Asbestos is a known carcinogen and contrary to popular belief, has not been banned. It is still used today, and many old buildings and industrial products include asbestos.
There are many hazardous materials, but asbestos is especially notorious because the asbestos companies knew about its dangers and continued to use it for decades. Mined at several locations in North America, asbestos was valued for its durability and fire resistance. It was employed in drywall, floor and ceiling tile, insulation, construction mastics, HVAC ducts, boilers, pipes, and automobile brakes.
Workers at the plants and factories that made asbestos products were often the victims of this deadly material. The asbestos fibers got in the air and when inhaled produced lung diseases like asbestosis, malignant mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Like coal miner’s disease, the occupational health diseases caused by asbestos fibers affected the lives of tens of thousands. Workers at foundries, power plants, paper mills, refineries, and construction sites were exposed to asbestos. Asbestos was widely used in naval vessels and many sailors were exposed. Most of the people who contract mesothelioma are veterans or former asbestos workers.
The most common form of this cancer is pleural mesothelioma, in which the tumor grows on the inside of the pleural cavity that houses the lungs. This can be a very difficult disease for doctors to diagnose, and it is often mistaken for pneumonia or bronchitis. Another obstacle to determining someone has this disease is the long “latency period”. It often doesn’t show up for decades after the person has been working with asbestos. Mesothelioma even attacks people who didn’t work with asbestos, but who lived with someone who did. There are documented cases of wives and children of asbestos workers contracting the cancer after inhaling the fibers from their husbands’ and fathers’ work clothes.