We Need to Protect Against Asbestos Asbestos We Can

by Lauren Tamburello on February 18, 2014

Asbestos is a communal term for six silicate mineral fibers that occur naturally in rock and soil. Historically, asbestos was used as a re-enforcer for clay and was woven into cloth. Peaking in the 1970’s, due to its strength and heat resistance, asbestos was used in construction, shipbuilding and the automotive industries in products such as insulation, roofing shingles, ceiling tiles, sealants, coatings, break pads, etc. Today, due to bans and regulation of manufacture of asbestos in the United States, most of our asbestos-containing products are imported and usage of such materials has reduced. Asbestos poses a health hazard particularly when the fibers are released into the air and inhaled. Exposure most commonly stems from the destruction of asbestos-containing material and the mining of asbestos bearing rock. As there are many diseases that stem from asbestos exposure, there is absolutely no safe level of contact! The severity of disease and incidence depends on the extent and duration of exposure, the age of exposure, history of cigarette smoking, along with the size of the fibers. Scarring of the lung tissue, known as asbestosis, can result from prolonged asbestos exposure. The leading cause of asbestos related mortality is due to the development of lung cancer. In addition, asbestos can also lead to mesothelioma – cancer of the lung and stomach lining (Nadakavukaren, 2011, pp.165-170).

As evidence of the health threats posed by asbestos became known, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) prohibited the use of asbestos in wallboard patching compounds and gas fireplaces in the late 1970’s. In addition, in the 1970’s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of spray-applied asbestos-containing material, asbestos pipe insulation, and asbestos containing insulation in boilers and hot water tanks. Then in 1986, President Reagan signed a law that required primary and secondary schools be inspected for asbestos. Strict standards for asbestos inspection and disposal methods have been established (Nadakavukaren, 2011, p. 169). The EPA banned all new uses of asbestos in 1989; however, the part of the law that banned the “importation, processing, and distribution in commerce for the majority of the asbestos-containing products” was overturned in 1991 (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2013).

Asbestos exposure has been particularly prevalent in Libby, Montana where a vermiculite mine, contaminated with asbestos, was located a few miles outside the small town. The mineworkers, along with their families, were heavily exposed to asbestos and many suffered from asbestos related diseases. As the mine’s ventilation system spewed asbestos into the air, all the residents of the town of Libby were exposed to the fibers to some extent. When the community was tested, about 20 percent of those tested showed abnormal lung X-rays. The mine was not closed until 1990 and lawsuits filed against the owner of the plant (Nadakavukaren, 2011, pp.166-167).

One recent asbestos exposure were those involved in the rescue and cleanup and those living in close proximity to the World Trade Center, after the September 11, 2001 attack. Asbestos containing spray-material for fireproofing and insulation was used in the construction of the World Trade Center. When the building was attacked and crumbled to the ground, asbestos fibers were released into the air. These individuals are and continue to be at a very high risk of developing asbestos related diseases in the years to come. Although it is important to note that poor lung function can be attributed to various debris components other than asbestos, a study performed by the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program, found “that about 28 percent of those tested had abnormal lung function tests, and 61 percent of those without previous health problems developed respiratory symptoms” (National Cancer Institute). Furthermore, although we are producing and using less asbestos in the United States in comparison to years ago, we are still importing the material and asbestos is still present in structures built years ago. These structures and products will continue to pose health risks to the population until they are disposed of properly.


Nadakavukaren, A. (2011). Our global environment: A health perspective. (7 ed., pp. 165-171). Long Grove, Illinios: Waveland Press.

National Cancer Institute. Asbestos exposure and cancer risk. Retrieved from website: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/asbestos

United States Environmental Protection Agency, (2013). Learn about asbestos. Retrieved
from website: http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos/learn-about-asbestos

United States Environmental Protection Agency, (2013). U.s. federal bans on asbestos. Retrieved from website: http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos/us-federal-bans-asbestos

Pictures taken from Paladin Services Inc. Asbestos exposure and cancer risk. Retrieved from http://www.paladin-services.com/asbestos.html

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