The Dangers of Asbestos

The industrial revolution popularized asbestos as people sought ways to make buildings and products less susceptible to fire and electrical damage. The fire, chemical, and electrical resistant properties of asbestos had been known since the times of ancient Greece, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that its use became widespread.

Asbestos is a common, naturally occurring mineral that can easily be broken apart with finger pressure. There are large natural deposits of asbestos found in populated areas around the world. Asbestos was used in many building materials including insulation, acoustic ceiling treatments, pipes, floor tiles, adhesives, roofing tar and shingles, siding, and even added to concrete. Products like fire blankets, fire-fighter clothing, ironing board covers, and even cigarette filters were made with asbestos. During World War II shipbuilding exposed millions of workers to asbestos as they coated engine and turbine parts, boiler rooms, and other areas of the ship with fire-resistant coatings containing asbestos. Workers involved in mining and processing asbestos, construction, shipbuilding, and manufacturing before 1980 may have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos.

When asbestos fibers become airborne, they are easily inhaled and the fibers can also settle on surfaces and drinking water and cause damage when ingested. Risk of illness increases with the severity and duration of exposure, and symptoms may not appear for years or even decades. Today, asbestos can still be used in limited ways but the greatest risk is for workers involved in the repair and maintenance of older buildings.