Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
The content on this page was medically or scientifically reviewed for accuracy and clarity by medical doctors, scientists, researchers or other subject-matter experts.
Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals composed of thin, needle-like fibers. Exposure to asbestos causes several cancers and diseases, including mesothelioma and asbestosis. Although asbestos strengthens and fireproofs materials, it is banned in many countries. Asbestos is not banned in the United States.
Did you develop mesothelioma several years after you were exposed to asbestos?Get Help from Our Free Guide
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of soft and flexible fibers that are resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion. These qualities make the mineral useful, but they also make asbestos exposure highly toxic.
Asbestos is an effective insulator, and it can be used in cloth, paper, cement, plastic and other materials to make them stronger. But when asbestos dust is inhaled or ingested, mineral fibers can become permanently trapped in the body.
Over decades, trapped asbestos fibers can cause inflammation, scarring and eventually genetic damage. A rare and aggressive cancer called mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos also causes other forms of cancer as well as progressive lung disease.Learn More Facts & Statistics About Asbestos
The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 legally recognizes six types of asbestos that fall into two categories: Amphibole and serpentine.
Amphibole asbestos fibers have a straight, jagged shape. There are five recognized types:
Serpentine asbestos fibers are curly. There is only one kind: Chrysotile, which is also known as “white asbestos.”
Although asbestos comes from all over the world, the main exporters are Russia, Kazakhstan and China. The toxic mineral was once mined throughout North America.
Asbestos may be found in large deposits or as contaminates in other minerals such as talc and vermiculite. Chrysotile asbestos is usually found as veins within serpentine rock.
While most commercial asbestos deposits contain 5% to 6% asbestos, some deposits, such as the Coalinga deposit in California, contain 50% or more asbestos.
Scientific studies show exposure to asbestos is linked to several diseases, including cancers.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. The mineral also causes asbestos-related lung cancer, ovarian cancer and laryngeal cancer.
Asbestos-related diseases require specialized treatment from experienced doctors. We’ve helped thousands of patients schedule appointments with top doctors, surgeons and oncologists.Connect with a Top Doctor
No amount of asbestos exposure is safe, but asbestos generally has the worst effects when a person is exposed to an intense concentration of it, or they are exposed on a regular basis over a long period of time.
Asbestos accumulates in the body with every exposure, and there is no known way to reverse the damage it causes.
Fibers are easily inhaled once they become airborne. It is important to avoid disturbing products that may contain asbestos. Additionally, people who live near naturally occurring asbestos deposits should avoid disturbing soil that may be contaminated.
The majority of patients with asbestos-related diseases are men in their 60s or older. This is because asbestos-related diseases have a long latency period, often taking decades to develop. They usually trace back to occupational exposure at workplaces historically staffed by men.
The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry shows about 27 million workers were exposed to asbestos between 1940 and 1979. Regulations have reduced the risk of exposure in the workplace, but a degree of risk remains for many occupations.
The U.S. military used asbestos extensively from the 1930s to the 1970s, especially on Navy ships, causing veterans to bear a disproportionate burden of asbestos-related disease.
Family members of veterans and other asbestos industry workers also have an elevated risk of developing an asbestos-related disease because of secondhand exposure.
Living in the vicinity of an asbestos-contaminated mine or processing facility puts individuals at risk of environmental exposure. Asbestos industry work sites have existed across the United States, such as in the town of Ambler, Pennsylvania, and at landmarks such as Grand Central Terminal in New York.
For example, decades of vermiculite mining near the Superfund site at Libby, Montana, caused one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. The ore contained traces of asbestos that contaminated the surrounding area for miles, eventually causing the deaths of hundreds of Libby residents.
Occupational asbestos exposure is the No. 1 cause of mesothelioma. Learn about the latest mesothelioma treatments, how to find top doctors and clinical trial eligibility in your free guide.Get Your Free Treatment Guide
When Americans are exposed to asbestos today, it is usually through renovation or demolition work on an old building that still contains legacy asbestos products.
A 2019 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule states manufacturers must seek government approval before selling discontinued uses of asbestos.
