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Why does asbestos still pose a health hazard?

Most people in North Carolina are aware that exposure to airborne asbestos fibers can cause a variety of serious illnesses, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. These same people also realize that asbestos was identified as a health hazard in the 1950s and that efforts to eliminate it from the environment started in the 1970s. People now ask why, after more than half a century of asbestos litigation and clean-up efforts, does asbestos still pose a health hazard.

The answer begins with an understanding of asbestos itself. Asbestos is a mineral that is found in two basic forms, chrysotile asbestos and amphibole asbestos. Chrysotile fibers are curled and interlaced. Amphibole fibers are long and needle-like. Both types of fibers are strong, capable of being fabricated into many shapes, and - most importantly - heat resistant. The unique combination of properties made asbestos very useful as an insulating material and in heat-resistant products such as brake and clutch linings. Asbestos was widely used in many different applications from the mid-1800s to the present day. Perhaps the most common use of asbestos has been pipe and boiler insulation. It is almost a perfect product except for the ugly fact that it causes cancer.

The utility of asbestos as an insulating material means that it was very widely used before its health risks were understood and publicized. For more than 100 years, asbestos was used in ship building, industrial and residential insulation, roof shingles, cement and many more applications. For this reason, asbestos lingers in older buildings and industrial structures. As these buildings deteriorate or are demolished, the asbestos fibers are released into the atmosphere. While the sources of asbestos fibers have been greatly reduced, they have not been completely eliminated.

Anyone who believes that they or a loved one has been exposed to asbestos fibers should seek a medical evaluation. If the examination reveals one of the illnesses associated with asbestos, the next step is to consult with an attorney who specializes in asbestos cases. Such a consultation can provide an evaluation of the facts and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering and loss of companionship.

Source: American Cancer Society, "Asbestos and Cancer Risk," accessed on Feb. 23, 2016

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