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Consumers beware: asbestos is not just a concern of the past

While asbestos is a widely-known, potentially toxic material, not many people know exactly what it is, what it is used for and what sort of risks are involved when asbestos exposure occurs.

Asbestos is a group of minerals composed of silicate compounds that form into fibers. This fiber is very durable, but most importantly, is resistant to elements like heat and chemicals. It also does not conduct electricity, which presents perfect qualities for it to be used as an insulator.

It has also been used to strengthen cement or plastic. The versatile material has been used in the construction of adhesive, plastics, tiles, paints and many other similar products.

Information on the potential hazards of the material started to surface in the late 70s and manufacturers began to use the material less often. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered that no new products were to contain asbestos; the EPA also began regulating the product more closely from that point forward.

The main concern surrounding asbestos is that it releases tiny fibers into the air, which can get lodged in a person's lungs when inhaled.

As time progressed, the public has grown more conscious of this material, but that is not to say all buildings and products are asbestos-free. Because asbestos was so widely used decades ago, it is still around today. It is most common in older buildings that have not upgraded to a more modern form of insulation.

For more information about asbestos use and exposure, visit the National Cancer Institute's website here.

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