Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral found in rocks and soil. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistance, asbestos has been used in a wide variety of building materials and other commercial products for insulation and as a fire retardant. Old and brittle asbestos products can release tiny, even microscopic, fibers. These fibers can remain suspended in the air and enter your lungs when you inhale, which can cause lung damage, including cancer. Because of its health risks, asbestos manufacture and use are now regulated by the federal government.


Asbestos and health impact

When inhaling asbestos, tiny fibers enter the air passages. The body’s natural defenses remove most of these fibers. The majority will be carried away or coughed up in a layer of mucus that protects your lungs. However, some fibers may bypass those defenses and lodge deep within the lungs. Those fibers can remain in place for a very long time and may never be removed. Most of the harmful impacts of asbestos will not be seen immediately and they often develop years after exposure occurs.

Inhaling asbestos fibers increases the risk of developing lung cancer and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the thin lining surrounding the lungs and other organs. The risk depends on how much it is inhaled, how long ago the person is exposed and whether it has a smoking history. Smoking cigarettes, combined with asbestos exposure, increase the chances of developing lung cancer.


Symptoms associated with asbestos exposure include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing.
  • Chronic cough.
  • Chest pain.
  • Swelling in the face.
  • Difficulty swallowing.

Asbestos: How to protect yourself

Asbestos’s tiny fibers have no odor or taste, and they do not irritate the eyes or throat or make the skin itch. If you know or suspect there is asbestos in your home or workplace, leave the material alone if possible. Exposure to asbestos from building materials is minimal if they are in good condition and not disturbed. Fibers are unlikely to become airborne unless materials are cut, ripped, or sanded.

The only way to find out the presence of asbestos at home or at the workplace is to have a sample analyzed at a laboratory. A good and specialized inspection company or local health department can help determine asbestos.


Asbestos and where is it found

Asbestos until the 1980s, was commonly used in products such as insulation, roofing, siding shingles, floor tiles, acoustic ceiling tiles, wallboard, textured paints, heat-resistant fabrics, and automotive parts. Older homes, schools, and commercial buildings are the most common places to find asbestos-containing products. If these products are in good condition and not disturbed, they are not immediately dangerous.

When a building containing asbestos is renovated or torn down, or if the asbestos is damaged or disturbed, asbestos fibers may be released into the air and may remain airborne for long periods of time before settling in the dust.


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