Asbestos is considered the primary cause of mesothelioma. For centuries, people have been using asbestos as a cost-effective, durable construction material. It was only a couple of decades ago that the manufacture of products containing asbestos has become heavily regulated or banned in several countries. In 1989, the US severely limited asbestos usage under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), however, you may still be at risk of being exposed.
Asbestos was once the most popular insulation material in the country, lining the walls and attics of our homes to protect against the elements and act as soundproofing. It was even mixed with cement. If you live in a home that was constructed in the 1970s or 1980s (or before), there’s a good chance asbestos is in it.
Consider this: during the 20th century, over half the asbestos consumed was done so after 19751. That means your home may be filled with asbestos and you might not even know it! Fortunately, if it’s intact and in good condition, out of the way from being disrupted, it may not be a risk to your health. Just leave it alone and it won’t hurt you.
When asbestos is dangerous
- furnace ducts
- steam pipes
- vinyl sheet flooring and floor tiles, as well as the adhesive used to install them
- door gaskets in coal/wood stoves and furnaces
- soundproofing material
- textured paints
- patching and joint compounds for ceilings and walls
- roofing and siding materials
- artificial fireplace ashes and embers
- fireproof and heat-resistant products, such as gloves and ironing board covers
- car brake pads and linings
Asbestos may also exist in other places, but those listed above are more likely to release fibers.
Even the ancient Greeks and Romans knew about the damaging effects of asbestos. Archaeological evidence has found that slaves who mined asbestos and wove fabric with the material suffered from sickness affecting the lungs. While they may not have been calling it mesothelioma back then, ancient history has shown that, for centuries, people have known that asbestos can cause life threatening and fatal conditions.
Long term work-related exposure is the biggest concern in the development of mesothelioma. Statistics show that in 2005 alone, occupational exposure caused death by mesothelioma of 43,000 people2.
If you work in or near an asbestos mine or manufacture products containing asbestos, such as an insulation factory or shipbuilding yard, you are at risk. On top of that, you may be exposing your family and loved ones to asbestos because you could be bringing it home with you unintentionally, on your clothes and body.
Did you know that the World Trade Towers were constructed with asbestos, and when they were destroyed, more than 1,000 tons of asbestos were released into the air and showered on lower Manhattan. Because the effects of exposure can take years to become apparent, it was a few years later when several survivors of 9/11 and emergency personnel died from cancer-related sicknesses.
In your food
There are some reports that the food we buy may be contaminated with asbestos.
In your natural environment
Because asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, you may be exposed to it on a regular basis whenever you go outside with the erosion of rocks containing the mineral. Generally, this is minimal. However, if you live near a mine or factory that is involved in its production and manufacture, you are at risk. You’re also at risk if you live near contaminated water run-off.
1. Virta RL. Washington: Department of the Interior (US); 2003. Worldwide asbestos supply and consumption trends from 1900 to 2000. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 03-83.
2. The global burden of disease due to occupational carcinogens