, and sickened by, this deadly carcinogen.

How Much Exposure to Asbestos Is Dangerous?

Asbestos becomes dangerous only when the rocky mineral is crushed or broken into bits, allowing the microscopic asbestos fibers to fly free of their solid mass and become airborne. In this fibrous state, it is known as friable asbestos, and that is when asbestos can become deadly. As a microscopic fiber, airborne asbestos can be inhaled or ingested. A diagnosis of any kind of asbestos disease means that you were somehow exposed to asbestos fibers. But exactly how much exposure to asbestos does it take to make you sick?

Short-term exposure

The answer is that no amount of asbestos is safe to inhale, and every kind of asbestos can cause lung disease. Amazingly, in those whose bodies have a propensity for asbestos disease, it can take only a single exposure to asbestos to start the festering of microscopic asbestos fibers in the lining of the lungs and other organs. The resulting scar tissue can continue building up around the embedded fibers for decades, and has the potential to manifest itself as any one of a number of asbestos diseases, including pleural plaques, diffuse pleural thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer, larynx cancer, colon cancer, and several types of mesothelioma.

Even brief or minimal exposure to asbestos can cause asbestos disease. For example, wives and children of workers who unknowingly brought asbestos dust into their homes on their work clothes (called household asbestos exposure) can result in a diagnosis of asbestos cancer many years later, even though the wives themselves never worked with or around asbestos products.

Long-term exposure

Asbestos cancer and mesothelioma are what are known as “dose-response” diseases. The more a person is exposed to asbestos, the greater the risk he or she has for developing the disease.

For those who worked in industries where asbestos was used on a daily basis, the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease grows proportionately to the length of continued exposure. Among 207 industries and 274 occupations across the country which were studied between 1999 and 2007 by the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eleven industries and 17 occupations were identified as having “significantly elevated” levels of malignant mesothelioma diagnoses among workers.

During the last century, industries in which prolonged exposure to asbestos could occur on the job include the following:

  • Building construction trades
  • Ship- and boatbuilding and repair
  • Oil drilling and refining
  • Industrial chemical manufacturing
  • Paper and wood pulp manufacturing

Occupations that produced an alarming number of asbestos disease diagnoses during the last century include the following:

  • Insulators
  • Construction workers
  • Carpenters
  • Painters
  • Sheetrock finishers
  • Chemical plant workers
  • Oil refinery workers
  • Metal and steel mill workers
  • Paper mill workers
  • Plumbers
  • Pipefitters
  • Pipelayers
  • Steamfitters
  • Drilling rig workers
  • Refractory workers
  • Welders

What To Do If You’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year in the United States. If you spent your career working in an industry that used asbestos, there is a chance, no matter how slight, that you might be eventually diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos disease. Once you or someone you love receives such a devastating diagnosis, there is much to consider. You might know that you were exposed to asbestos through your longtime job or you might have no idea how you were exposed to asbestos.

Diagnosis in hand, you have dozens of critical decisions to make about the direction of your future. Will you have surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? What actions can you take and what support can you put into place to maintain your quality of life going forward? How will you pay for expensive or experimental medical treatments not covered by insurance?


If you have worked in an industry where asbestos products were manufactured, sold or utilized, medical experts say you should monitor your health carefully for symptoms of asbestos disease. Anyone who develops symptoms of asbestosis, such as shortness of breath or pain with breathing, should see a family physician or lung disease specialist. A doctor should be notified if someone who has been diagnosed with asbestosis coughs up blood, loses weight without trying to, is short of breath, has chest pain, develops a sudden fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or develops unfamiliar, unexplained symptoms.

Asbestos diseases cannot be cured, but some of their symptoms can be controlled. Doctors do not know why the health of some patients deteriorates and the condition of others remains the same, but most believe the difference may be due to varying degrees of exposure to asbestos. People with asbestosis who smoke, particularly those who smoke more than one pack of cigarettes each day, are at increased risk for developing lung cancer and should be strongly advised to quit smoking.

