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Asbestos is a mineral. It is mined in much the same way that other minerals, such as iron, lead, and copper. Unlike most minerals, which turn into dust particles when crushed, asbestos breaks up into fine fibers that are too small to be seen by the human eye.

How many products contain asbestos?

One study estimated that 3,000 different types of commercial products contained asbestos. The amount of asbestos in each product varied from as little as one percent to as much as 100 percent. Many older plastics, paper products, brake linings, floor tiles and textile products contain asbestos, as do many heavy industrial products such as sealants, cement pipe, cement sheets, and insulation.

How long has asbestos been in use?

Asbestos was first used in the United States in the early 1900's, to insulate steam engines. But until the early 1940's, asbestos was not used extensively. However, after World War II, and for the next thirty years asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACM) were used extensively. ACM was primarily used to fireproof, insulate, soundproof, and decorate.

How are people exposed to asbestos?

When asbestos fibers are in the air, people may inhale them. Because asbestos fibers are small and light, they can stay in the air for a long time. People whose work brings them into contact with asbestos -- workers who renovate buildings with asbestos in them, for example -- may inhale fibers that are in the air: this is called occupational exposure. Workers' families may inhale asbestos fibers released by clothes that have been in contact with ACM: this is called paraoccupational exposure. People who live or work near asbestos- related operations may inhale asbestos fibers that have been released into the air by the operations: this is called neighborhood exposure.

It is estimated that between 1940 and 1980, 27 million Americans had significant occupational exposure to asbestos. People may also ingest asbestos if they eat in areas where there are asbestos fibers in the air.

Source - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


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