Asbestos is a mineral fiber found in ancient building materials. It can cause cancer.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is the name given to a group of six different fibrous minerals that exist naturally in some rocks and in the soil. It comes in the form of long fibers that are strong, heat resistant, and flexible enough to weave; these fibers can be white, green, blue or grayish green. It is tasteless and odorless.
It has been used in building materials such as insulation and fireproof; roof tiles; roofing and flooring sheets; electrical insulation materials; oven covers and hot tubes; friction products, such as automobile brake parts; cement products; coatings; plastics; packaging; textiles; packing materials; and heat resistant fabrics and clothing, such as gloves.
To protect health, in July 1989 all new forms of asbestos use were banned in the United States. Most forms of employment established prior to that date are still allowed. Use in manual hair dryers voluntarily ceased in 1979. Schools are required to test for asbestos and remove or cover it where it is found.
How could you be exposed to asbestos?
You could most likely be exposed by inhaling airborne asbestos particles, but you can also be exposed if your skin comes into direct contact with it or by ingesting its fibers.
You could be exposed to high concentrations of asbestos on the job if you are a miner, manufacture asbestos-containing products, demolish asbestos-constructed buildings, remove asbestos from buildings, work in the construction industry, repair and maintain car brakes. automobiles, works in the shipbuilding and repair industry, or wears protective clothing made from asbestos.
You could be exposed if you work or live in a building where it was improperly or poorly removed. Your exposure may be higher if asbestos-containing materials disintegrate during demolition work, construction, or home maintenance, repair, or remodeling.
You could be exposed in the home by inhaling airborne asbestos from spent or disintegrating insulation material, roof and floor sheeting, and automotive products that contain asbestos. Families of exposed workers can also be at risk when contaminated clothing, shoes and equipment are brought into the home and when clothes are washed. You could be exposed in drinking water or if you use products that contain asbestos.
Simultaneous exposure to asbestos and cigarette smoking greatly increases the chances of developing lung cancer.
What are the health effects of asbestos?
It is listed as a human carcinogen in the Fourteenth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program because it has been shown to cause cancer of the respiratory system, lungs, vocal cords, and ovaries. There is little evidence that it causes colorectal, throat, and stomach cancer. A history of asbestos exposure at work is reported to account for about 70 to 80 percent of cases of mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer of the mesothelium, the membrane that covers and protects most of the body's internal organs. Repetitive exposure to high concentrations of asbestos in the workplace can cause asbestosis, a disease that causes disability and death; scar the lungs and can enlarge the heart.
These diseases do not manifest immediately, but can appear many years after exposure. The first symptoms of asbestosis include persistent chest pain, cough, a rattling sound when breathing, and shortness of breath.
Exposure of the airways to high concentrations of asbestos at work can cause chest pain, wheezing, low oxygen concentration in the blood, thinning, clubbing of fingers, and warts on the hands. Inhalation of low concentrations can cause plaques in the pleural membranes that surround the lungs, eventually restricting breathing.
If you think you have been exposed, contact your doctor.
For a poison emergency or if you have any questions about possible toxic substances, contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
This description is based on the information found in the virtual links cited in the English version of this topic.
Source (New Jersey Department of Health) (PDF - 47 KB)
Source (World Health Organization)
Asbestos in Your Home (Department of Health and Human Services, State of North Carolina) (PDF - 95 KB)
Cancer Risk (National Cancer Institute)
Safety (Texas Department of Insurance) (PDF - 318 KB)
ToxFAQs. (Agency for the Registration of Toxic Substances and Diseases)