Asbestos is a dangerous mineral, but it is naturally occurring in the environment. Although it can be dangerous under certain circumstances, it can also have many benefits in industry. That's why it's not completely illegal to possess or use asbestos in America today.
The problem with asbestos is that it is dangerous when breathed in. Fibers can be carried into almost any environment after exposure by riding on the person's clothing or hair. Workers could technically expose their family members to asbestos, even if they didn't mean to do so.
Does asbestos exposure always cause cancer?
Certainly not. While asbestos exposure does increase your risk of diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, there is no guarantee that you'll be sick if exposed.
In fact, there is a link to cancer with exposure, but most people who develop mesothelioma were exposed over time. Single exposures can produce cancer in some victims, but it is less common.
How are you exposed to asbestos?
It's most common to be exposed at work (in the construction industry) or when there is a disturbance of any asbestos-containing materials. Most asbestos was used in home maintenance and repair in the past, so it's most common to come into contact with it in old insulation, tiles or roofing.
What should you do if you're exposed?
If you are exposed to asbestos, talk to your doctor. In some cases, there may be ways to remove small fibers that are visible, for example, but most of the time, your medical team will simply watch and wait to see if the exposure results in illness. Our site has more on what to do if you're exposed to this dangerous material.