Hundreds of manufacturers used asbestos insulation in steam engines, piping and locomotives. Thousands of other uses later emerged, and companies began putting it in products such as boilers, gaskets, cement, roofing materials and automotive brake pads.
Microscopic asbestos fibers cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. Unless it is clearly marked as asbestos, the only way to detect asbestos in an unmarked material is to send a sample to a lab for testing or hire an accredited asbestos inspector.
Friable asbestos materials are easy to break or crumble by hand. Examples include old asbestos pipe insulation and talcum powder contaminated with asbestos. These materials are dangerous because they can easily release toxic dust into the air.
Nonfriable asbestos materials, such as asbestos cement slabs and vinyl asbestos tiles, are durable. These products keep asbestos fibers safely trapped as long as the products are undisturbed. Sawing, scraping or smashing the product may release fibers.
Some situations require the removal of asbestos-containing materials. But it may be safer to leave the materials undisturbed or encapsulate them with a sealant. Consult a certified asbestos abatement professional for the best advice.
Some jurisdictions allow homeowners to remove asbestos materials on their own. If you are considering DIY asbestos abatement, remember the following precautions:
Asbestos is not banned in the United States, but it is highly regulated. The asbestos industry has powerful lobbying organizations protecting its interests. The toxic mineral is still commonly used in Russia, China, India and Mexico.
Since the 1980s, manufacturers in the United States have largely phased out the use of asbestos, relying instead on several safer substitutes.
Polyurethane foam is cheap and effective for insulation. Construction workers can easily apply spray polyurethane foam to insulate and seal.
Amorphous silica fabric is a high-quality cloth woven from nearly pure amorphous silica fibers. Like asbestos, the fibers do not rot or burn.
Cellulose fiber is typically made from cotton, wood pulp, linen or shredded paper that is chemically treated to enhance it properties.
Thermoset plastic flour is made of a mixture of wood fibers and binders, such as egg or gelatin, which is hardened and then finely ground.
The history of asbestos extends back to ancient times, but in the U.S., the toxic mineral had its heyday in the middle decades of the 20th century.
From the beginning of the modern asbestos industry, doctors documented the lethal effects of asbestos exposure in scattered medical reports. As early as the 1930s, business executives also quietly researched the issue and found that asbestos exposure causes lung disease.
Asbestos companies made enormous profits by selling insulation to shipbuilders during World War II, and they expanded their business further during the postwar building boom. These companies even paid unscrupulous researchers, such as J.C. Wagner, who helped them deny any responsibility.
However, the publication of new information about asbestos and medical evidence linking the mineral to cancer could no longer be ignored. Labor unions began to fight back. American companies phased out most uses of asbestos in the 1980s, but it was too late for the workers who had been handling asbestos products for decades.
Asbestos manufacturers are held liable for the diseases their products cause because they covered up evidence of the health effects of asbestos and continued exposing workers and consumers.
Former employees are filing lawsuits against asbestos companies, and so are the workers who used asbestos products on the job. Family members who develop mesothelioma through secondhand exposure are also eligible to file a legal claim.
People with mesothelioma can be compensated through multiple legal options, including trust funds established by asbestos companies that went bankrupt.
Hundreds of thousands of patients and families have sought compensation for illnesses caused by the negligence of the asbestos industry. These claims hold the asbestos industry liable for the harm they’ve caused and provide much-needed compensation to cover medical bills and lost wages.
An experienced mesothelioma attorney can help you and your family through the entire legal process. Don’t let time run out on your claim. Connect with a mesothelioma lawyer today.Find a Top Mesothelioma Attorney
You should see a doctor if you develop respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms that progress and don’t go away on their own. Tell your doctor about your history of asbestos exposure and ask them to screen you for related diseases. If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is extremely important to get a second opinion from a mesothelioma doctor.
You are eligible for compensation if you were exposed to asbestos and develop mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis.
Companies that exposed people to asbestos were forced to create trust funds before filing for bankruptcy. More than $32 billion has been set aside for people with mesothelioma and their families.Access Mesothelioma Trust Funds