Asbestos is a substance historically found in many household and industrial materials, from insulation, floor tiles, and shingles, to brake pads and drywall joint compound. It can be found in homes, buildings, construction sites, factories, and automotive repair shops.
As long as asbestos remains undisturbed in these materials, it poses no danger from inhalation. But if it is released into the air from fire, deterioration, damage, construction, demolition, repair, or maintenance work, it can cause irreparable damage to the lungs that may not manifest for many years after exposure.
For many people in the Northwest, some asbestos exposure could have happened from a product inside their home. But a large number of cases occur from workplace conditions in paper mills, shipyards, or oil refineries, where workers may unknowingly bring asbestos fibers home on their work clothes, which places family members at risk as well. Navy veterans who worked on warships are also at risk of asbestos exposure.
What does asbestos look like?
In its natural form, asbestos is a mineral existing in rock and soil. The most commonly used, serpentine asbestos or white asbestos, is recognizable for its curly fibers. But people will not see these fibers with the naked eye, as they are microscopic in size. That is why asbestos can be so dangerous – you can’t see it, smell it or taste it. You can expect to find asbestos in common household materials and products such as:
- Vermiculate-based wall and attic insulation
- Vinyl floor tiles
- Floors and siding
- Coating material or tape on hot water and steam pipes
- Oil and coal furnaces
- Textured paint or patch compounds
- Heat resistant fabrics
As long as materials containing asbestos are in good condition and are not deteriorating, crumbling, dissolving, sanded, or scraped, there should be no cause for alarm. Before doing a remodeling project or after discovering damage, it is important to contact an accredited asbestos professional to conduct an inspection or survey and perform asbestos abatement, if necessary.
What can result from exposure to asbestos?
Asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma, which is a malignant tumor that can form inside the tissue lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen, and it can take years for symptoms to appear. People who were exposed to asbestos in their 20s may not receive a diagnosis until they are in their 60s or 70s. Other conditions associated with asbestos exposure are lung cancer and asbestosis, which is a long-term non-cancerous lung disease.
Although many countries have banned the use or import of asbestos, it is still legal in the United States Asbestos exposure kills 15,000 Americans each year, and in Seattle and throughout Washington State, residents can trace their exposure to many types of workplaces, including hospitals, airports, commercial buildings, and shipyards.
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms or have received a diagnosis, it is important to understand your options and the next steps toward receiving compensation for your condition.