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Asbestos Exposure

Nearly 250,000 people are killed worldwide from asbestos-related illnesses every year. Asbestos exposure can occur from using certain materials and tools in the workplace, and in homes and schools that were built with asbestos-laden products. Individuals exposed to this harmful mineral are at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses. These include lung cancer and mesothelioma, which can take decades to develop and for symptoms to appear.

Sam Taylor (1)

Legally Reviewed By: Sam E. Taylor
Managing Attorney | Lawyer for Asbestos Exposure in Houston

Sam Taylor

Legally Reviewed By: Sam E. Taylor
Managing Attorney | Mesothelioma & Asbestos in Houston

Asbestos fibers are invisible to the naked eye. There are no immediate symptoms from inhaling them. Sickness may not emerge until decades later. In the meantime, victims have no way of knowing when they are exposed until they become irreversibly ill.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a bundle of fibers composed of a group of six silicate minerals that occur naturally on the surface of the earth. These minerals are strong, flexible, odorless, and chemically inert. They do not conduct electricity, and they are resistant to fire and heat. These qualities give asbestos its commercial and industrial appeal.

The six minerals can be divided into two families, based on the type of rock formations from which they are mined: serpentine and amphibole. Asbestos formations are abundant in some states, but no asbestos is mined in the United States today.

The Serpentine Family

Chrysotile asbestos is the sole asbestos type in the serpentine family. It is mined in Canada, Russia and Italy. It has a curly structure and is the most common type used in the United States, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of asbestos in buildings. It is used in the following products:

The Amphibole Family

The remaining types of asbestos belong to the amphibole family. These types are ultrafine and needle-like. They are easier to inhale and considered more hazardous than chrysotile asbestos, although all asbestos is hazardous.

Amosite Asbestos

Amosite asbestos is mined in South Africa and is the second most common form of asbestos, present in about five percent of asbestos materials used in buildings in the United States. It has been used in the following products:

Crocidolite Asbestos

Also known as blue asbestos, crocidolite asbestos is less heat-resistant than other asbestos forms. It is used in cement, tiles and insulation.

Actinolite Asbestos

Actinolite asbestos is a dark-colored asbestos that is comprised of calcium, magnesium, iron and silicon.

Anthophyllite Asbestos

Anthophyllite asbestos is a rare form of asbestos with a brown or yellowish color. It is primarily composed of magnesium and iron. It has mostly been used in cement and insulation materials.

How does asbestos exposure occur?

Asbestos is not believed to be harmful as long as it remains intact. Asbestos exposure occurs when asbestos is disturbed or damaged. This causes microscopic fibers to be released into the air, where they can be inhaled.

Asbestos was used liberally until the public became aware of its dangers in the late 1970s. Buildings and homes built prior to 1975 almost certainly contain significant quantities of asbestos. Despite its widely known dangers, asbestos is still used commercially today.

How much asbestos exposure causes mesothelioma?

The American Cancer Society has observed a loose association between the level of asbestos exposure and the risk of developing mesothelioma. According to the findings, the highest risk comes from high levels of asbestos exposure at an early age over an extended period. Most cases of pleural mesothelioma have been linked to high levels of exposure.

OSHA limits the amount of asbestos a worker can be exposed to during an eight-hour workday to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter. While this may seem trivial, OSHA acknowledges that every exposure can cause mesothelioma.

This is confirmed in expert testimony against John Crane, a company known to have exposed workers to asbestos. According to one expert witness, as many as one million asbestos fibers can fit on the head of a pin. Thus, even a single incidence of asbestos exposure could result in millions of fibers being ingested.

According to another expert witness in the same case, even seemingly trivial exposures to asbestos can lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis, and there is no known safe level of exposure. Although the risk of mesothelioma is higher with increased exposure, once the condition develops, the level of exposure does not matter.

