What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that occurs naturally in the earth, primarily in deposits in Canada, Russia, South Africa and pockets of California and the Eastern United States. Asbestos has a number of fiber types. Generally, three fiber types have been used commercially: chrysotile (“white asbestos”), amosite (“brown asbestos”) and crocidolite (“blue asbestos”).

Historically, humans have mined asbestos because of its flame-retardant and insulating properties, its tensile strength and its resistance to chemicals. These qualities have caused asbestos to be used as ingredients in a variety of products, from brake linings to pipe insulation to drywall muds or “spackles.”

Inhalation of asbestos fiber is associated with a number of diseases, including cancers. Inhalable asbestos fibers are invisible, tasteless and odorless. Because asbestos was often used as an ingredient in a variety of materials, many people who were exposed to asbestos do not know they were exposed, and in some instances did not even know the products they were using contained asbestos.

Asbestos Products

  • Acoustical Plaster
  • Adhesives
  • Asphalt Floor Tile
  • Base Flashing
  • Blown-in Insulation
  • Boiler Insulation
  • Brake Linings/Clutch facings
  • Breaching Insulation
  • Caulking/Putties
  • Ceiling Tiles and Lay-in Panels
  • Cements/Industrial Muds
  • Cement Pipes
  • Cement Siding
  • Cement Wallboar
  • Chalkboards
  • Construction Mastics (floor tile, carpet, ceiling tile etc)
  • Cooling towers
  • Decorative Plaster
  • Drywall/Sheetrock
  • Ductwork Flexible Fabric Connections
  • Electric Wiring Insulation
  • Electrical Cloth
  • Electrical Panel Partitions
  • Elevator Brake Shoes
  • Elevator Equipment Panels
  • Fire Blankets
  • Fire Curtains
  • Fire Doors
  • Fireproofing materials
  • Flooring Backing
  • Heating and Electrical Ducts
  • High Temperature Gaskets/Seals
  • HVAC Duct Insulation Boiler
  • Insulation
  • Joint Compounds
  • Laboratory Gloves
  • Laboratory Hoods/Table Tops
  • Packing Materials
  • Pipe Insulation (corrugated air-cell, block, etc)
  • Plastic Molding Compounds
  • Roofing Felt
  • Roofing Shingles
  • Spackling Compounds
  • Spray-on Insulation
  • Taping, Glazing and Other Adhesives
  • Textured Paints/Coatings
  • Vinyl Floor Tile
  • Vinyl Sheet Flooring
  • Vinyl Wall Coverings
  • Wallboard

    NOTE: This list does not include every product/material that may contain asbestos. The list is generally adopted from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region 06 Sample List of Suspect Asbestos-Containing Materials,

    Asbestos Diseases

    Mesothelioma: Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma can occur on the pleura (linings of the lung and chest cavity) or peritoneum (lining of the abdominal cavity). In North America the only known cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos fibers. There is no cure for mesothelioma.

    Lung Cancer: Exposure to asbestos can cause, and/or contribute to the development of lung cancer. Most asbestos-related lung cancers occur in individuals who have a significant smoking history because asbestos acts “synergistically” with cigarette smoke to exponentially increase the risk of lung cancer. (The relative risk of a non-smoking, asbestos-exposed person developing lung cancer is about 5 times more than a not exposed person. The relative risk of a smoking, non-asbestos-exposed person developing lung cancer is about 10 times more than a not exposed person. In people who are smokers and have been exposed to asbestos, “synergism” increases the risk of developing lung cancer to 50 times or more).

    Asbestosis: Asbestosis is a scarring (fibrosis) of the lung caused by asbestos inhalation. Asbestosis is not a cancer, but can lead to shortness of breath and other afflictions, or death.

    Other Diseases: Asbestos has been linked to various other cancers such as colon cancer or prostate cancer. Asbestos can also cause non-malignant calcification or “plaquing” of the lungs that can lead to restrictive lung disease or other disabilities. In many instances, asbestos cancers will metastasize to other parts of the body including the liver, brain and bone marrow.

    All asbestos diseases have what is called a “latency period.” This is the time that passes from the time of exposure to the time when the disease manifests itself in the form of symptoms that can be diagnosed by a doctor. It is generally accepted that the latency period for asbestos can take as little as 10, or up to as many as 50 years, for the consequences of asbestos inhalation to result in a disease.

    Asbestos Occupations

    • Aircraft manufacturing production workers
    • Aircraft mechanics
    • Asbestos textile mill workers
    • Automobile manufacturing production workers (mechanics and brake repairers)
    • Bricklayers/Refractory workers
    • Boilermakers
    • Carpenters
    • Drywallers
    • Electricians and electrical workers
    • Family members of occupationally exposed people
    • Insulators
    • Ironworkers
    • Laborers/Maintenance workers
    • Laggers
    • Machinists
    • Merchant Mariners
    • Pipefitters
    • Plastic Molding workers
    • Plumbers
    • Powerhouse workers
    • Railroad workers
    • Refinery workers
    • Sheetmetal workers
    • Shipyard workers
    • Steamfitters
    • Steelworkers
    • Tire Builders/Rubber workers
    • US Navy personnel
    • Warehouse workers


    NOTE: The above list does not include every job class/occupation that historically has been exposed to asbestos. This list is intended as a general guide to the types of jobs where asbestos exposure is typically associated.

    Household/Bystander Exposure

    Tragically, many individuals who did not even actually work with asbestos have historically developed asbestos disease. For example, people who lived in neighborhoods near factories where asbestos was used, or the spouses and family members of workers who brought asbestos dust home on their clothes, have been documented to have developed mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases.

    Company Knowledge

    Companies who manufactured, distributed, supplied, or sold asbestos-containing products have known (or should have known) for decades that their products would cause disease. The medical literature has documented the inherent hazards of asbestos occupations since the early 1900s. Companies also observed the effects of asbestos in the health of their own workforces. Tragically, companies put profits first. Rather than tell their workers and customers of the hazards of asbestos (or simply eliminating the use of asbestos), companies failed to warn and inform their workers and customers of the hazards. In many instances, rather than cease using asbestos, companies instead increased production of asbestos-containing products when they became aware of the hazards.

    While the medical community knows more about asbestos and its health effects today, it was known from the very beginning that the risk of developing asbestos disease could occur in anyone exposed and that any of the asbestos diseases could result in death. Even with all this information, asbestos companies not only continued to put asbestos in their products without warning workers or customers, but actively worked with other companies to conceal the hazards of asbestos from becoming known.