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What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to several naturally occurring minerals that were once commonly used in construction and manufacturing due to their heat-resistant properties. Asbestos fibers are very strong and resistant to heat and most chemicals, making them extremely effective at insulation.

Asbestos has been used in a wide variety of commercial and industrial products over the last century, including roofing shingles, floor and ceiling tiles, insulation, plastics, paper and cement products, automobile parts and many others. Many of these products can still be found in buildings, homes or other places where asbestos-containing products were once used.

Over the past few decades, the federal government has placed restrictions on the use of asbestos because of the severe health risks associated with exposure. When asbestos fibers are disturbed and become airborne, they can be inhaled, which can place those who work around asbestos at risk of a number of serious and potentially deadly diseases.

The disease most commonly associated with asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a cancer that can affect the lining of the lungs, chest or abdomen. Inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers may cause an individual to develop mesothelioma, even if the period of exposure lasts for only a short time.

Although the risk of a mesothelioma diagnosis increases the longer an individual works around asbestos, some people may show signs of the disease after being exposed to asbestos fibers for only a short period of time. It may take several decades after exposure before an individual begins to develop mesothelioma symptoms.

Other asbestos-related diseases include lung cancer—which can occur when asbestos fibers become lodged in the lungs—or asbestosis, a non-cancerous disease that causes scarring in the lung tissue.

Because of the health risks associated with asbestos exposure, individuals who work around asbestos are now required to follow safety precautions in order to prevent asbestos fibers from being inhaled. However, many workers who have filed asbestos lawsuits have alleged that they were not provided with adequate safety equipment or informed about proper safety techniques when they worked with asbestos products decades ago.

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