Many people know asbestos as the material that is the cause of mesothelioma and a number of other serious asbestos-related diseases, but far fewer are aware of exactly what asbestos is, or of its extensive history of use. The mineral has been used for thousands of years and has been valued for its many beneficial characteristics, including its strength and its resistance to fire and heat. Though there is evidence that it was used in what is now Finland as long as 4,500 years ago, its most extensive use came with the introduction of the Industrial Age, when it began to be mined in great quantities for use by builders and manufacturers.
Asbestos is a natural material that is sourced from three different types of rocks: serpentinite, matic and ultramatic. When these rocks are mined and then crushed, the fibrous asbestos material is extracted from it. Asbestos fibers are very inexpensive, and when combined with other materials such as fabric, steel, or cement it makes them strong, durable, and resistant to heat. Asbestos applications have included sound insulation, fire and heat insulation, building construction, electrical insulation and more.
Suspicions about asbestos’ safety were raised as long ago as Ancient Roman times when Pliny the Elder first made reference to the fact that slaves working with the material became ill, and in modern times the first asbestos-related death was documented in 1906. Studies into the substance’s safety began being conducted, and evidence has shown that asbestos industry officials were aware of its irrefutable dangers as early as the 1930s, but that they kept the information secret in order to continue its use. It has been estimated that over 100,000 people in the United States died as a result of exposure to asbestos in the shipbuilding industry alone: roughly 12,000 to 15,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases today.
If you have been exposed to asbestos and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you may be eligible to receive substantial compensation from the $30 billion asbestos trust funds or by filing a mesothelioma lawsuit. Contact us today and file an expedited asbestos claim or request our free Financial Compensation Information Packet to learn more.
Types of Asbestos
Asbestos is actually a broad term that is used to describe six different minerals that fall into the same category. One of these six, chrysotile asbestos, is classified as being made up of serpentine fibers which are curly, and the other five are of the amphibole class, which are shaped like needles and are pointy at both ends. Each of these six types of asbestos has similar characteristics: all are comprised of tiny fibers that easily become embedded in the cells of the human body when ingested or inhaled, and all have been determined to be human carcinogens which cause cancer. Not all of these asbestos types were used commercially. The six are:
- Actinolite – Actinolite was not frequently used for commercial applications, though it was occasionally found to be present in some sealants, drywall, paint products, and toys. When actinolite breaks down fibers are easily inhaled and ingested. It has been specifically associated with diagnoses of mesothelioma and lung cancer.
- Amosite – Amosite, which is also known as “brown” asbestos, was frequently used in commercial applications. It has been referred to as one of the deadliest of the asbestos products by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It was most the second most commonly used asbestos and was found in motor industry plastics, spray coatings, thermal insulation products, and spray coatings.
- Anthophyllite – Anthophyllite was not as commonly used in the United States, in part because it was largely mined in Finland and Japan. It was used in asbestos-cement and for roofing material and insulation.
- Chrysotile – Chrysotile is the only serpentine asbestos, and it is the one that is most associated with malignant mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer. Also known as white asbestos, chrysotile was used to make shingles, pipes, and textiles, as well as in brake pads for automobiles and trucks, asphalt, and rubber sealants. The EPA has called chrysotile one of the deadliest of the asbestos types.
- Crocidolite – Though crocidolite was the least-frequently-used of all of the asbestos types, it has the distinction of being known as the most deadly of the amphibole category. Miners who extracted the material from the ground were at particular risk, and the EPA indicates that at least 18% of them died as a result of their exposure to the hazardous material. It is also known as blue asbestos and was mostly sourced from South Africa and Australia, where it was used to make cement.
- Tremolite – Tremolite is another type of asbestos that was not commercially popular, though it has been identified in some talcum powders. Its main use was in making products that also contained vermiculite, such as acoustic panels and high-temperature insulation.
Despite the dangers posed by asbestos, it is still in use in the United States today, though to a much more limited degree than prior to the discovery of its dangers. Many companies found alternative materials to use because of its health risks and the fear of liability, while others continue to use it under strict supervision and regulations regarding its use. Asbestos also continues to be present in buildings that were constructed prior to the mid-1980s, including homes, office buildings and schools, where it was frequently used in ceiling and floor tiles, insulation around pipes and boilers, and in drywall joint compound, tape and other applications. The material is considered to be safe when it is contained and intact, but once it becomes friable, or broken down, it becomes a serious health hazard. Those who are in close proximity to asbestos are warned not to disturb it, and there are strict regulations and controls regarding the removal of asbestos during renovations and demolition work.
There are specific rules in place regarding exposure to asbestos in locations where it is in place. Employers are required to limit the amount of time that a person can be within proximity to areas where it is present, and air quality measures need to be taken on a regular basis. They are also required to provide protective clothing to these employees, as well as monthly medical exams.