What is asbestos and how is it harmful?

While many of us have heard of asbestos, there are a lot of misconceptions about what exactly asbestos is and how it can be harmful. Nearly all uses of asbestos have been prohibited in the United States since 1989, but it’s important for people who live or work in older buildings to understand what the material is and its potential for harm.

Asbestos is a natural mineral that was once widely used in construction. Because the mineral has a high level of heat resistance and fiber strength, builders used it insulation and as a fire retardant. In addition, asbestos was used in a wide variety of manufactured goods, including floor and ceiling tiles, asbestos cement products, roofing shingles and paper products. It was also used in automobile clutches, brakes and transmissions parts and in heat-resistant fabrics, packaging and other materials.

In general, asbestos may be found in sulation in attics and wall insulation; vinyl flooring, patching and textured paint compounds; areas around wood-burning stoves protected by asbestos paper or other materials; hot water and steam pipes which have been coated in asbestos material or with asbestos tape or blanketing; oil and coal furnaces; and some other products, construction and building materials as well.

Asbestos fibers can be released into the air whenever asbestos-containing materials are disturbed during the use of a product, demolition work, building, home maintenance, remodeling or repair activities. When people breathe in asbestos fibers, they greatly increase their chances of developing lung disease. Diseases that can develop from asbestos exposure can include mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Because of the wide use of asbestos, a number of individuals can and may be exposed. The health effects of asbestos can be devastating for victims of asbestos and their family members which is why it is important for victims to be aware of legal resources and options available to them when they have been harmed by asbestos exposure.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Learn About Asbestos,” accessed Aug. 19, 2015