Written in collaboration with Anna Suarez, Health and Environmental Advocate, Mesothelioma Asbestos Awareness Center
Why would a mineral used in building materials to increase fire resistance cause so much concern and conflict?
Asbestos sounds harmless, even helpful. But when asbestos is inhaled or ingested, it’s a very dangerous substance. There are six types of asbestos, and all of them are carcinogenic. Back in the 19th century, asbestos was widely used in steam engines, ovens, boilers, building materials and other applications that demanded strength and heat resistance. It wasn’t until the 1960s that research linked asbestos exposure to cancer. Further studies have proven asbestos causes illnesses such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer – all gateways to a horrible death.
Today, 52 countries have banned the use of asbestos because it causes cancer and is a danger to public health. Unfortunately, the United States isn’t among them and has yet to completely ban asbestos. Last year’s Frank R. Lautenberg Act, signed by President Obama, took baby steps toward protecting Americans from some toxic substances, including asbestos.
In the United States, asbestos continues to be found in a variety of older structures, products and appliances. Although many companies and manufacturers were aware of its risks, they rarely required their workers to take precautions while using asbestos. Besides those who manufactured products in which asbestos was an ingredient, people who worked in shipyards, railroads, construction, and automotive repair were massively and regularly exposed.
Asbestos was commonly incorporated into building materials used in workplaces, homes, and schools, and structures built with these materials before the 1980s may contain asbestos in flooring, walls, insulation, shingles, etc. There are no safe levels of exposure, so it’s important to learn about its risks and what you can do to protect yourself. Below are some tips to keep in mind if you suspect asbestos is in your home:
Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that about 20 million people in the U.S. are at risk for. Mesothelioma takes about 20 to 50 years to develop, so even childhood exposures can prove deadly decades later. Its symptoms are similar to other illnesses and less aggressive cancers, so diagnosis often doesn’t occur until the disease has already developed, when prognosis is typically very poor. Most patients are told they have between 12 to 21 months to live. Since there are no cures, only a complete ban on asbestos can protect people from suffering and dying unnecessarily.
Unfortunately the asbestos industry in the US and internationally is struggling hard against an international ban. It has hired an army of unscrupulous medical doctors to misdiagnose illness, researchers to publish spurious academic papers “proving” some forms of asbestos are harmless, and lobbyists to prevent international, national and state bodies from regulating and banning asbestos. Like the tobacco industry before them, they sow doubt and confusion wherever possible to maintain asbestos industry profits.
Join the fight to ban asbestos in the US and around the world:
- Sign petitions and apply pressure online so the Environmental Protection Agency includes asbestos in their first list of 10 substances to ban.
- Call your representatives to support the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2016, which amends the Toxic Substances Control Act to require the EPA to take action on asbestos.
- Keep up with asbestos news on the sites of the Mesothelioma Asbestos Awareness Center, the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, the Asbestos Awareness Disease Organization and the Global Ban Asbestos Network