Asbestos

Asbestos is a highly durable mineral made up of tiny fibers. From the 1930s to the early 1980s, asbestos was widely used in many blue-collar industries and the U.S. military. However, people may develop mesothelioma if they breathe in or swallow asbestos fibers. Asbestos is still not banned in the United States despite its serious health risks.

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What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring material that resists exposure to fire, sound, water, and chemicals. It is composed of millions of fibers, which bind together to create a light yet virtually indestructible material.

Asbestos is mined from natural deposits around the world. Once removed from the ground, it is processed and developed into industrial materials. Asbestos deposits can naturally be found in countries like the United States, China, Russia, and South America.

Prior to the early 1970s, asbestos-based products were widely believed to be safe.

Since asbestos naturally resisted many elements, it was used to strengthen thousands of different products. In the process, dozens of industries — and countless jobs — came to rely on asbestos.

Asbestos was used in:

  • Buildings
  • Construction materials
  • Helicopters
  • Planes
  • Ships
  • Vehicles

Quick Facts About Asbestos

  • Asbestos is a natural mineral mined from the ground and used in thousands of products.
  • Asbestos was used heavily from the 1930s-1980s because its dangers weren’t widely known.
  • Asbestos is the only proven cause of mesothelioma, an aggressive and incurable cancer.
  • Asbestos use is heavily regulated in the United States, but it is not completely banned.

Types of Asbestos

Asbestos is often used as a blanket term when describing mesothelioma.

It’s important to know that there are different types of asbestos and that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classifies all types of asbestos as cancer-causing.

The Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986 (AHERA) identifies six different types of asbestos.

These types are:

  • Chrysotile, also called serpentine
  • Crocidolite, also called riebeckite
  • Amosite, also called cummingtonite-grunerite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Tremolite
  • Actinolite

These six types of asbestos belong to two main asbestos groups: serpentine asbestos and amphibole asbestos.

Serpentine Asbestos

Serpentine asbestos is the most common form of asbestos used industrially.

Chrysotile asbestos, or white asbestos, is the only type of asbestos that belongs to this group. It has fibers that are curly in nature.

Research shows that 95% of asbestos used for manufacturing in the United States was serpentine asbestos (chrysotile).

Serpentine asbestos was often used in:

  • Cement as an additive
  • Linoleum
  • Tile floors during the 20th century
  • Roofing materials used after World War II
  • Gasket materials for cars and pumps

Since chrysotile asbestos, or serpentine asbestos, is used much more often, the majority of mesothelioma cases are from this group.

Amphibole Asbestos

Amphibole asbestos refers to the other five types of asbestos: crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite.

  • Amosite, or brown asbestos, is found in South African mines.
  • Crocidolite, or blue asbestos, can be found in African and Australian mines.
  • Tremolite asbestos was a common ingredient in talcum powder.
  • Anthophyllite is formed by the breakdown of talc.
  • Actinolite asbestos is usually found in rock, including iron ore.

Amphibole asbestos fibers are shaped like needles. Research shows that it takes less exposure to amphibole asbestos to cause cancer, meaning amphibole asbestos can be considered more dangerous.

Thankfully, amphibole asbestos was not used as often as chrysotile asbestos.

Does Asbestos Cause Cancer?

Despite its many uses, asbestos is extremely toxic and can cause cancer.

How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma

  1. When asbestos products are disturbed, the fibers may be inhaled or ingested.
  2. Then, the asbestos fibers may lodge themselves into the tissue linings of various organs.
  3. Once the fibers become stuck, they damage healthy tissue.
  4. In some cases, this tissue damage causes cancerous tumors to form.

It takes decades of irritation from asbestos fibers before these deadly health problems become present.

Asbestos-Related Diseases

Outside of mesothelioma, asbestos has been linked to other diseases such as asbestosis and lung cancer. These cancers and diseases are responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year globally. None of them can be cured.

