More than thirty million tons of asbestos in its various forms have been mined in the past century. Asbestos is one of the most pervasive environmental hazard in the world, present in more than 3,000 manufactured products. It was widely used from the 1950s to 1970s. Asbestos is actually a family of minerals that can be spun into fibers and then woven into cloth. Due to this fact, it will not burn; thus, it has been used heavily in the insulation industry as a fire retardant. Problems arise when the material becomes old and crumbly, releasing fibers into the air and then inhaled into our lungs. Asbestos won’t burn; neither will it dissolve once inside the body. The fibers get caught in the lungs and other organs then irritate the tissues and cause lesions and eventually scarring.
There are three different diseases that are triggered by inhaling asbestos fibers: asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.
Asbestosis is caused when asbestos fibers are inhaled and become trapped in the lungs. In response, the body tries to dissolve the fibers by producing an acid. While not destroying the fibers, the acid serves to scar the lung tissue. Eventually the scarring can become so severe that the lungs become unable to function.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the outside tissue of the lungs. This cancer is solely linked to asbestos. The time from exposure to manifestation of these diseases is from 15-40 years.
The major sources of asbestos are insulation on floors, ceilings, heating ducts, and water pipes from the 1950s to the 1970s. Even though the use of asbestos in office buildings ceased over 30 years ago, millions of office workers are still working in older buildings which contain asbestos insulation. It’s estimated that over 50% of the skyscrapers in America still contain asbestos. Both of the “Twin Towers” that were brought down (in classic “controlled demolition” style) On 9/11/01 were full of asbestos.
There have been concerns about a possible asbestos cover up by the EPA and the federal government during the cleanup of the World Trade Centers. In fact, the United States is one of the few nations that have not yet placed a ban on asbestos – it is still an ingredient in thousands of products. That’s right, amazingly, despite the known health risks, asbestos has not been banned in the USA. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) abandoned its attempts to ban asbestos products in 1979, passing the responsibility to the EPA. In 1989, the EPA attempted a ban of its own, but in 1991, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it. Insidious and deadly, asbestos has worked its way through the “cracks” of the consumer protection system for almost 30 years.
As a result, asbestos is still lodged deep in the tissue of American commerce, and almost no one is paying attention. Despite the fact that health experts expect asbestos to claim another 250,000 lives in the USA during the next several decades, asbestos is still being used as an ingredient in a multitude of everyday products ranging from brake pads to ceiling tiles. Imports of products containing asbestos are also on the rise. The bottom line is that virtually every man, woman, and child has been exposed to asbestos, due to its pervasiveness. Only time will tell the deleterious health effects which result from this cancerous carcinogen.