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What Is Asbestos?

By Jeff Lakie

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring substance that is mined from the ground and woven into fibrous material. Asbestos, by its very nature, it heat resistant and it does not conduct heat very well, either. So at one time that made it perfect for all kinds of industrial and manufacturing applications.

Unfortunately, if we are exposed to a lot of asbestos over a long period of time, it can build up in our lungs. This causes asbestosis, which is an inoperable disease that increases in severity. Eventually, even 30 years later, it will allow the growth of cancer in the lungs, chest, and abdominal lining to develop. These, sadly, are also inoperable.

In 1986 the Environmental Protection Agency banned the manufacturing of all products containing asbestos. However, this was later overturned by the US Court of Appeals. The court stopped the manufacture of some asbestos-related products but allowed the continuation of the manufacture of others. This decision helps people remain safe because the products that will continue to be made with asbestos do not come into contact with people very often.

Brake pads, for example, are one product that continue to be made from asbestos because of asbestos' excellent heat resistant capability. To date, no other substance has proven quite as capable of handing heat the same way that asbestos has, so until an alternative is found, asbestos will continue to me mined and manufactured.

Asbestos does occurs in nature and everyone breathes it and drinks it because it is part of the air we breathe and the water we drink. In very small amounts it is not dangerous. But in larger amounts it can be very dangerous, especially if it is disturbed. Unfortunately, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it is estimated that 1.3 million construction workers face a harmful level of asbestos on the job.

Asbestos may also be found in homes built between 1930 and 1950, and in insulation around older steam pipes, hot water pipes, and oil furnaces. Once asbestos is disturbed, that's when it becomes airborne and the threat of breathing it in is increased. If you think there is asbestos near where you live, do not disturb it! Instead, contact the Environmental Protection Agency and let the professionals take care of it.

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