Mesothelioma

Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that can form in the linings of the lungs, heart, abdomen, or testicles.

It takes 20-50 years before the cancer develops, but once it sets in it is very aggressive.

Most cases of mesothelioma are not diagnosed until after it has spread to other areas in the body. This makes it harder to treat. However, if it is caught early on, patients may be able to live several years after their diagnosis.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a non-cancerous disease that causes lung scarring and breathing problems. This disease forms after asbestos fibers get trapped inside the lung. The chronic irritation eventually leads to scarring.

In cases of asbestosis, this scarring does not cause cancerous tumors to form. Instead, the lung gets progressively weaker and stiffer. This leads to painful symptoms such as a persistent cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

There is no cure for asbestosis, and treatments can only help keep the patient comfortable. Asbestosis worsens over time and can be fatal.

Lung Cancer

Asbestos can sometimes cause lung cancer if the fibers get trapped in the lungs. Cancerous tumors then grow inside the lungs and can spread to other areas.

Lung Cancer and Asbestos

Approximately 4,000 cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year are caused by asbestos exposure.

While lung cancer can be deadly, there are treatment options if it is caught early on. Lung cancer tumors tend to appear as growths, meaning that they can be identified and removed. This can greatly increase your survival time.

Other asbestos-related diseases include:

  • Pleural plaques
  • Pleural effusions
  • Pleuritis
  • COPD

Asbestos Exposure Risks

By the 1950s, many industries relied heavily on asbestos-containing products. Everything from drywall to hairdryers could contain asbestos.

The military also used asbestos products to keep its assets fireproof and durable.

In many countries, asbestos is the primary cause of work-related deaths.

Unfortunately, this is not well-reported due to the long latency period between asbestos exposure on the job and the development of fatal illnesses.

Were You Exposed to Asbestos?

Thousands came into contact with asbestos on a regular basis. Get a free legal case review to find out if you may have been exposed.

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Secondary Asbestos Exposure

Though workers and military service personnel faced a huge risk of being exposed to asbestos, there was also another lesser-known threat: secondary exposure.

When asbestos particles entered the air, they could settle onto a worker’s:

  • Clothing
  • Equipment
  • Personal items

When these contaminated items came home with the employee after work, their family members were at risk of exposure as well.

There are many stories of family members, particularly wives and children, developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases due to secondary exposure at home.

Additionally, secondary exposure affected worksite visitors, office personnel, and anyone else who may have been in or around an asbestos-contaminated worksite.

Asbestos-Related Occupations

Before the health risks became apparent, many different industries relied on asbestos materials. In the process, thousands of workers handled asbestos-containing products on a daily basis.

Some jobs with a high risk of asbestos exposure include construction workers and auto mechanics. These workers did not know this constant exposure would put them at a high risk of mesothelioma later on.

Those who served in the military when asbestos was widely used are also at a high risk. Much like they did with the general public, asbestos companies did not inform the military of the dangers of asbestos until thousands had been put at risk.

Asbestos and Construction

Asbestos could be found in dozens of construction materials since it is so versatile. During the decades when asbestos was widely used, construction workers handled these materials on a daily basis.

By nature, construction work kicks up a lot of dust. However, as asbestos products were used and installed, fibers could become airborne.

On-site workers who regularly breathed in this contaminated air were at risk of disease later on.

Construction products made with asbestos can include:

  • Drywall
  • Paint
  • Pipes
  • Plastics
  • Roofing, tiles, and shingles

Asbestos and Auto Mechanics

Auto parts often contained asbestos, so many mechanics faced exposure every day.

As mechanics installed, removed and repaired asbestos-containing vehicle parts, tiny asbestos fibers could enter the air around them. After decades of constantly inhaling these fibers, many mechanics are now falling ill.

