Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that occurs naturally in the environment and has been used extensively in thousands of products since the last century. It is resistant to heat and corrosion and, because it is a fiber, it can be weaved into other materials. Because of these characteristics asbestos was often mixed with other materials. As a result, many products and building materials contained asbestos. Older homes and buildings, especially those built before the mid-1970’s, may contain asbestos in some of their building materials, especially around boilers, ceiling tiles, sprayed coatings, pipe insulation, and conduit.
There are three kinds of asbestos, known as white, blue and brown. Chrysotile or"White" asbestos is acquired from serpentine rocks and is the most commonly used in industry. In the United States, chrysotile was most extensively used and was present in a wide variety of materials. Amosite or the Brown asbestos is commonly found in South Africa. The third type is"Blue" asbestos or Crocidolite.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, International Agency for Research on Cancer and the EPA have classified asbestos as a known human carcinogen or a substance that causes cancer. In 1989, the EPA issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule. This rule was overturned in the case of Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA, 947 F.2d 1201 (5th Cir. 1991). Unfortunately, this ruling leaves many consumer products that can still legally contain trace amounts of asbestos.
The position of most health authorities is that if asbestos is left undisturbed and its fibers are not airborne then it poses little danger. However, once fibers become airborne and are “friable” and can be ingested or inhaled then it is dangerous and can lead to asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and lung cancer. Why is it so dangerous? One theory has to do with fiber size. Asbestos fibers are microscopic and the body is ill-equip to filter out such small particles. The fibers can them become lodged in the lungs and other organs where they can set the stage for disease many decades later.
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