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How does asbestos product exposure make people sick?

This blog has included many posts about the acute health hazard for people in North Carolina, and other states, posed by the continuing presence of asbestos-containing materials in older buildings. We have also written about the hazards of asbestos product exposure faced by people who have worked in the construction, steam-fitting, ship-building and heating industries since the end of World War II. In this post, we want to return to the basics: what is asbestos and how does it make people sick.

Asbestos is a mineral composed of two types of fibers, chrysotile and amphibole. Chrysotile fibers are curly and form spiral shapes. Amphibole asbestos consists of needle-like fibers. Asbestos fibers have a high tensile strength, and they absorb heat without transmitting it. For these reasons, asbestos fibers were used in insulating materials since ancient times; during the last 150 years, asbestos fibers were used in pipe insulation, shingles, automobile brakes and clutch plates, floor tiles and other products requiring strength and durability.

Late in the first half of the twentieth century, medical researchers learned that the inhalation of asbestos fibers caused scarring of lung tissue. After the end of World War II, physicians and medical researchers began to suspect that asbestos fibers caused lung cancer and asbestosis. Laboratory research on animals and data gathered from human patients showed that inhaled asbestos fibers tend to stick to the mucus in the throat and that some fibers penetrate into the outer lining of the lung and chest wall (known as the pleura). Among the diseases closely associated with the inhalation of asbestos fibers are asbestosis and mesothelioma, an especially lethal form of lung cancer.

People who believe that they have been exposed to airborne asbestos fibers or have some of the symptoms associated with asbestos-related diseases should obtain a reliable medical examination. If the examination reveals the presence of a disease associated with asbestos fiber inhalation, a consultation with an attorney who specializes in product liability cases involving asbestos illnesses can provide an evaluation of the relevant facts and medical evidence. In addition, an experienced attorney can provide an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

Source: American Cancer Society, "Asbestos and Cancer Risk," accessed on Nov. 23, 2015

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