It may be unsettling to know that asbestos can be found in many of the homes, schools, and offices in which we spend so much of our lives. For most of the 20th century, asbestos was a resilient and heat-resistant material central to manufacturing and construction, and our cities and neighborhoods today still carry the remnants of this era of U.S. production. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that between 1900 and 1980, more than 30 million tons of asbestos were poured into consumer products, machines, vehicles, and infrastructures in the United States.
What Is Asbestos and Why Is It Used?
The term asbestos actually refers to a group of six minerals that occur naturally and can be found in rock and soil. Russia, Kazakhstan, and China were once the largest exporters of asbestos, although this type of mineral can be found in most places of the world and was at one time mined heavily in North America, particularly California. Because of its longevity and heat-resistant properties, asbestos became widely used in construction, industrial, firefighting, and other materials used in products that needed to be highly durable and withstand high temperatures.
Before, and even after, the emergence of research showing the link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma cancers, asbestos was used prevalently in the manufacturing industry. Despite asbestos use experiencing a significant decline in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the government regulations enacted during that time period did more to limit the use of asbestos than to flat-out ban it. According to the EPA, only a few uses of asbestos are completely banned under existing regulations in the United States. While limits on production have been placed, many products still exist and circulate regularly in general use.
Where Is Asbestos Usually Found?
Even with limits placed on the manufacturing and production of asbestos-containing products, there are multiple sectors of society in which asbestos can be found today. Occupations in the following industries are most at risk for asbestos exposure:
- Military Service (especially Navy veterans who served between the 1930s and 1980s)
- Shipbuilding and Shipyard Work
- Heavy Industry
- Maintenance Work
- Machinery Operation
- Automotive Repair
- Aircraft Mechanics
- Electricity Generation
- Chemical Production
- Oil and Gas Industry
In addition to the limited but continued use of asbestos that exists today, the excess of asbestos-containing products and materials produced over the last century did not disappear from society with the enactment of federal regulations. Because asbestos can still be found in a wide variety of everyday products and household materials, even individuals who do not work in the most high-risk industries can be exposed to asbestos.
Due to its one-time prevalence in building materials, it’s not uncommon for asbestos to remain in homes, schools, offices, and other buildings we frequent through the course of our everyday activities. Many of the pipes, flooring, roofing, and insulation that surround us every day contain asbestos, but fortunately do not pose a threat unless they are disturbed or friable (can crumble easily under mild pressure). Asbestos fibers do not usually become loose unless broken up and released through a renovation or demolition project. Once they are released, however, they can remain airborne for up to 72 hours, and can even travel through water.
If undertaking a DIY home improvement project, for example, you may be at risk of dislodging asbestos that can travel through the air and be inhaled. This often happens when people scrape popcorn ceilings, remove old insulation, or disturb old roof shingles, floor tiles, or siding. When handling materials that predate the 1980s, it’s especially important to research the components you’re working with and use the proper protective equipment. In some cases, you may need to contact a licensed asbestos consultant, inspector, or abatement professional to safely remove hazardous materials from your older home.
In addition to building materials, asbestos-containing elements were once quite common in motor vehicle parts (especially clutch, transmission, and brake parts), ship and submarine components, electric or gas appliances, paper products and bookbinding, flame-retardant products, textiles, firefighting equipment, and heat-resistant fabrics and packaging. Everyday objects used widely in U.S. homes across the mid- 20th century—such as makeup, hairdryers, Talc products, ashtrays, potholders, children’s toys, and even Christmas tree decorations—frequently contained asbestos fibers.
Some of the most common products in which asbestos can still be found today include:
- Vermiculite insulation
- Piping insulation
- Air ductwork coverings
- Hot water pipes
- Oil and coal furnaces
- Door gaskets
- Window putty
- Roof shingles
- Vinyl floor tiles and vinyl sheet adhesives
- Roofing felt
- Lamp socket collars
- Knob & tube wiring
- Asbestos-containing cement
- Textured paint
- Popcorn ceilings
- Fuse boxes
- Protective walls and floors surrounding wood-burning stoves
- Automobile brake components
Legal Options for Victims of Asbestos Exposure
But just how dangerous is asbestos? The agencies that regulate asbestos in the United States have stated that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. People who are exposed to asbestos for as short as a day are receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis many years, often decades, later in life. Asbestos accumulates in the body over time, and there is currently no known remedy for reversing the damage it causes. According to the American Cancer Association, the amount of time between a person’s first exposure to asbestos and a mesothelioma diagnosis is usually 20 to 50 years.
It is most often the people put in repeated contact with asbestos by the companies that employ them who develop mesothelioma. Depending on the circumstances of your exposure, there may be legal options available if you received a mesothelioma diagnosis after prolonged asbestos exposure through your employment or military service. You may be eligible to file a mesothelioma claim or receive compensation from an asbestos trust fund—a fund to compensate mesothelioma patients and families who were once employed by a company that admitted liability or filed for bankruptcy. Veterans exposed to asbestos during their military career may be eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). To discuss your legal options further with an experienced mesothelioma lawyer, contact Frost Law Firm, PC. We never charge a fee for an initial consultation about how our firm may be able to help you.