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What is Asbestos and why is it dangerous?

January 1, 1970 · FLEMING | NOLEN | JEZ, L.L.P.

Asbestos is a set of fibrous minerals which are known for their resistance to heat, resistance to corrosion, and high tensile strength. The fibrous nature of the minerals allows them to be manipulated and woven like cloth. For some time asbestos was known as the “miracle mineral” because of its wide range of useful properties. There are six minerals that are referred to as asbestos. Individually these minerals are chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite asbestos, actinolite asbestos, and anthophyllite asbestos. The most commonly used form of asbestos is chrysotile. While asbestos has been banned for use completely in many countries, the United States still allows the use of trace amounts of asbestos in some products.

Asbestos’s unique properties made it advantageous for use in many industries. Asbestos has been mined and used in North America since approximately 1880, but its use increased during and after World War II. Asbestos fibers were woven together or incorporated within other materials to create products that were resistant to abrasion, inert to acid and alkaline solutions, and stable at high temperatures. Asbestos was used for heat insulation, fire-proofing, and sound absorption. The ship building industry used asbestos to insulate steam pipes, boilers, hot water pipes, and nuclear reactors in ships. The building and construction industry used asbestos for strengthening cement and plastics. Further, due to its friction and wear characteristics, asbestos was often used in brake shoes and clutch pads in passenger and commercial vehicles as well as aircraft. Its resistance to heat also made it ideal for use by fire fighters in products such as thermal blankets. Asbestos was even found in cigarette filters and household cooking products. While the use of asbestos has been significantly curtailed, some industries still use asbestos in their products.

Unfortunately the fibrous nature of asbestos that made it so versatile is also a key component of its danger. Asbestos fibers can be vulnerable to slight pressure which can cause them break apart and enter the air. Individual fibers are quite small and invisible to the naked eye. Once the fibers enter the air they can be inhaled and deposited in the lungs. Exposure to these fibers can result in a variety of serious medical ailments including asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma. There may be no sign of these conditions for many years after the initial exposure asbestos. In some instances the latency period can be longer than 35 years.

According to the Occupational Safety And Health Administration, Asbestos is well recognized as a health hazard and is now highly regulated. An estimated 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry face significant asbestos exposure on the job. Heaviest exposures generally occur in the construction industry, particularly during the removal of asbestos during renovation or demolition. Workers are also likely to be exposed during the manufacture of asbestos products (such as textiles, friction products, insulation, and other building materials) and during automotive brake and clutch repair work. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains that there is no known safe level of asbestos exposure.

Malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis are very serious diseases. Malignant mesothelioma is a rare difficult to treat form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. The cancer is found in the covering of the lungs and sometimes in the lining of the abdominal cavity. The common late stage symptoms of the disease include sudden unexplained weight loss, chest pain, and persistent shortness of breath. Some people also cough up blood. Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory and fibrotic medical condition of the lungs for which there is no cure. These horrible diseases are an unfortunate part of the sad history of the “miracle mineral”.

Fleming | Nolen | Jez, L.L.P. recently filed cases in Louisiana and Montana for two asbestos victims suffering from Mesothelioma. We remain committed to helping asbestos victims obtain compensation from the companies that caused their injuries. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please contact the mesothelioma lawyers of Fleming | Nolen | Jez, L.L.P. for a free case evaluation and consultation.