The use of asbestos in the U.S. has fallen significantly in recent decades. It is no longer mined in this country. And the importation of asbestos has slowed to a trickle, compared to the flood during its heyday.
Yet the threat of exposure remains just as real today. Vigilance is imperative. This is not the time to let down your guard. Asbestos is lurking around us still.
Asbestos is the naturally occurring mineral that once was so coveted by the industry for its strength, versatility, affordability and heat resistance. But it is also toxic, causing a myriad of serious long-term respiratory problems, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. It is a danger to those who work with it, and those who live with it.
Because of the health risks, asbestos has been banned in more than 50 countries around the world, yet it continues to be used legally here, although sparingly and heavily regulated.
U.S. consumption of asbestos has dropped from an estimated peak of 800,000 tons in 1973 to 800 tons annually today.
It still is used legally in:
- Roofing felt, shingles and coatings as a fire retardant for residential and commercial construction
- Cement pipes, wrappings and sheets
- Vinyl floor tile
- Automobile brake linings and pads
- Automobile transmission components like gaskets and clutches
- Millboard and industrial friction equipment
Although the uses are more limited today in the U.S., it remains prevalent throughout society. Any commercial or residential structure built before 1980 is likely to have multiple asbestos products.
Throughout much of the 20th century, asbestos was highly coveted for its use in construction. That includes homes, schools and hospitals, where it becomes most dangerous as it ages and products become worn and brittle.
It’s one reason why firefighting today is considered a high-risk profession. Smoke from fires in older structures often contains the microscopic asbestos fibers that become airborne and travel considerable distance.
Insulation materials in residential and commercial buildings often were mixed with asbestos fibers. The concrete, floor tiles, drywall and ceilings all contained asbestos.
Asbestos becomes a serious concern during the renovation of any structure built before 1980, and even those built throughout that decade. Anything that disturbs the insulation, plumbing, foundation and walls, causes dust that often contains the dangerous fibers.
Even when precautions are taken, it’s important to protect those around you too. If you work with some of those asbestos products today — in automobile repair, commercial renovation, construction or roofing — don’t bring home the clothing you wear. Asbestos fibers can cling to clothes that come home to unsuspecting families.
The threat of asbestos remains real today in America. Beware.
Tim Povtak is a content writer for the Mesothelioma Center and MesotheliomaPrognosis.com.