Asbestos Exposure Continues to be a Danger
Asbestos exposure still persists as a health threat. Not just in third world countries with lax rules for hazardous materials but also in highly regulated countries like the United States and Canada. Those of us involved in asbestos victims’ advocacy are so acutely aware of the continued pervasiveness of asbestos exposure that it always comes as kind of a shock when people seem oblivious to it.
But still I was very surprised when I came across this opening sentence in a recent scientific article about asbestos exposure: Asbestos describes a group of naturally occurring silicate mineral fibers that were frequently used in industry during the 20th century due to their desirable flame retardant and tensile properties.
Although the article goes on to clarify that asbestos exposure continues and “the burden of disease is considerable,” the opening sentence sets a misleading tone that unfortunately all too many people hold to be the truth. In my decades of experience as an asbestos litigation attorney, I continue to be amazed by how the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that asbestos exposure is a thing of the past. This is certainly not the case.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, asbestos in the US today is still used in
- brake pads
- automobile clutches
- roofing materials
- vinyl tile
- and, imported cement pipe and corrugated sheeting (American Thoracic Society 2004
The assumption that asbestos is now mostly a historical problem affecting only people who worked in construction and other industrial trades is a dangerous one to make. According to some estimates the global trade in asbestos may have increased by as much as 20 percent last year with global exports said to have increased from 1,081,885 tons in 2011 to 1,327,592 tons in 2012. Russia is said to now be the world’s leading exporter of asbestos.
Although asbestos becomes dangerous only when disturbed or damaged, it is naive to presume that the products it is currently approved for use in here in the U.S. will remain intact and never break down. When asbestos breaks down, bad things happen. Dust and fibers released can find their way into the lungs if inhaled. The resulting damage can take decades to emerge. When it does emerge as mesothelioma it is a death sentence. In the future we may see more cases of mesothelioma in people who were exposed without their knowledge and without working in occupations typically associated with asbestos-related diseases.