Occupations and Products with Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos use was widespread in the commercial construction, shipbuilding and automotive industries for most of the 20th century. Workers did not use protective measures because they were unaware of the dangers. Historical commercial uses of asbestos include the following:


Advertisement for Gold Bond Building Asbestos-Cement Siding

Ebonized asbestos

Ebonized Asbestos container label from Keasbey & Mattison Co. the “best in asbestos”


Promotional marbles from Keasbey & Mattison Co. for their asbestos-cement pipes

Construction Workers

Construction workers historically experienced the highest risks during construction of older buildings, renovations and demolitions. These activities can disturb asbestos and release its deadly fibers into the air.

Automobile Mechanics

Automobile mechanics who previously worked on brakes, clutches or transmissions have experienced high-level exposure to asbestos and have since become ill with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

First Responders

First responders enter buildings that have collapsed or burned down to perform search and rescue or other life-saving duties. These heroic workers include firefighters, police officers and paramedics. Firefighters take on the majority of the risks. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), firefighters experience twice the rate of mesothelioma as the general population.

More than 350 firefighters who responded during the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks have been diagnosed with asbestosis, and more than 400 have been diagnosed with other lung conditions that could be related to asbestos in the World Trade Center.

Secondary Exposure

Many workers who were unaware of their exposure to asbestos brought the hazardous fibers home from work, causing secondary asbestos exposure to their families. The Lanier Law Firm has successfully represented spouses and children who developed mesothelioma through this type of exposure.

Asbestos Exposure in Public and Residential Buildings

The occupants of buildings constructed before 1975, including homes, schools and office buildings, may have been exposed to asbestos.


Asbestos was widely used in residential construction and could expose families if disturbed. While most of the asbestos was not easily disturbed, asbestos used in textured paints and wall patching compounds could be easily disturbed, endangering the residents. Other common asbestos uses in residential construction include the following:



Many schools and universities across the United States are housed in older buildings that contain large quantities of asbestos. The problem is so severe that elementary school teachers are more than twice as likely as the general population to die of mesothelioma.

Although laws have been passed requiring inspections and abatement in the school system, they are not enforced, and schools lack the funding to abate the issue. Multiple investigations have uncovered unsafe levels of asbestos in individual public schools.

Floor tiles manufactured prior to 1981 are presumed to contain asbestos. While undamaged tiles are not a threat, asbestos can be disturbed when they become damaged or begin to deteriorate. Asbestos insulation around water pipes can be damaged or disturbed when pipes leak or burst.

“I think there is a misconception out in the public that if a person is diagnosed with mesothelioma and they immediately think, ‘Well, I’ve never been exposed to asbestos, so therefore I don’t have a claim.’ There are a lot of ways people can be exposed to asbestos and not even know it, either from a take home exposure from a parent bringing it home from work on their clothes or from inadvertently being exposed to it in neighborhoods or at industrial facilities, or whatever the case may be. The fact that they have mesothelioma means they were exposed to asbestos at some point, and they need to call a mesothelioma lawyer and identify how that happened.” – Sam Taylor

Asbestos Exposure in the Military

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces have historically experienced the highest levels of asbestos exposure, and this continues today. Although military veterans comprise less than 10 percent of the population, they account for 30 percent of all mesothelioma cases each year.

Military personnel who serve overseas often encounter buildings in the midst of or shortly after being bombed, burned down or otherwise demolished. These buildings almost always harbor asbestos. Massive quantities of the fibers can be released into the air when buildings are destroyed, and these particles can remain airborne for months.

Military service members faced significant asbestos exposure through their own equipment or in their own barracks. The military began heavily investing in asbestos in the 1930s due to its low cost and usefulness, and it was commonly used in the construction of barracks.

Military Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Significant asbestos exposure also occurred during the course of service member work duties, where U.S. Navy personnel experienced the highest levels of exposure.

Beginning in the 1930s, the military lined every naval vessel with asbestos. It was also used liberally in the boiler rooms and engine compartments of ships, exposing those who worked below deck in these areas to the largest risks.