Asbestos is a group classification of sorts referencing six minerals that are both fibrous and naturally occurring. The mineral in its rock form does not pose the same risks that the asbestos fibers create. These minerals are as follows:
The fibers of these six minerals are capable of being separated into thin, strong strands, while also being naturally resistant to heat, chemical reactions and fires. Naturally, these properties appear to make asbestos fibers perfect for industrial and commercial use at first glance. Because of these beneficial properties, asbestos fibers were widely used for commercial and industrial buildings.
While the origin of asbestos mining and industrial use can be traced all the way back to the 1800s, it was WWII that saw the sharp increase in the commercial and industrial use of asbestos. The heavy usage of asbestos for all sorts of applications continued for decades, until research began suggesting that asbestos exposure could cause harmful effects for individuals who were exposed to asbestos fibers.
The Known Health Hazards of Asbestos Exposure
Although asbestos usage peaked in the middle parts of the 20th century, the renewed emphasis on the hazards of asbestos in the 1970s caused growing concern among Americans who now understood that the health hazards of asbestos outweighed the commercial and industrial benefits. The fibrous, microscopic asbestos threads were widely regarded for their durable properties, as mentioned. Ironically, it is those very properties that make asbestos a hazard for human health.
First, the microscopic fibers of asbestos make it easy for workers and anyone exposed to asbestos to breathe in and inhale the fibers. Second, the fibers are also durable, meaning the fibers tend to become rigidly affixed within the internal respiratory system, and the durability of asbestos ensures that the body has a difficult time getting rid of the fibers or breaking them down.
These factors, in tandem, ensure that nearly anyone who has been exposed to asbestos could be at risk of serious health consequences.
Asbestos-Related Illnesses and Who Is at Risk
Asbestos exposure is most know for causing three different but similarly dangerous illnesses:
- Lung cancer
While lung cancer is fairly straightforward, asbestosis is a long-term respiratory illness that can cause severe coughing, shortened breaths and even permanent damage of the lungs. Even worse, an asbestosis diagnosis could signal mesothelioma will soon follow. Mesothelioma, the most common asbestos-related illness, is an often fatal form of cancer that is found in a thin membrane lining the body’s chest and abdomen.
This rare form of cancer can affect anyone who has been exposed to asbestos, but broadly speaking, people who worked in occupational industries or served in the military from the 1930s to the 1970s are most at risk from a statistical perspective.
Approximately 10,000 Americans die each year as a result of asbestos exposure and the subsequent asbestos-related illnesses they contract. Talk to an asbestos and mesothelioma injury lawyer if you or a loved one has been the victim of an asbestos-related illness. You may be entitled to legal compensation for the harms suffered.