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1. What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occuring mineral silicates. Asbestos minerals crystallize into narrow parallel bundles which are composed of many thin fibers. Some of the notable properties of asbestos are resistance to heat, resistance to chemical attack, high tensile strength and a tendency to be divided lengthwise into fine fibers.

2. When did the use of asbestos begin?

Use of asbestos on a large scale began in the early 1900s and continued until it was banned in the late 1970s.

3. Where was asbestos used?

Because of the physical properties of asbestos, it worked very well as part of insulation, roofing, flooring and ceiling materials, etc. Asbestos was also used in the lining of car brakes. To see a diagram of likely places to find asbestos in your home, click here.

4. How many types of asbestos are there?

Chrysotile, amosite, chrosidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite are all types of fibrous asbestos.. The most commonly used asbestos is chrysotile, followed by amosite and crocidolite.

5. Where does the exposure to asbestos come from?

Asbestos exposure results when asbestos containing materials, such as acoustical ceilings, floor tiles, etc, are disturbed in some way. Besides this, the areas near asbestos mines may contain higher concentrations of asbestos due to natural weathering and erosion in the sites of these mines.

6. How can asbestos enter the body?

The most common way that asbestos can enter the human body is through breathing in contaminated air. Most of the asbestos fibers that enter the respiratory system are removed with the exhaling breath or are trapped by the mucus lining the respiratory tract and are then removed by coughing.

7. How does asbestos affect my health?

The asbestos fibers that can do damage are the ones that enter the respiratory tract and are not removed by the usual body defenses. These fibers are the ones that reach the deapest parts of the lungs. These fibers damage the lungs by leaving scars in the lung tissue. If many of these scars develop due to a large number of trapped asbestos fibers, the capacity of the lungs becomes decreased. It may become decreased to a point to cause disability and even death. People who are consistently exposed to asbestos over a long period of time, such as asbestos workers, are at a higher risk to develop lung cancer or mesothelial cancer. Lung cancer begins with the tissue of the respiratory system, while mesothelial cancer starts with the thin membranes surrounding the lungs as well as the heart.

All these effects caused by asbestos do not manifest themselves immediately after exposure. It usually takes between 20 to 30 years to see the full impact of the exposure to asbestos.