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Why are asbestos exposures so dangerous?

Those who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestosis may have been told a lot about their illnesses, but actually know very little about the substance that sickened them. Following is some basic information about asbestos.

The term "asbestos" refers to an aggregate of minerals that are found in nature. Because these minerals are quite resistant to corrosion and heat, asbestos was traditionally used in the insulating material for floor tiles, pipes, clutches and brakes for vehicles and many types of building materials.

Asbestos includes fibers of minerals like:

-- Actinolite

-- Amosite

-- Anthophyllite

-- Chrysotile

-- Crocidolite

-- Tremolite

Many who worked in the shipbuilding and construction industries received heavy workplace exposures, especially those responsible for removing asbestos during repairs, renovations or demolition activities. Other workers who commonly were exposed were involved with the manufacturing of products that contained asbestos, like friction products, textiles, insulation and building materials. Auto mechanics who repaired clutches and brakes also came into frequent contact with the deadly hazard.

Why is asbestos so hazardous?

The microscopic fibers that are breathed into the lungs cause scar-like tissue to build up in the lungs. This reduces lung function and over decades, causes disabilities and death. Asbestos is one cause of lung cancer, as well as causing the malignancies of the pleura that result in a diagnosis of mesothelioma in the abdomen or lungs.

There are specific standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding workers' exposure to asbestos in the workplace. There is no such thing as a "safe" level of exposure to asbestos fibers. Even exposures for just a few days have been linked to mesothelioma diagnoses.

Employers must ensure that a worker's exposure is reduced by mandating that personal protective equipment is worn at all times and administrative controls are in place. If exposure times or legal limits are exceeded, workers must be medically monitored.

Those who have been exposed to asbestos on the job may qualify for workers' compensation benefits.

Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "Asbestos," accessed Dec. 04, 2015

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