Asbestos Facts: What is asbestos?

You might have noticed warning and hazard signs for asbestos exposure around old buildings and schools in your city or town, but do you know exactly what this danger is that you are supposed to be avoiding?

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring, fibrous mineral that is found in our earth and was once praised for its strength and ability to resist heat, as well as insulate. Asbestos had been used for decades in textile products, automotive parts, home and commercial buildings, naval ships, and much more. In the 1970s, asbestos use in the United States was discontinued when it was revealed to be hazardous to human health.

Asbestos fibers spread through the air in tiny, microscopic pieces that are easily inhaled. Inhaled asbestos fibers reach the air sacs (alveoli) where oxygen is transferred into the blood. The lung’s immune system attempts to remove the foreign asbestos fibers with scavenger white blood cells (macrophages). In attempting to break down the asbestos fibers, the macrophages are ruptured and killed, attracting a scarring cell known as fibroblasts to the site. The result is the formation of scar tissue in the lungs, reducing the lung’s ability to deliver oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide.

After exposure to asbestos, serious medical conditions can develop over time. Asbestos is a known cause of aggressive diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. Although its use was discontinued, asbestos remains all around us. Head the warning signs – don’t mess with asbestos!

Want to know more about asbestos? Visit the Asbestos Overview on our website.