Vehicle parts that may have contained asbestos include:

  • Brake pads
  • Clutches
  • Electrical wires
  • Engines
  • Transmission parts

Asbestos and the Military

For over 60 years, the United States military used asbestos products without knowing the deadly risks. Its use exploded during World War II and did not slow down until the early 1980s.

Asbestos was considered the ideal military-grade material because it was an excellent fire retardant and insulator.

It was used in many military assets, including:

  • Bases
  • Cars
  • Planes
  • Ships

The military didn’t know asbestos was dangerous until thousands had already been exposed. Much like they did with the general public, companies that sold asbestos products kept the military in the dark about the deadly health risks.

Today, thousands of military veterans who were exposed to asbestos are now being diagnosed with deadly cancers and other illnesses. These veterans may receive health care benefits by filing a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Compensation for Veterans

You bravely served our country — that’s why we’re proud to offer legal support to U.S. military veterans. Start a free case review now.

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Army

Though anyone who served in the Army when asbestos was widely used could have been exposed, some were in more danger than others. In particular, Army construction workers and mechanics often faced daily asbestos exposure.

Asbestos could be found in Army assets such as:

  • Bases and barracks
  • Infrastructure, plumbing, and piping
  • Tanks
  • Vehicle components

As Army personnel worked to build and repair these assets, they could easily cause asbestos fibers to enter the air surrounding them.

Navy

The Navy used more asbestos products than any other branch of the military. Many ships were lined from tip to stern with asbestos, and many different types of Navy equipment also contained asbestos.

On Navy ships, asbestos could be found in:

  • Boiler rooms
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Cement products
  • Engines and engine rooms
  • Pipes

Many Navy ships were cramped, meaning that asbestos fibers could linger in the air longer if disturbed. Navy service members spent months or years serving aboard these vessels, putting them at constant risk.

Air Force

The Air Force used asbestos products to prevent its planes, helicopters, and ships from catching on fire. Asbestos was thought of as a perfect solution since it was lightweight and resisted flame extremely well.

Common Air Force plane parts that contained asbestos included:

  • Engines
  • Fuel line coverings
  • Gaskets and seals
  • Insulation for cabins and cargo bays
  • Sealants

In addition to planes, many Air Force bases and living quarters were also built with asbestos, making the mineral almost inescapable. Navy personnel who worked to build these ships had an incredibly high risk, as they directly handled asbestos products every day.

Marines

Marines could work in any environment, meaning that they could be at risk of asbestos exposure from many different places. Marines who served aboard Navy ships for long periods of time ran a high risk, as did those who worked in shipyards.

However, Marines also could be exposed through the living quarters, vehicles, and planes they used.

Since asbestos use was so widespread, most Marines were exposed no matter where they served.

Coast Guard

Since the Coast Guard uses boats, planes, and helicopters to conduct high-risk missions, asbestos was essential. Asbestos resisted both fire and water, so these assets would last longer and resist both the elements and enemy attacks.

Unfortunately, Coast Guard service members could inhale asbestos fibers on a daily basis due to this widespread use.

Those who had to repair the Coast Guard’s ships and aircraft had an especially high risk, as they had to directly handle the asbestos-containing products.

Well-Known Asbestos Companies

Companies have been using asbestos in their products since the 1880s.

Some asbestos companies are out of business and have trust funds set up to pay for future mesothelioma settlements. Other asbestos companies may still be in business.

The biggest asbestos companies include WR Grace, Johns-Manville, Owens Corning Fibreboard, United States Gypsum, and Garlock Sealing Technologies.

