Understanding Asbestos and Asbestos Related Illnesses

Asbestos is a type of mineral that is found in many different parts of the world. Asbestos occurs naturally in long crystal fibers. The fibers can then be broken down into smaller fibrous pieces. Asbestos has been mined and used for thousands of years due to its unique properties, particularly its resistance to heat. However, in addition to its amazing resistance to heat, asbestos has another property that has virtually removed it from use in the developed world.

Uses

Asbestos was used by ancient peoples to strengthen pottery and to make cloth that was impervious to fire. In more modern times, asbestos was used in a variety of building products (get an asbestos test kit to check if your house potentially has asbestos in it). Asbestos was used in wall materials as it added rigidity and helped make the wall resistant to fire. Asbestos was commonly used in exterior building materials, such as roofing shingles. Automotive brake components utilized asbestos as the material kept the brakes from getting too hot and reduced wear. Asbestos tiles were used in nearly every furnace from small home units to industrial iron smelting kilns.

Health Problems

While asbestos was a remarkably useful material, it was found to cause serious health problems. Asbestos crystals are strong but will break through normal use in products such as brake pads and flexible insulation. Asbestos in brick, concrete and wall board is also broken when the materials are torn apart. The dust created by the destruction of asbestos is easily inhaled into the lungs. Over time, high levels of asbestos exposure will cause a number of health problems, with the primary health conditions being mesothelioma and asbestosis. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that often occurs in the lungs for those who have inhaled asbestos over a long period of time. Asbestosis is the development of scar tissue in the lungs from abrasion caused by inhaling asbestos. The scar tissue reduces the efficiency of the lungs, limiting a lung’s ability to deliver oxygen to the body. Severe cases of asbestosis can result in death.

Asbestos Litigation

There have been extensive lawsuits in numerous countries concerning the impact of asbestos on workers in a range of industries. In the United States, courts have ruled that the asbestos manufacturers were aware of the health dangers of asbestos but hid the information from workers and the public. Lawsuits have put many companies out of business who were involved in the asbestos industry. The assets of these companies were liquidated and put into trust funds to aid those who suffer health effects from exposure to asbestos. In the United States alone, there have been well over 700,000 individuals who have made a legal claim against almost 10,000 different companies and other defendants.

Asbestos Today

Asbestos is used in only a small number of products in the modern developed world. However, asbestos is still mined in Russia, China and some other countries. Though the largest period of exposure in the United States was during World War II, asbestos was widely used into the 1970s. As asbestos exposures can take many decades to develop into asbestosis or mesothelioma, the medical community continues to diagnose new cases of the deadly diseases every year.