What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is the common name for a group of fibrous minerals that began to be industrially mined in the late 19th century. The properties of asbestos, including resistance to heat and electricity and the ability to be woven, make the material useful for numerous industrial, commercial and domestic applications. However, asbestos has also been linked to several life-threatening health conditions, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Types of Asbestos

Asbestos occurs naturally in six different forms: chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, temolite, actinolite and anthophyllite. Of these six varieties, the following are the most common:

  • Chrysotile – This is also known as white asbestos or serpentine asbestos. These fibers are curled, and the ends are not as sharp as other types. Because of this, chrysolite is not as dangerous, but it still poses a substantial health risk.
  • Amosite – Also known as brown asbestos, this variety is primarily mined in South Africa. Amosite fibers are long and straight with jagged, needle-like points. These fibers are considered very dangerous if inhaled.
  • Crocidolite – Also called blue asbestos, crocidolite comes from South Africa and Australia. It is the most dangerous form of asbestos.

History of Asbestos Use

Asbestos has been used for over 4,500 years. The first known use was as a component of cooking utensils by the inhabitants of what is now Finland. Around 300 BC, asbestos was thoroughly described by the Greek scholar Theophrastus. The origin of the modern term for asbestos is attributed to Pliny the Elder, a Roman who called the material asbestinon, a Latin word for “unquenchable.”

By the mid-19th century, asbestos was already being mined for use as insulation in the United States and Canada. After World War II, asbestos was a popular raw material for insulation and as a component of a variety of building materials.

After numerous reports of deaths linked to asbestos exposure, the use of asbestos has been severely limited by governments around the world. However, the earliest of these laws were implemented in the 1970s, long after millions of people had already been exposed. Exposure continues today as old asbestos fibers are stirred up in construction, demolition and remodeling projects.

Asbestos is still used today in some countries, even though it has been totally banned in most nations since the mid-1990s. It is estimated that over two million tons of asbestos was mined in 2010, with most of the current asbestos mines being located in Russia and China.

Asbestos Products

In the United States, most of the asbestos mined and used has been chrysotile asbestos. The EPA estimated that about 95 percent of asbestos in U.S. buildings is of this type. Some of the products that have been made of or that contain asbestos include the following:

  • Insulation
  • Plaster
  • Concrete
  • Filters
  • Floor tiles
  • Shingles
  • Caulk, sealants and adhesives
  • Brake pads
  • Clothing

Asbestos Dangers

The first documented case of a death related to asbestos exposure occurred in 1906. By 1924, the United Kingdom recognized asbestosis as an official work-related illness and enacted laws to increase ventilation for workers handling asbestos or asbestos products. Ten years later, the United States followed suit with its own set of laws.

In 1931, the term mesothelioma was first used, but this rare disease would not come to be associated with asbestos until the 1940s. During World War II, vast quantities of asbestos were used by U.S. shipbuilders. It is estimated that 4.3 million people worked in the shipyards during this time, and nearly 14 per 1,000 of these workers have since died of mesothelioma.

In the 1970s, when laws were being enacted to limit exposure, it was proven that industry officials had been aware of the dangers of asbestos since the 1930s but did nothing to limit the risk.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), 70 percent to 80 percent of all mesothelioma cases are linked to asbestos exposure at work. The people most at risk of developing mesothelioma are those who directly handled asbestos on a daily basis, but people with limited exposure have also been found to contract the deadly disease.

One of the reasons why mesothelioma is so dangerous is because asbestos fibers do not trigger the disease until decades after exposure. The exact mechanism through which asbestos causes mesothelioma is unknown. What is known is that it does not occur through a chemical reaction, which leads scientists to believe mesothelioma is caused through mechanical damage of chromosomes or the creation of unwanted signal channels.

While mesothelioma is the disease most often associated with asbestos exposure, other diseases are linked to the mineral. Asbestos-related diseases include all of the following:

  • Asbestosis – This disease is a type of progressive fibrosis of the lungs. It causes wheezing, difficulty breathing and uncontrollable coughing.
  • Pleural plaques – Non-cancerous plaques can form on the pleura of individuals exposed to asbestos.
  • Lung cancer – Lung cancer has been linked to asbestos exposure. Individuals who smoke and have been exposed to asbestos are the most at risk.

It is important that you contact an experienced mesothelioma attorney to assess your situation and prospective claim. You can contact the offices of Goldberg & Osborne today. Simply call 1-800-THE-EAGLE (1-800-843-3245) or fill out our online case form for your free, no obligation evaluation. We work at no cost until we win your case!


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