Construction workers, shipbuilders, and mechanics are at risk of asbestos exposure, which can lead to serious illnesses years later, including mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of cancer.
Asbestos is a strong, fire-resistant mineral that was widely used in construction and ship building materials, as well as automotive parts. Once it was learned that asbestos was carcinogenic – responsible for more than 100,000 deaths worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization – the manufacture, importation, processing and distribution of asbestos-containing products was banned in more than 60 countries. Its use is still allowed in the U.S., but there are some restrictions.
For example, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the use of asbestos-containing corrugated paper, rollboard, commercial paper, specialty paper, and flooring felt is now banned in construction as of Aug. 25, 1989. Under the Clean Air Act, asbestos is banned in asbestos pipe insulation and block insulation, and in some conditions, spray-on applications of materials used in buildings, structures, pipes and conduits.
But there are several building materials where asbestos is allowed, including cement corrugated sheet, cement flat sheet, clothing, pipeline wrap, roofing felt, vinyl floor tile, cement shingle, millboard, cement pipe, non-roofing coatings and roof coatings.
Asbestos can also be found automotive products like automatic transmission components, clutch facings, friction materials, disk brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks and gaskets.
Left undisturbed, asbestos does not pose immediate danger. But if the material is disturbed, as in construction, demolition, renovation, or repair of buildings, ships and vehicles, microscopic asbestos fibers can break loose and go airborne. If inhaled or ingested, the fibers can lodge in the body and lead to the incurable lung disease asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, a form of cancer that develops in the lining that surrounds the lungs and abdomen.