Professionals in several industries used asbestos, including those working in shipyards, crayon manufacturing, automotive manufacturing and construction services. Industries in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, use asbestos because it is versatile and resists heat better than other materials. However, exposure to asbestos has been linked to a disease called mesothelioma and several other diseases.
How asbestos causes disease
Asbestos is a natural, flexible material made of tiny fibers that makes an efficient insulator, but when particles get into the air, it can pose a health risk. Inhaling these fibers can cause mesothelioma, a rare cancer that affects the mesothelium, or lining of the heart, lungs or stomach. Small amounts of asbestos, commonly less than 1%, can legally be used in potting soil, certain insulation products, certain vehicle parts and to make firefighter clothing.
Symptoms are commonly not apparent for decades after exposure, because of the latency phase. Researchers have also linked asbestos to lung cancer and cancer of the ovaries and larynx.
No safe level
Many people have likely inhaled asbestos sometimes in their life from the environment. While there is no established safe level of exposure, the worst cases occur from the intensity of the material or long-term exposure. Studies reveal that short-term exposure to asbestos seldom causes health risks, such as a one-off renovation project that could disturb asbestos particles. The risk would depend on if the area had ventilation or the product with asbestos got damaged.
Occupational exposure poses the most risk since workers remain exposed on a daily basis. The riskiest times for asbestos exposure occurred between 1940 and 1979, before regulations passed in 1980. A single disaster or event may also release clouds of asbestos fibers in the air for a long time.
Anyone exposed to asbestos should inform their doctor. Patients who have an asbestos-related disease may receive compensation.