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
The most common way an individual is exposed to asbestos is in their work environment. Due to the prolific use of asbestos in commercial and personal use products, determining exactly where and when exposure occurred can take some investigation. In general, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, insulators, boilermakers, bricklayers, ironworkers, and mechanics tend to have high levels of exposure.
SECONDARY ASBESTOS EXPOSURE
Individuals who are most likely to suffer from secondary asbestos exposure are family members of occupationally exposed workers. A good example of how this can happen is in a case where an occupationally exposed worker returns home with asbestos dust on their clothes. When the spouse then goes to wash the dusty laundry, they are inadvertently exposed to high levels of the toxic asbestos dust.
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.