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Understanding Asbestos Exposure

Mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive and deadly form of cancer. It attacks the surface layers of the lungs, stomach, and other internal organs. Approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States every year. Every single one of these cases is caused by the same risk factor: exposure to asbestos.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of naturally-occurring minerals. Asbestos crystals take the form of long flexible fibers; these fibers are durable, lightweight, resistant to heat, fire, and chemicals, as well as sound absorbent.

Because of these unique qualities, asbestos was used extensively in building materials, fire-fighting equipment, automotive brakes and clutches. Unfortunately, exposure to asbestos fibers has severe long-term health effects. Asbestos is now known to directly cause mesothelioma, for which there is no cure, along with other serious respiratory ailments.

Hidden Workplace Hazard

In 20th century America, asbestos was everywhere. As a natural and affordable material that was resistant to fire, asbestos was incorporated into numerous building materials widely used in commercial and residential building construction: floor tiles, popcorn ceilings, roofing fabrics, plaster, drywall compounds, siding, insulation for pipes -- the list goes on and on. Apartment buildings, factories, schools, and private homes were all likely to contain asbestos products.

Certain industries were especially prolific in the use of asbestos. During the era of World War II, asbestos was used in huge quantities to insulate pipes, boilers, and other components of ships. Shipyard workers have been especially affected by mesothelioma and related diseases in the decades since.

But it is not just workers who actively handled asbestos that are at risk. It was easy for those who were exposed to bring the hazardous particles home on their clothing and hair. They unknowingly put their families and loved ones at risk, as well as anyone else they came in contact with.

Reluctant Regulatory Response

Even though medical studies in the first half of the 20th century had already shown clear connections between prolonged exposure to asbestos and serious, fatal medical conditions, the industrial use of asbestos did not slow down. Some companies sought to keep the risk secret from the public. Even when regulatory action was eventually taken, it was often delayed by resistance from business interests, at the expense of public health.

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