Asbestos is a mineral fiber found in rock and soil that in its natural, inert form is harmless. There are six types of asbestos fibers mined in different parts of the world, and the fibers may be white, brown, blue, gray or green. Chrysotile, the white fibers, are most commonly used in the United States.
There are two families of asbestos, serpentine and amphibole asbestos. Of the two, serpentine asbestos, which has curly fibers composed of sheets of crystals, is used far more often. Chrysotile asbestos falls in this family, and accounts for 95% of all asbestos use worldwide. Amphibole, on the other hand, has needle-shaped fibers, and although its use is less common, experts suggest that it takes far less exposure to this substance to cause cancer.
All forms of asbestos can cause many forms of cancer as well as permanent damage to the lungs. Victims of asbestos exposure range from firefighters and those who work in construction, shipbuilding and factories that produce cars and trucks, to navy veterans who worked on warships that contain asbestos.
How does asbestos cause disease?
Asbestos is prevalent everywhere, and exists in thousands of construction materials such as:
- Cement shingles, siding and roofing
- Electrical wire casings
- Pipe, duct and furnace insulation
- Floor tile, adhesives, soundproofing material
- Attic insulation
It is also in gas-fired fireplaces with artificial ashes, plastics, paints, automobile brake pads, fire-resistant fabrics and gardening products. Thousands of manufacturing plants, public facilities, shipyards and military bases in the Northwest and elsewhere contain asbestos in their building materials.
As long as the asbestos remains in these products, the fibers are harmless. When released into the air by damage or deterioration, however, people inhale them, where the fibers collect in the lungs and cause scarring and inflammation. The condition may remain latent over decades before medical examination reveals a cancer diagnosis.
U.S. health organizations classify asbestos as a carcinogen that causes:
- Asbestosis, which results in permanent lung damage
- Larynx, kidney and throat cancers
- Pleural effusions, a condition that occurs when fluid collects around the lungs
Thousands of victims in Oregon and Washington do not realize that they may have a condition or disease that was caused by asbestos exposure. Fortunately, public awareness and the tragic prevalence of conditions related to asbestos injury have made filing a claim against the manufacturers of products containing asbestos a viable way to seek compensation, even if the exposure occurred many years before.