Last modified: April 5, 2021
Asbestos is a mineral that was incorporated into thousands of domestic, commercial and industrial products. Millions of American workers were exposed to asbestos throughout the 20th century, and every year approximately 39,000 Americans die of asbestos-related diseases.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has regulated six types of asbestos, but the mineral has not been banned in the U.S.
Though once contested, it has been scientifically proven that exposure to any type of asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer.
Information about Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos exposure is the No. 1 cause of work-related deaths in the world. Information about asbestos-related diseases shows lung cancer is the most common, followed by mesothelioma, ovarian cancer and asbestosis.
- Most asbestos exposure happens on the job when people work with asbestos products.
- Microscopic asbestos fibers can become airborne through work-related tasks, environmental disturbance or natural disasters.
- The human body can expel some inhaled or ingested asbestos fibers, but some fibers become stuck. Over time, these fibers cause genetic damage that lead to asbestos-related diseases.
Where Does Asbestos Exposure Happen?
Asbestos exposure primarily happens in workplaces such as factories, manufacturing plants, mills, chemical plants and power plants. Because asbestos was so widely used in construction materials, exposure can also occur in public buildings such as schools, shopping centers and government buildings.
Asbestos exposure has been a serious ongoing concern in the following places:
- Various locations and facilities in the U.S. military
- Superfund sites (highly contaminated areas)
Many workers who used asbestos on the job unknowingly brought asbestos home on their work clothes, shoes, skin and hair. Anyone who lived with an asbestos worker was at risk of exposure. This is called secondary exposure and it is responsible for many cases of mesothelioma in women and children.
Major Asbestos Manufacturers
More than 70 U.S. companies have manufactured or distributed asbestos products. Throughout the 20th century, these companies used asbestos resources to make a wide variety of products. At least 60 asbestos companies have filed for bankruptcy as a result of asbestos litigation.
Top U.S. asbestos manufacturers include:
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, more than 75 occupational groups exposed workers to asbestos. The workers most at risk of occupational exposure include:
- Construction workers
- Auto mechanics
- Shipyard workers
- Power plant workers
- Boiler workers
- Factory workers
- Industrial workers
- Steel mill workers
- Textile mill workers
Asbestos was incorporated into thousands of products before regulations were implemented in the 1970s. The most common products were used in construction, manufacturing and industrial work.
Common asbestos-containing products include:
- Vinyl tiles
- Asbestos sheets
- Flooring and roofing materials
Current Asbestos Use
Even though more than 60 countries have banned asbestos, data shows the mineral is heavily traded around the globe. The U.S. has not banned asbestos and it is importing more raw asbestos compared to previous years.
Asbestos legislation has regulated asbestos in the U.S., but the Environmental Protection Agency said in June 2018 that it would consider new uses of asbestos with a review process.
Past usage of asbestos continues to place Americans at risk of exposure. For example, New Yorkers were exposed to asbestos in the wake of the 9/11 attacks because asbestos insulation was used in the World Trade Center.
Asbestos resources offer scientifically proven information about the mineral including what it is, the diseases it causes and how you can avoid exposure.
Valuable resources and websites for asbestos information:
- Your Guide to Hiring an Asbestos Abatement Company
- Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
- National Cancer Institute (NCI)
- International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
If you think you’ve encountered an asbestos product, do not touch it or disturb it in any way. Call a licensed asbestos abatement company for their professional opinion and guidance.
If you’ve been exposed to asbestos in the past, monitor your health closely and tell your primary care physician about your history of exposure. Ask for annual health screenings for cancer and lung disease. Taking these proactive steps may identify early signs of disease and open the door for more effective treatment.
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