Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral composed of long, thin, fibrous crystals. It’s been used by humans as far back as the Stone Age to add resilience and rigidity to ceramic pots and, starting toward the end of the 19th century, as building material. It would be close to 100 years, however, before the harmful effects of asbestos were widely known and acknowledged.
Because asbestos is an excellent electrical insulator and also highly fire-resistant, large-scale mining began in during the Industrial Era of the 1800s. Initially used to produce paper and cloth, the use of the material eventually evolved into applications for fire-retardant coatings, concrete bricks, pipes and fireplace cement, mechanical gaskets, pipe and ceiling insulation, flooring, roofing, and even lawn furniture.
It wasn’t until around the turn of the century that researchers first started linking health issues with long-term exposure to asbestos. The first death attributed to asbestos was in 1906, but it would be another 70 years before the hazardous nature of the material would truly be acknowledged.
Due to its crystalline structure, when asbestos meets with abrasion or friction, microscopic particles are released into the air, and those particles are then inhaled by humans. This can lead to serious lung problems:
Asbestosis – This is a chronic lung disease directly attributable to inhaling asbestos fibers. Symptoms of the condition include lung tissue scarring, persistent cough, chest tightness or pain, and shortness of breath. Typically, symptoms do not appear until many years after initial exposure. Cases can range from mild to severe. As the condition progresses, more and more lung tissue is damaged, to the point where it can’t contract and expand normally.
Mesothelioma – This is a rare and incurable form of cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs. Eight out of every 10 people who contract mesothelioma have experienced long-term exposure to asbestos. When fibers accumulate in human tissue, they cause inflammation and, over time, cause cellular changes that can lead to the condition.
Lung Cancer – This is just one form of cancer that can be caused by asbestos exposure. Approximately 4% of all lung cancer cases are asbestos-related. Asbestos has also been known to cause ovarian and laryngeal cancer.
Other Conditions – Long-term exposure to asbestos has been an attributable cause of pleural plaques (areas of fibrous thickening of the lining around the lungs); pleural effusion (build-up of fluid in and around the lungs that can cause difficulty breathing); diffuse pleural thickening (extensive scarring that thickens the lining of the lungs); pleurisy (severe inflammation of the pleural lining); and atelectasis (inflammation and scarring that causes the pleural lining to fold in, causing underinflation of the lungs).
A few additional quick facts:
- It’s estimated that asbestos-related diseases kill 12,000 to 15,000 Americans each year.
- This includes over 1,000 asbestosis-related deaths and anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 cancer deaths annually.
- About 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually, according to the American Cancer Society.
- Worldwide, 66 countries have banned the use of asbestos.
Residential and Commercial Asbestos Inspections and Abatement with ACM
Recognized for excellence in the areas of abatement & asbestos removal, environmental remediation, and demolition services, for over 20 years, ACM has been built a reputation for elite performance driven by the highest safety standards. With na customer-centric methodology, commercial and residential clients rely on ACM for niche expertise and insightful recommendations. If you suspect asbestos on your property, contact ACM for an on-site evaluation with our in-house certified asbestos inspector.