Asbestos-containing materials or ACMs were virtually omnipresent in homes, schools and commercial and government buildings for most of the 20th Century. Despite the elimination of amphibole asbestos and the gradual phase-out of the more common chrysotile, or “white” variety, there are still tens of millions of buildings throughout the U.S. that contain ACM insulation, pipe lagging, roofing, siding and more.
Fyrbestos was one such product, although it is virtually forgotten today. Like many other asbestos fireproofing materials such as transite and pipe covering, this material was sold in sheets. If you were ever employed in the building trades and remember having worked with or been around a material by this name, it is possible that you have been exposed to harmful asbestos fibers.
While it is a good idea to have regular medical checkups – particularly if you have suffered asbestos exposure – there is no reason to panic. Virtually everyone on the planet has been exposed to asbestos to some degree, and even among those whose exposure has been substantial, relatively few develop a full-blown asbestos disease.
Asbestosis is the most common form of such illnesses; it is caused by ongoing exposure to chrysotile asbestos, which was the most commonly-used form of this substance. While there is no cure for asbestosis, the good news is that by removing the patient from the asbestos environment, the disease can be stopped from progressing further.
Asbestos-related cancers are associated with amphibole asbestos, also known as “blue” (crocidolite) and “brown” (amosite) asbestos. These especially deadly fibers are found primarily in chemical plants, laboratories, power generation stations and oil refineries. Amphibole asbestos was known not only for its fire retardant characteristics, but also for its superior abilities in resisting chemical corrosion and electrical current.
The main difference between chrysotile and amphibole asbestos is that the latter are able to burrow straight through lung tissues from the inside out. As these hard, spear-like fibers make this gruesome journey, they interact with living cells’ DNA in a way that causes them to mutate into cancerous tumor cells that result in mesothelioma and lung cancer. Medical science has yet to understand exactly how this occurs, but the connection between amphibole asbestos and cancer has been well established since the 1960s, when mesothelioma was first identified as a separate form of cancer.
Chrysotile asbestos is a softer form of this material; while it does not appear to enter the bloodstream nor burrow through lung tissues, it does cause abrasions to the inner sufaces of the air sacs, or alveoli. This results in the build-up of scar tissue that is known as asbestosis.