Asbestos FAQ

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What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral widely used for its chemical inertness and heat-resistant properties. There are three major types of asbestos: Chrysotile, Amosite, and Crocidolite. Chrysotile makes up approximately 90 to 95 percent of all asbestos contained in buildings in the United States. Amosite, also known as "brown asbestos," is the second most common type of asbestos found in building materials. Crocidolite, also known as "blue asbestos," is found in specialized high temperature applications.

What are the health risks associated with exposure to asbestos?
There are numerous health risks associated with overexposure to asbestos, mainly the risk of developing certain types of cancers. These include: Asbestosis (a chronic lung ailment) lung cancer, mesothelioma (a rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen), and cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, larynx, and oropharynx (the oral part of the pharynx).

How is asbestos used?
Asbestos was used heavily as a construction material during the twentieth century, mostly because of its heat- and fire-resistant properties, which, combined with its strength and durability, made it a quality insulator and sturdy building material. It was used in everything from fiberboard walls to fireproof blankets, and thousands of household products in between, as well as gaskets, pipe insulation, and on ships to prevent onboard fires.

Where can asbestos be found?
Asbestos was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1989, so it's rarely found in newer products (though the EPA does still allow it in some products, in trace amounts under strict regulation). Asbestos is mostly found in older homes and buildings that were constructed before the late-1980s, but also in older military ships and automobiles.

Who is at risk?
Risk increases with the length of exposure, so people who are most at-risk are those who worked with asbestos at length in the past. Construction workers, shipbuilders, and miners are among those with the highest rates of asbestos-related cancer. Tragically, their families also have high rates, having been exposed to the fibers brought home on their loved ones' clothes and hair.

Who needs to be examined?
Anyone who knows they've been exposed to asbestos should go to a doctor for a full checkup and regimen of tests. Those who have had prolonged exposure should certainly see a doctor to be checked out.

What are the symptoms of asbestos exposure?
Symptoms of asbestos exposure include: bloody or rust-colored phlegm, chest pain, hoarseness, persistent cough, chest pain, weight loss, back pain, shortness of breath, weakness, nausea, fever, loss of appetite, swelling of the face and arms, muscle weakness, sensory loss, and pleural effusions (abnormal accumulation of fluid between the lungs and chest wall). It is important to note that these symptoms are also common to other diseases.

What are some of the treatments for asbestos-related conditions?
Because asbestos-related cancers are usually found so late, most treatment is aimed at palliative relief, not complete removal. The three most common methods of treatment, then, are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Surgery is the most effective method, as it directly removes the cancerous cells, but it is also the most difficult, as surgery presents a greater risk to older patients. The cells are also often located in inoperable areas. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to combat the specific cancer cells, either before surgery or as the primary method of treatment. Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to target the cancerous cells, though it often affects healthy cells as well.

Unfortunately, scientists have not yet found a cure for asbestos-related diseases. However, as more is learned about their causes and their diagnosis, more can be done to combat this rare, fatal disease.


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