Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. Asbestos was added to certain products, including building materials, to improve strength and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.
Studies of individuals, who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, show breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer, including:
-- mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity; and
-- asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increases with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is also greater if you smoke. People who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.
To view general Frequently Asked Questions about asbestos and where it can be found, click here.
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