What it is and how you could be exposed

Asbestos Explained

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fine, fibrous silicate. There are six types, and each contains similar long, thin fibers. Due to its strong, flexible characteristics, asbestos has been a desirable ingredient in a wide range of compounds. Known to increase durability, resist heat and absorb sound, asbestos was once referred to as the “miracle mineral.” It was used in nearly everything, from joint compound to insulation.

In the early 2000s, asbestos suffered a cataclysmic fall from grace. No longer considered the “miracle mineral,” asbestos is now classified as one of the world’s deadliest substances.

Asbestos is highly carcinogenic and has been linked to ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer, clubbed fingers and lung cancer. It is also the only known cause of mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Types of Asbestos Exposure

Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Since the 1900s, factories, shipyards and dozens of other industrial settings have been polluted by the extensive use of asbestos. Occupational exposure remains the most common way an individual is exposed to asbestos. General, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, insulators, boilermakers, bricklayers, ironworkers and mechanics tend to face the highest risk. Jobs that require mining, pouring and mixing raw asbestos release deadly clouds of asbestos dust into the air. Once the toxic fibers are airborne, workers inhale them.

Individuals have also been exposed to asbestos while repairing automotive brakes, cutting asbestos-coated cement pipes and applying spray-on asbestos fireproofing materials.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure

While most people are aware of the link between asbestos and mesothelioma, many are not aware that occupational exposure is not the only way to be at risk. When employees who work with or around asbestos return home each day, they often carry tiny asbestos fibers home with them embedded in their clothes. Family members often have no idea that their loved ones may have asbestos fibers trapped in their clothing. Anyone who washes or handles the exposed clothing is now at risk of dislodging the toxic fibers and inhaling them as well.

man with asbestos fibers on his hands
Asbestos Exposure to Power Plant Workers

Environmental Asbestos Exposure

Environmental asbestos exposure is caused by exposure to naturally occurring asbestos or environmental pollution. Individuals living near asbestos mining operations and asbestos-related manufacturing centers have the highest risk of exposure. Para-occupational exposure often involves the extraction, processing or industrial use of asbestos. Numerous residential communities that provide the employees for these industries face a higher risk as well. Exposure from these point sources can occur via airborne emissions through loading, processing, ventilation, waste disposal activities or the local use of waste products from the facility (e.g., mine tailings) for roads, soil amendments and other purposes.