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Does asbestos still pose a health hazard?

Most in people in North Carolina are aware that exposure to asbestos fibers can cause various kinds of serious lung diseases, but the risk seems to have disappeared. The use of asbestos in products such as pipe insulation, shingles, and brake linings regularly made headlines in the 1970s and 1980, but those headlines seem to have largely vanished. Does that mean that asbestos is no longer a hazard?

According to a booklet published by the North Carolina Department of Labor, the answer is an unambiguous "no." Very few asbestos-containing products are still being installed or used, but workers engaged in building demolition or renovation are still at risk from asbestos-containing products that were installed before the health risks of asbestos became widely known. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") estimates that approximately 3.2 million workers across the country work in buildings that contain various asbestos products.

OSHA has created standards to control asbestos exposure for various types of work. These standards separate jobs into four classes based on the risk of asbestos exposure. The most hazardous type of work is the removal of asbestos heat insulation and asbestos-containing materials applied with a trowel. The least hazardous occupation is custodial activities where employees are required to clean up asbestos debris.

Both OSHA and the North Carolina Department of Labor have promulgated safety procedures for the kinds of work that involve exposure to asbestos fibers. However, many employers are either unaware of the standards or fail to take the required safety measures. Consequently, workers are still being exposed to airborne asbestos fibers and the severe asbestos-related diseases that can result. Any person who believes that he or she was subject to asbestos fiber exposure while working should consult a physician for a thorough examination. If the exam detects any of the diseases that can be caused by asbestos fibers - mesothelioma, asbestos, and forms of internal cancers - a lawyer with experience in evaluating and prosecuting asbestos claims should be consulted for an evaluation of whether such a claim should be pursued.

Source: North Carolina Department of Labor, "A Guide to Asbestos for Industry," accessed on March 3, 2015

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