The companies listed below produced and/or sold asbestos-containing products:

  • A&I Corporation
  • A-Best Products
  • AC&S
  • API, Inc.
  • A.P. Green Industries
  • Armstrong World Industries
  • ASARCO LLC
  • Babcock and Wilcox Company
  • Burns and Roe
  • C. E. Thurston and Sons
  • Combustion Engineering
  • Congoleum Corporation
  • DII Industries, LLC
  • Eagle-Picher Industries
  • EJ Bartells Company
  • Federal-Mogul
  • Flintkote Company
  • H. K. Porter
  • J. T. Thorpe
  • Kaiser Aluminum
  • Keene Corporation
  • Lykes Brothers Steamship Co.
  • MacArthur Company
  • National Gypsum Company
  • North American Refractories Company
  • Plibrico Company
  • Pittsburgh Corning Corporation
  • Porter Hayden
  • Quigley Company, Inc.
  • Raytech Corporation
  • Shook and Fletcher
  • Skinner Engine Co.
  • Stone and Webster
  • Swan Transportation Company
  • Synkoloid Company
  • Thorpe Insulation Company
  • United States Mineral Products Company
  • UNR Industries
  • Utex Industries, Inc.
  • Western Asbestos Company

There are other companies not listed here. You may still qualify for compensation even if you don’t see the company you worked for on this list.

Are Companies Still Using Asbestos?

Despite the health risks associated with asbestos, it is still in use today.

While its use has been limited in the U.S., it has not been completely banned. Companies around the world continue to use asbestos in everything from building materials to car parts.

Additionally, asbestos still resides in many products and buildings that were constructed throughout the 20th century, so the risks of asbestos exposure are still high today.

Despite removal efforts, many buildings, ships, and vehicles may still contain traces of asbestos.

There have been many efforts to control or restrict asbestos distribution at local and national levels, but a complete asbestos ban has never been put into place in the United States.

Many advocates, policymakers and political leaders have fought to increase awareness regarding the devastating health risks associated with asbestos. This activism has allowed the federal government to establish programs that victims can use to seek compensation.

Preventing Asbestos Exposure

Today, asbestos is nowhere near as prevalent as it once was. Now that the health risks have come to light. That being said, there are still many places where asbestos can be found.

For example, older buildings may still contain asbestos products such as tiling, shingles, and shutters. These products are not normally dangerous unless they are damaged or disturbed. If this happens, asbestos fibers could be released into the air.

Older cars, mechanical equipment, and construction products may also contain asbestos. If you have questions, you should leave the products undisturbed and talk to an expert.

Asbestos Abatement

Asbestos abatement allows for the safe removal of asbestos products. After the health risks of asbestos became known, the U.S. government put guidelines in place to safely remove it.

Today, professionals accredited by the EPA safely remove asbestos materials from older buildings. The military also set up asbestos abatement programs to make sure its buildings and vehicles are safe.

Contact a professional immediately if you need asbestos materials or products to be removed. Do not try to remove or dispose of the asbestos products yourself. This could put yourself and those nearby at risk of exposure.

Seeking Compensation For Asbestos-Related Diseases

If you have developed an asbestos-related illness as a result of exposure on the job, you can file a legal claim to receive compensation.

Your claim will not be filed against the military or the company you worked for, as they also didn’t know the risks. Instead, it will be filed against the manufacturers of asbestos products, who knew the risks but sold their products anyway.

After the deadly truth about asbestos was revealed, the government ordered many of these manufacturers to set up trust funds for victims.

Asbestos Trust Funds

There is over $30 Billion in these funds today, and you may be eligible to receive a portion of this money.

Learn More About Asbestos Trust Funds

To receive a portion of this money, you can work with a mesothelioma lawyer with experience handling asbestos claims. Their experience will help you get the most compensation for your illness.

To learn if you’re eligible for compensation for your asbestos-related disease, get a free case review today.

Author:Stephanie Kidd

Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Justice Network

Stephanie Kidd

Stephanie Kidd works tirelessly as a dedicated advocate for the vulnerable and underrepresented. Stephanie worked as a copywriter for an agency whose focus was communicating safety procedures on construction work sites. With her extensive background in victim advocacy and a dedication to seeing justice done, Stephanie works hard to ensure that all online content is reliable, truthful and helpful.

Last modified: September 17, 2019

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