For more than 100 years, American manufacturers and contractors relied heavily on what they called the “magic mineral” — asbestos. After it was revealed in the early 1900s that asbestos posed a dangerous and high risk of damage to human health, an industry-wide cover-up was orchestrated to conceal the facts in an attempt to sustain and grow the massive profitability of asbestos mining and distribution.

Asbestos Overview

Asbestos is a toxic, dangerous and prolific natural product that has caused tens of thousands of deaths. Every citizen should be aware of the dangers associated with asbestos, how it was used and the risks that it still poses today.

Here are some important facts about asbestos:

Despite the well-known, researched and documented health risks associated with asbestos, it is still being used today. 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.

What Is Asbestos?

MJN Brief

A common misconception is that asbestos is a synthetic material. The truth is, asbestos occurs naturally, as a mineral. It’s extracted from below the earth’s surface using industrial mining techniques and procedures. Natural deposits of asbestos occur all over the world, including in the United States, Canada, Russia, China, South Africa and South America. Once asbestos is mined from the ground, it gets processed and developed into industrial materials.


As an eminent product of the industrial revolution and beyond, asbestos was believed to be a highly valuable material for, among many reasons, its versatility and light.

Asbestos, though light, is an exceptionally durable material. It’s composed of layers of fibers, each with their own composition of millions of further microscopic fibrils. These fibers together create a virtually indestructible material.

Types of Asbestos

The EPA classifies 6 different minerals as “asbestos”. All 6 types are known human carcinogens, meaning they are toxic to human health.

Asbestos minerals have two broad classifications: serpentine and amphibole. The only member of the serpentine class is chrysotile asbestos.

Also called white asbestos, chrysotile is composed of long, curly fibers that are considered more flexible or malleable than other types. Chrysotile asbestos is not only a prolific building material in pre-1980s buildings, but it’s also been used as a material woven into industrial-strength fabrics and upholsteries.

Amphibole asbestos has 5 different subtypes:

  1. Amosite
  2. Crocidolite
  3. Tremolite
  4. Anthophyllite
  5. Actinolite

Of these five, only amosite and crocidolite are used extensively for commercial purposes. Amosite, or brown asbestos, is used as an insulation product in industrial, commercial and residential construction. Crocidolite, or blue asbestos, is primarily sourced in South Africa. Its main uses were the steam engine and pipe insulations as well as spray-on insulator coatings.

Similar asbestos-form materials, including winchite and richterite, are also mined from the ground. They’ve also been linked to asbestos-related diseases in miners and other workers.

Why Do Companies Use Asbestos?

Anyone involved in industrial manufacturing and construction using asbestos materials can attest to what a useful product it was thought to be.

When the first asbestos mine in North America opened in 1874 in Quebec, the industry believed they had found a revolutionary mineral that could drastically improve manufacturing operations and profitability.

Asbestos became an in-demand product, justifying its continued global extraction and distribution. Companies used, and continue to use, asbestos for dozens of reasons. Primarily, asbestos is a strong, indestructible material that is impervious to fire, chemical exposure, water erosion or any other threats. It can hold up in virtually any environment and works as a natural insulator.

But there are other reasons why companies coveted asbestos, including:

  • Low-Cost: Asbestos is still to this day a cheap material to extract, distribute and purchase. Unlike alternative products such as industrial plastics or other minerals, asbestos doesn’t need to go through expensive refining and processing. The limited investment in turning asbestos into an immediately workable product makes it a desirable material. Manufacturers can add asbestos as an ingredient to their products like brake pads, clutches, tiles, roofing shingles for a low price and a high return on investment.
  • Availability: Asbestos is an abundantly available natural resource. The world’s largest asbestos mines were in North America, and it became a key export material for the entire continent’s economy. Despite the last asbestos mine being closed down in North America in 2011 in Quebec, countries like China and Russia continue to mine and export asbestos.
  • Weight: By nature, asbestos is exceptionally lightweight, making it easy to extract from the ground and even easier to transport. Because transportation and export costs are calculated by weight, asbestos saves distributors on their overhead costs.
  • Job Creation: Another reason why asbestos was distributed so prolifically was due to it being a major economic catalyst for jobs. The real number of jobs directly and indirectly associated with asbestos production is untold. However, a Canadian report indicated that in eastern Quebec, there was a region with three active asbestos mines that employed 6,200 workers in 1967. Factoring in the number of workers involved in the distribution, manufacturing and construction of asbestos products, the numbers of jobs asbestos created is in the millions.
  • Profitability: Asbestos production was and still is a hugely profitable industry. While the United States and Canada no longer mine asbestos, both countries are still involved in facilitating the export of asbestos between countries where it hasn’t yet been banned or regulated. Additionally, Canada continues to import certain products, such as brake pads, that contain asbestos due to how profitable they are. The U.S. has still not banned asbestos.
  • Military Use: Sadly, one of the largest economic drivers of asbestos production was through the United States, British and Canadian militaries. Considered the ideal military-grade material, asbestos was used as a fire-retardant and insulator in virtually every military asset from ships, planes and vehicles to barracks, buildings and command posts. Its use exploded during World War II when military production ramped up. To this day, many of the world’s top militaries still have older assets that contain asbestos and continue to expose military service members to health hazards.

View a Full List of Asbestos Companies

Many people wonder if asbestos was so profitable, effective and readily available, why is it so controversial? The answer is relatively complex despite the irrefutable evidence to support claims against its use. Being exposed to asbestos is like breathing in invisible daggers that sit deep within a person’s innermost tissue until one day they erupt and potentially lead to deadly cancer.

How Did I Get Exposed to Asbestos?

