The Dangers of Asbestos

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Asbestos is a fibrous material that causes debilitating respiratory problems. Until just a few decades ago, asbestos was widely used in building insulation.

To look at a wad of asbestos, one might think that it's man-made: the fluffy fibers and uniform texture make it seem synthetic. In fact, though, asbestos is actually a naturally-occurring mineral. Because of its flame-retardant nature, it was a popular material for clothing and fabrics since the days of ancient Greece and Rome. Even before that, the Egyptians used asbestos in funeral shrouds and as long-lasting wicks for oil lamps and candles. 

It was during the Industrial Revolution that asbestos really took off. A good insulator that was also fireproof? What's not to love?

Unfortunately, as we know now, asbestos has a terrible downside. The tiny fibers break off and float through the air. If inhaled, they become lodged in the delicate tissues of the respiratory system, eventually causing mesothelioma cancer (which affects the pluria, the lining of the lungs) or asbestosis (a chronic lung disease which can lead to mesothelioma).

In the 1970s, after centuries of documentation of the health effects of asbestos exposure, the U.S. Government finally passed legislation against its excessive use (though it has still not been banned outright).

If your home was built before the early 80s, you may be at risk. Checking for asbestos involves more than just looking behind your wallpaper or shining a flashlight around the basement, though. Suspicious substances must be sent to lab so that professionals can examine them for asbestos fibers. The National Institute of Standards and Technology maintains a list of such labs. Visit their site or call them at (301) 975-4016 for more information or to find a facility close to you.

"History of Asbestos." The Mesothelioma Center, 19 November, 2015. Web.

"Owens Corning/Fibreboard Corporation." The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, 2015. Web.

"U.S. Federal Bans on Asbestos." EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 3 February 2015. Web.