WHAT IS ASBESTOS?
Asbestos refers to a specific group of six naturally occurring minerals, which are made up of fine fibrous crystals sharing common attributes (asbestiform habit). Asbestos fibers are long, thin, strong and flexible, making them a desirable ingredient in a wide range of compounds with many applications. Known to increase durability, resist heat and electricity and to absorb sound, asbestos was once referred to as the“miracle mineral” and used as an ingredient in products ranging from joint compound to insulation.
Throughout the 20th century, asbestos has suffered a cataclysmic fall from grace. No longer known as the “miracle mineral,” asbestos is now considered to be one of the world’s deadliest substances.
Asbestos is highly carcinogenic and is known to cause ovarian cancer, laryngeal cancer, clubbed fingers, asbestosis and lung cancer. It is also the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare, devastating cancer with no cure.
Types of Asbestos Exposure
OCCUPATIONAL ASBESTOS EXPOSURE
Since the 19th century, extensive use of asbestos in factories, shipyards and dozens of other industrial settings has polluted countless job sites with airborne fibers. The most common way an individual is exposed to asbestos is in their work environment – general, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, insulators, boilermakers, bricklayers, ironworkers, and mechanics tend to have high levels of exposure. Jobs like mining, pouring and mixing raw asbestos release deadly clouds of asbestos dust into the air. Workers have also suffered asbestos exposure while servicing asbestos-containing 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 exposure and mesothelioma, many are not aware that not only are those who work around asbestos at risk, but their family members as well. When these workers go home for the day, they risk bringing deadly asbestos fibers home with them. Family members often have no idea that their loved one may have asbestos fibers trapped in their hair and clothing, which means household chores such as doing laundry, or simply being around this loved one, can lead to secondary asbestos exposure.
ENVIRONMENTAL ASBESTOS EXPOSURE
Environmental asbestos exposure is caused by exposure to naturally occurring asbestos or to environmental pollution. Individuals living in close proximity to asbestos mining operations and to asbestos-related industries have the highest risk of exposure. The second area of environmental asbestos exposure is related to para-occupational exposure as it is similarly tied to the extraction, processing or industrial use of asbestos. Numerous residential communities that provide the workers for these industries also can be subject to neighborhood contamination from these commercial enterprises. Exposures from these point sources can occur via airborne emissions through loading, processing, ventilation, or waste disposal activities or via the local use of waste products from the facility (e.g., mine tailings) for roads, soil amendments or other purposes.