Anyone working around asbestos or asbestos-containing products are at risk of having inhaled or ingested asbestos. It was used in residential, commercial and industrial construction throughout the 20th century.

Asbestos-wrapped along pipes and electrical wires. It was added to tiles and shingles. It was used as an additive ingredient in cement products, paints, and glues. Asbestos was a leading product used to manufacture brake pads, clutches, and transmission parts. It was used to protect boilerplates and engines. It was even used in beer-making filtration systems.

When asbestos products are left alone, they pose a lower risk to human health. However, every time someone touches or disturbs asbestos materials, they release fine powdery and fibrous parts into the air.

Airborne particles settle on nearby surfaces, ready to be disturbed again. What’s worse is that in their airborne state, they can easily and unknowingly be inhaled or ingested through the nose or mouth of anyone in the area.

If you’re wondering if you’ve ever been exposed to asbestos, consider these products that may have been manufactured using asbestos:

Many products used at various worksites contained and housed dangerous asbestos materials. Employees were exposed to asbestos on a daily basis—some all day long. Some occupations presented a higher risk for asbestos exposure than others, and the majority of workers were unknowingly exposed.

MJN Brief

One of the now-famous examples of massive asbestos exposure is with the first responders at Ground Zero in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. These emergency services personnel were exposed to asbestos when the World Trade Center’s North Tower came down. It was manufactured using hundreds of tons of asbestos and asbestos-based products, which were all released into the air after the attack. First responders, survivors who worked in the Center, and anyone in the area were all susceptible to asbestos contamination through inhalation and ingestion.


In many countries, asbestos is the number one cause of workplace-related deaths. Sadly, it isn’t well-reported due to the decades-long latency period between exposure on the job and the development of fatal conditions. It takes anywhere between 10 and 50 years for symptoms of the deadly asbestos-caused cancer, mesothelioma, to develop after initial exposure.

Secondary Asbestos Exposure

Though there is a huge risk of workers and veterans being exposed to asbestos, there’s also another lesser-known threat—secondary exposure. When asbestos particles become airborne, they can settle onto workers’ clothing, equipment, and personal items. When these contaminated items come home after work with the employee, it puts everyone who comes into contact with that person at risk as well.

There are many stories of family members—husbands, wives, and children—developing mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases due to the secondary exposure from someone in their home. Additionally, secondary exposure affected worksite visitors, office personnel and anyone else who may have been in or around an asbestos-contaminated area.

What Happens After Asbestos Exposure?

After someone has been exposed to asbestos, they are at risk of developing asbestosis, mesothelioma or certain types of lung cancer. Developing an asbestos-related disease is often a prolonged process.

  1. Asbestos Exposure: Person inhales or ingests airborne asbestos fibers.
  2. Fibers Become Trapped: If the person inhales or ingests asbestos, the fibers can become lodged deep within the tissue lining that covers the lungs (pleura) or the abdomen (peritoneum). Once trapped in the tissue linings, asbestos fibers can never be expelled.
  3. Tissue Irritation and Inflammation: Over time, the asbestos fibers irritate otherwise healthy tissues. This causes scarring to the tissues, which triggers inflammation and fluid buildup.
  4. Asbestos-Related Diseases Form: Scarring itself is considered a disease—asbestosis. When scarring worsens, healthy cells may become triggered and mutate into cancer cells, resulting in lung cancer or mesothelioma.

With mesothelioma, this process can take anywhere between 10 and 50 years before noticeable symptoms develop. It’s possible that many people pass away of other causes before asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma can be diagnosed.

Are Companies Still Using Asbestos?

If you’ve developed an asbestos-related illness as a result of exposure on the job, then you’re likely, and understandably, outraged at the negligence on the part of asbestos manufacturers. Many victims demand to know what the government has done about these unethical practices and whether or not asbestos has been banned.

Despite many legislative attempts, an outright ban on asbestos in the United States has yet to come to fruition. At the state level, there have been many efforts to control or restrict asbestos distribution. 

MJN Brief

Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA banned most asbestos-containing materials in 1989. In 1991, the ban was overturned by a Federal Court of Appeals and has yet to be replaced with a substitute regulation.

Companies still use, develop and import asbestos-containing products to this day in the United States and other developed nations.

Many advocates, policymakers, and influential political leaders have fought to increase awareness regarding the devastating health risks associated with asbestos. Their commitment to this cause over the years has led to significant legal breakthroughs that have allowed the Federal government to establish avenues through which victims can seek compensation.

Read More About Asbestos Laws and Bans

Seeking Compensation For Asbestos-Related Diseases

As a victim of asbestos disease, you may be entitled to legal compensation by filing an asbestos claim against the companies at fault. The courts ordered companies to establish asbestos trust funds to help victims and their family members access the money they’re entitled to.

A mesothelioma lawyer can help you pursue legal action and ensure a higher chance of obtaining legal compensation. To find out more about asbestos claims, contact The Mesothelioma Justice Network today to speak with a claims advocate. Call us at (888) 360-4215 or sign up to receive our FREE Mesothelioma Justice Guide to understand the steps involved in asbestos claims.

View Author and Sources
  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information, “ASBESTOS (CHRYSOTILE, AMOSITE, CROCIDOLITE, TREMOLITE, ACTINOLITE AND ANTHOPHYLLITE)” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 5, 2017.
  2. National Cancer Institute, “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risks.” Retrieve from: Accessed on December 5, 2017.
  3. The Globe and Mail, “Asbestos imports rising in Canada despite health warnings.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 5, 2017.
  4. Foreign Policy Journal, “Exporting Asbestos: Putting Profit Before Health.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 5, 2017.
  5. Mining Watch Canada, “Asbestos Mining in Canada.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 5, 2017.

Last modified: June 15, 2018