Asbestos: What makes it so special? What makes it so deadly?

November 13, 2018  |  Mesothelioma
Natural Asbestos Fibers

The mineral known as asbestos, the sole known cause of the deadly cancer, mesothelioma, is made up of threads so tiny that 80,000 fibers will fit into a single grain of rice. Yet, pound for pound, asbestos is stronger than steel. Here is a look at what makes this dangerous carcinogen so attractive to industry that the United States has yet to ban its use in some American goods.

Popularity in the Industry

Major asbestos production started with textiles. The development of steam engines as a primary source of energy, power and locomotion was made possible because asbestos packing was developed to protect internal piston rods, as well as nearby workers, from extremely hot steam. In the United States, the use of asbestos in steam pipe insulation made commercial manufacture of the covering quite lucrative; other applications for the “miracle mineral” followed in swift pursuit.

The vast number and variety of products manufactured with asbestos components eventually exceeded anyone’s expectations. At the height of asbestos production in the 1960s, more than 3,000 different types of commercially available products incorporated asbestos fibers to some degree.

It is Deadly

An asbestos fiber is 700 times smaller than a human hair. Each visible asbestos fiber is composed of millions of microscopic “fibrils” which are so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye. When released, asbestos fibers remain airborne up to 72 hours – and that’s in a room with perfectly still air; in a room with air movement they’ll stay afloat much longer — until they eventually settle onto the soil – or into your carpet or clothes. When asbestos is crushed or abraded, it does not make ordinary dust. Asbestos fibrils are too small to see, feel or taste. Asbestos fibers penetrate cells in the lining of the lungs and become stuck there. The body’s defense mechanisms build up scar tissue around them, which can eventually restrict breathing.

Asbestos fibers can also be ingested. Workers who eat their lunch in asbestos-contaminated areas every day for weeks or months, or even years, can cumulatively ingest millions of the microscopic fibers. While the rest of a worker’s lunch breaks down during the digestion process, eventually being evacuated from the body, asbestos fibers typically do not. Strong and slender, the tiny spears penetrate the cell tissues of the digestive tract where they fester for years before building up enough scar tissue and create a cancerous tumor.

Is It Banned?

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. In 1989 the EPA issued a rule under Section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TCSA) banning most asbestos products in the United States. However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the rule in 1991, after asbestos industry lobbyists argued that there was doubt about its deadliness.

Despite the EPA’s inability to get asbestos fully banned in the United States, a number of products containing asbestos have been outlawed in America under a variety of federal injunctions, including corrugated paper, rollboard and flooring felt, all of which were prohibited under the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1989. 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.

But many 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. This bodes ill for construction workers and others who might be exposed to the deadly fiber in locations where employers do not enforce workplace safety laws or fail to disclose that material their employees are working with contains asbestos.

Take Action

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and are considering filing a lawsuit, it is important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. Baron & Budd can help. Contact us online or call us at 855-280-7664 for a confidential evaluation and to learn more about your legal options.

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