Fact Sheets – The Facts about Asbestos

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New Study Finds increased Risk of Fatal Lung Cancer in Workers and in Persons Living Near Asbestos Production in Italy. Read the report.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a generic name for six naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals that are mined for commercial use. Asbestos has been widely used in the United States, but its use is on the decline. The National Toxicology Program declared asbestos a known human carcinogen in 1987 in its first report on human carcinogens.

What diseases are caused by exposure?

Asbestos exposure is associated with a number of diseases. Asbestosis, a chronic fibrous process in the lungs, was first noticed in naval shipyard workers exposed to asbestos. Mesothelioma, a tumor of the lining of the lungs or abdominal cavity that carries a particularly poor prognosis, and lung cancer are caused by inhalation exposure to asbestos.

How and where are people exposed?

The primary route of exposure is direct inhalation of asbestos particles, often on the job. For example, workers who renovate buildings with asbestos in them may become exposed when they inhale asbestos particles from insulation, tile, or other building materials that they are removing or installing. In addition, exposed workers can bring asbestos fibers home on their clothing, thus exposing the people with whom they live. Although its use is on the decline, asbestos has been widely used in the United States in such items as brake linings, insulation, and other building and industrial products. The majority of asbestos exposures occur among workers in the construction and asbestos manufacturing industries, but asbestos is also still used in brake linings. Consequently, employees in the automotive industry who work with brake linings also run the risk of asbestos exposure. Many older homes and other buildings, including schools, contain asbestos, thereby creating the potential for exposure among other groups of people as well.

Is there a safe level?

There is no known safe level of asbestos.

How do I know if I am exposed?

Asbestos fibers can be detected in urine, feces or mucus. A chest x-ray cannot detect fibers but can detect early fibrotic changes in the lungs caused by asbestosis. Mesothelioma and lung cancer can develop as many as thirty years after working with asbestos.

What can I do to avoid exposure?

Avoid working with asbestos and asbestos-containing products. If it is necessary to manipulate or work with asbestos, appropriate precautions including the use of protective equipment, a wet process, and adequate ventilation should be taken under the guidance of a professional.

Where can I get more information?

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