The goal of treatment is to help patients breathe more easily, prevent colds and other respiratory infections, and control complications associated with advanced disease. Ultrasonic, cool-mist humidifiers and the control of coughing can reduce bronchial secretions. Regular exercise helps maintain and improve lung capacity. Although temporary bed rest may be recommended, patients are encouraged to resume their regular activities as soon as they can. Regular checkups with periodic chest X-rays are also recommended.


In addition to the essential tasks regarding health care set before you, there is another undertaking you must consider: filing a mesothelioma lawsuit. One of the single most important actions you can take to fight back against the corporations that willingly hid medical information about the deadly effects of asbestos fibers on the human body is to file a lawsuit against the companies responsible for your injuries. Nothing is as good a deterrent against corporate greed as hitting malfeasant manufacturers where it hurts: in their pocketbooks. There is much to consider about the legal process of suing the companies that exposed you or your loved one to asbestos. Here are some topics that will help answer your questions:

There are several important points to keep in mind when you are comparing the mesothelioma law firm of Baron & Budd to other law firms you might be considering to represent you. Some firms only say they handle asbestos cases, when actually they sign you up and then farm your case out to another firm. Consider the following crucial facts about Baron & Budd:

Baron & Budd Is a Leading Mesothelioma Law Firm

  1. We are an active law firm handling mesothelioma cases, not a so-called marketing firm.
  2. We were one of the first law firms in the U.S. to successfully handle a mesothelioma lawsuit.
  3. In the past, we have proudly contributed to worthwhile organizations like ADAO, IMP and NCCN.
  4. We had the one of the largest verdicts ever in the state of Texas and the largest verdict in the state of California in 2012, keeping in line with our history of precedent-setting verdicts.
  5. We have consistently worked to protect mesothelioma patients, fighting passionately against legislation that would limit their rights. We even helped to protect asbestos patients’ rights at the Supreme Court level.

The cornerstone practice for our firm has long been mesothelioma. The mesothelioma lawyers at Baron & Budd are still fighting for the rights of mesothelioma patients and their families today, more than 45 years after we were founded. Since our founding, we have had the honor to represent many notable mesothelioma patients, including Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, and football legend and actor Merlin Olsen.

History of Success

Time and time again, we have successfully fought many of the major asbestos companies, earning an unparalleled reputation nationally as a law firm that has a history of success both inside and outside of the courtroom. Our mesothelioma attorneys have, in addition to representing individual clients, worked to help create several asbestos bankruptcy trusts. These are not just accessible to Baron & Budd clients, but to all asbestos patients seeking funds from certain bankrupt asbestos corporations.

Actively Litigating Mesothelioma Claims

One of the main reasons Baron & Budd is different from other firms is that we handle mesothelioma lawsuits directly. You may think at first glance that a law firm that presents itself as an authority in mesothelioma lawsuits has attorneys on staff who handle these kinds of cases from start to finish. However, that is a misconception.

There are several law firms that merely advertise for mesothelioma cases and then “send” them to another firm for the actual casework. We firmly believe that this wholesale referral philosophy is not in the best interests of the client. As you speak to potential law firms, we strongly recommend that you remain aware of this practice and ask them if they represent their clients from start to finish or if they refer clients out to other firms.

Choose the Best

The mesothelioma law firm you choose to work with should have a long history of achieving positive results for their clients. When an asbestos company sees that you are being represented by an accomplished law firm, such as Baron & Budd, they are more likely to negotiate favorable settlements, rather than fight your case at a trial. It is also possible that some asbestos companies will offer favorable settlements before trial when they know you are being aggressively represented. Even more important is that the law firm you choose have extensive trial experience if a settlement before trial cannot be reached. It is essential that your mesothelioma lawyer is prepared to handle a jury trial and all the expertise that a trial by jury entails. Baron & Budd has the resources and experience to handle your case at all stages of a lawsuit.

If you are considering filing a lawsuit for your mesothelioma diagnosis, it is important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Contact us online or call us at 855-280-7664 for a confidential evaluation and to learn more about your legal options.