Although most Americans associate asbestos with old buildings and dangerous cancers, the facts of this toxic substance are less well known. Asbestos refers to a naturally occurring type of mineral fibers. While asbestos played a useful role in thousands of products in the 1900s and still exists in many aspects of everyday American life, the fibers are dangerous and can cause serious cancers.
Asbestos fibers possess strong flame retardant qualities. This makes them well suited for use in insulation or any other product that must withstand heat. Many manufacturers used asbestos to manufacture everything from engine gaskets to floor tiles. Millions of American homes and vehicles still contain these products in some form or another.
While asbestos is completely harmless while confined within various products, it is extremely dangerous when airborne. The fibers are very light and humans can easily inhale them. Once inside the human body, fibers can become caught in the lining of the lungs - leading to serious and fatal cancers like mesothelioma.
This means that any exposure to disturbed or airborne asbestos fibers could potentially develop severe diseases. Mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions can take many years to develop - some victims do not know they are affected until decades have passed since exposure.
Our next post will look at the ongoing mass tort litigation and attempts to recover compensation for the many thousands of asbestos victims in the United States.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, "As Asbestos Claims Rise, So Do Worries About Fraud," Dionne Searcey and Rob Barry, Mar. 11, 2013