Asbestos and Asbestos­ Related Illnesses

Asbestos has been linked with diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer
since the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that people finally started to do something
about it. By then it was too late because, up until then, asbestos had been used in
hundreds of residential and commercial building materials. This means that there are
millions of homes built before 1960, across the country, that could have asbestos in floor
tiles, in the insulation around wires and heating ducts, and even in the walls. But what
makes asbestos so dangerous?

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos is made up of tiny, sticky fibers that can stick into lung tissue and into the
membranes surrounding the lungs, when inhaled. They can also get stuck in the tissues if
they are ingested. Asbestos ­containing materials are actually not dangerous so long as
they remain intact and undamaged; but if they are broken, the asbestos fibers become
airborne and that’s when they become dangerous. The same holds true for factories
where asbestos materials are made. These places should take steps to make sure the
asbestos is safe, but the fibers can still end up in the air, and on people’s clothing. When
the fibers get onto clothing, asbestos workers can carry them home and expose their
families. Over time, with repeated exposure, their families can become as much as risk
for developing asbestos ­related injuries as the workers themselves.

What are the asbestos ­related diseases.

Asbestos causes three major diseases: asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other cancers.
∙ Asbestosis is scarring on the lungs caused by breathing in the asbestos fibers. The
scarring makes the lungs more rigid so that they can’t expand properly when you breathe,
and it also prevents oxygen from getting into your blood stream.

Mesothelioma, also called malignant mesothelioma, is a cancer of the tissues that line
your lungs, stomach, heart and other organs. It’s caused by either inhaling or ingesting
asbestos fibers. Although it occurs most often in the lungs, it can happen in any organ
that has this membrane.

∙ Other cancers associated with asbestos include lung cancer and stomach cancer. A
cancer can occur anywhere that the asbestos fibers can lodge and trigger a cellular
mutation.

The problem with many of these illnesses is that it can take years for them to develop
after exposure to asbestos. Another issue is that many of the asbestos ­related illnesses are
aggressive, debilitating, and incurable.

One bright light is that people with asbestos­ related illnesses have a legal right to
compensation. However, this often means either starting a lawsuit, or joining an existing
class­ action suit. The good news is that there are several attorneys that specialize in
asbestos litigation and can give you information on joining or starting a mesothelioma lawsuit.

Why was asbestos so widely used?

In a nutshell, asbestos was cheap and plentiful. Because it was highly resistant to fire and
heat, it seemed like a wonder material – especially during the times when a fire in a single
house could easily spread throughout a city. Like most good things, we decided that if a
little was good, then a lot was even better, and we started to put asbestos into everything,
including textiles, and even toothpaste.
 
Human beings have a tendency to go overboard on things we think are beneficial. In the
1900s there were people who drank radioactive water by the gallon, believing that it
would improve health. This belief was based on the fact that water at certain “health
springs” had trace amounts of radiation. Just like radiation, asbestos wasn’t discovered to
be dangerous until after millions had used or been exposed to it.

The future of asbestos and asbestos­ related diseases.

Currently, the use of asbestos is banned in certain products, such as flooring, but there
are still several products for which the use of asbestos is not banned. It is not likely that
homes built after 1970 will have interior materials, such as walls, made out of asbestos;
but it is possible that exterior materials, like roofing, could contain it and the average
person is unlikely to come into direct contact with these materials. However, people who
own or live in houses built before the 1970s should have the home checked for asbestos
before doing any demolition or remodeling.
 
Because asbestos illnesses take so long to develop, we could see an increase in the
number of asbestos ­related illnesses as more people “age into” their diseases. Because
the has been a decrease in the amount of asbestos used in the US since the 1960s, we
will eventually see those numbers taper off; but not for a long time to come.

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