Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral which was widely used for insulation and fire resistant materials in construction, ship building, and automobile parts. It is a material used due its strength and ability to insulate and resist heat, electricity, and chemical attack.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned some uses of asbestos back in 1973¹. However, it remains inside millions of buildings and homes today. It still continues to be used in some products imported from outside the country, such as clutches for vehicles and brake pads.
Asbestos is fibrous, and when these needle-like particles are dislodged and become airborne, they are inhaled into the lungs, where they become embedded in the lining of the lungs, creating irritation and eventually, cancer. People also can be exposed by swallowing the fibers. Generally, those exposed to asbestos develop cancer within the first 15 years of being first exposed, according to the American Cancer Society².
Those working in shipyards, building renovation, construction, automobile industries, or near areas where asbestos is mined are at risk. Asbestos was widely used in these industries prior to 1970. It was prohibited from being used in ships in 2002 with some exceptions, and banned from all use in 2010³.
Those that live with people working in these industries are at risk due to the dust containing asbestos being carried home on them from their clothing and work materials.
Asbestos in the home
Your biggest risk of asbestos exposure may be from your home. In homes built before 1990, it is commonly found in:
- Furnace and hot water pipe insulation
- Floor tiles made of vinyl, including sheeting and adhesives
- Some types of loose fill vermiculite attic and wall insulation: look for particles of insulation that are gray-brown or silver-gold, fold like an accordion, and lays flat and firm, not fluffed up
- Popcorn ceilings
- Plaster, drywall and joint compounds
- Roofing tar, exterior siding, and shingles
If the material inside the home is left undisturbed, then the risk is relatively small. But for those who work as plumbers, insulators, roofers, or general contractors renovating buildings, handling insulation and other potential contaminants, the risk of exposure for them and their families is higher. You can find a list of occupations at risk of asbestos exposure here.
If you have a family member with lung cancer that worked or works in one of these industries, or if you have developed mesothelioma as well, discussing your situation with an attorney is important, no matter how long ago the exposure may have occurred.