What is asbestos, and why is it dangerous?

If you have ever worked in a building or lived in a North Carolina home constructed before 1978, you’re at risk for certain adverse health conditions. The same is true if you’ve worked in an auto mechanics shop, on a railroad or in a naval shipyard. If you’ve worked in a textile factory, such risks apply to you, as well. Each of these places is known to be a high-risk area for asbestos.

The science and medical industries have learned a lot about asbestos through the years. One thing that’s certain is that no amount of exposure to these microscopic fibers is safe. Learning more about asbestos can help you improve safety and can also help you navigate terminal illness if a doctor has already diagnosed you with an asbestos-related disease.

Asbestos is a singular term that refers to numerous minerals

There are six naturally occurring minerals that form bundles of microscopic fibers. These fibers are what we know to be “asbestos.” They are long in shape and made of fibrous crystals. Because asbestos fibers are heat-resistant, they have, in the past, been part of various fabrics or used in insulation in the construction industry.

The problem with asbestos is that you wouldn’t necessarily know if you were standing in an area where it was floating in the air. The tiny particles often release into the atmosphere. A person might breathe asbestos into the lungs, absorb it through the skin or ingest and swallow it without knowing. Once asbestos enters your body, it can cause several types of incurable diseases.

Asbestos is a human carcinogen

If you inhale, ingest or absorb microscopic asbestos fibers, they can become lodged in your lungs or other areas of the body. In time, this can cause severe inflammation and irritation of the lining of your lungs, abdomen or heart. It often develops into asbestosis or mesothelioma — two terminal diseases that are slow in developing but lethal over time.

Even after a brief exposure to asbestos, you might contract a terminal illness. It could take as long as 10 to 40 years for symptoms to show. Such symptoms typically include chest or abdominal pain, a lingering cough, unexplained weight loss or lack of appetite, difficulty breathing or swallowing and extreme fatigue.

What is secondary exposure?

You might be at risk for an asbestos-related illness even if you did not have exposure to the fibers firsthand. Perhaps your spouse worked in a factory and would give you a hug each day upon arriving home before changing clothes or showering. If there is asbestos on his or her clothing, you face exposure to it each day.

This is especially dangerous when there are infants or young children in the house. Anyone who works in an area where there is a known asbestos risk should shower and change clothes before greeting any family members at home. Sadly, in many cases, employers were aware of asbestos problems but failed to disclose it to employees, thus placing them in harm’s way. In fact, there are numerous class-action lawsuits in North Carolina and throughout the country where people who have contracted asbestos-caused illnesses are seeking restitution from liable parties.