The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began its fight to ban asbestos-containing products beginning in 1971. The battle lasted all the way until 1990, with the EPA claiming a partial victory. Today’s strict regulations make it difficult for companies in the U.S. to use “harmful” levels of asbestos. However, according to the EPA, there are no safe levels of asbestos. Many regulatory bodies around the world agree.
Today, around 55 countries have banned all forms of asbestos. The U.S. is not among them. In fact, asbestos is still on the United States market in over 3,000 products.
While this is a small figure compared to the widespread use of asbestos before 1971, it is still a major concern for the EPA and the public. New research now shows that much lower exposures to asbestos (than originally reported) can cause asbestos-related diseases.
Understanding the Different Types of Asbestos-Related Diseases
Asbestos-exposure causes four health disorders including Asbestosis, Lung Cancer, Benign Pleural Changes, and Mesothelioma. According to Wolfram Research:
Asbestosis results in stiffening of the lung, and has resulted in the deaths of many miners.
Lung Cancer has a higher incidence in workers who also smoke, with the chance of developing cancer roughly proportional to the amount smoked. Asbestos-induced cancer is found only rarely in nonsmokers.
Benign Pleural Changes occur to an extent proportional to exposure, but rarely cause functional impairment.
Mesothelioma involves the development of a fatal tumor. The time between diagnosis and original exposure is commonly 30 years or more. Family members of workers exposed to asbestos are also at risk. Among the general population, 70-80% of all mesothelioma cases are caused by direct exposure to asbestos.
Symptoms of asbestos-related diseases, which may develop anywhere from 10 to 60 years after exposure, may include shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness, a persistent cough that gets worse over time, blood in the sputum (fluid) coughed up from the lungs, pain or tightening in the chest, difficulty swallowing, swelling of the neck or face, loss of appetite, weight loss, anemia, or fatigue.
Asbestos in the U.S. Today: Chrysotile #1
About 95% of the commercial asbestos used in the United States today is chrysotile. Chrysotile is a fibrous silky Serpentine (one of two main groups of asbestos minerals) that is just one kind of asbestos and the only asbestos mineral in the Serpentine group. Also called “white asbestos,” chrysotile is mined primarily in Quebec, Canada and the Ural Mountains, which lie in Russia and Kazakhstan.
Russia is the world’s top producer and exporter of asbestos. Kazakhstan is the world’s 4th largest producer of asbestos and the world’s second largest exporter of the mineral. Canada is the world’s 5th largest producer of asbestos and the 4th largest exporter of the mineral.
In the U.S., chrysotile is used in products such as chrysotile-cement—in the form of pipes, sheets and shingles; in automotive products and components such as brake shoes, disk pads, clutches and elevators brakes; in roof sealants, textiles, plastics, rubbers, door seals for furnaces, high temperature caulking, and paper; and in components for the military and the nuclear industry.
The second group of asbestos, called “Amphiboles,” is made up of 5 types of asbestos including:
- Amosite (brown asbestos), which is made up of straight brown/grey fibers and is the second most common type of asbestos. Found mainly in Africa.
- Crocidolite (blue asbestos), which is made up of straight blue fibers and has greater tensile strength than chrysotile asbestos but is much less heat-resistant. The major commercial source of blue asbestos is South Africa, where it occurs in ironstone. It is also found in Australia and Bolivia.
- Anthophyllite, Tremolite, and Actinolite are occasionally found as contaminants in asbestos-containing materials.
Although chrysotile asbestos is considered “less toxic” than other types of asbestos, it is still considered dangerous. In fact, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), chrysotile asbestos should be treated in the same way as the more hazardous forms of asbestos.
In addition, during a March 23, 2013 keynote speech at the annual International Asbestos Awareness Conference in Washington, D.C., Dr. Aubrey Miller, Senior Medical Advisor of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), called for an update to asbestos regulations, which have not been amended since the mid-1980s.
For more information about asbestos-related disease, request a free copy of 100 Questions & Answers About Mesothelioma. For a free consultation with an experienced mesothelioma attorney, contact the legal team at MRHFM today. MRHFM is the largest firm exclusively devoted to helping mesothelioma victims and their families.
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
University of Toronto, Environmental Health and Safety
Webster’s New Encyclopedia Dictionary
Print, BD&L New York