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Asbestos Exposure Frequently Asked Questions

Sam Taylor (1)

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

Sam Taylor

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

Asbestos is a harmful mineral that can cause cancer if you inhale it. Because of the serious health-related implications of exposure to asbestos, many individuals have questions about the impacts of potential exposure. 

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about asbestos exposure we encounter at our mesothelioma law firm.

How Much Asbestos Exposure Causes Mesothelioma?

Any concentration of asbestos has the potential to cause mesothelioma. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) allows workers to be exposed to 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter. However, OSHA acknowledges that even at this low level of exposure, asbestos workers face a lifetime risk of developing asbestos-related cancers at a rate of 3.4 of every 1,000 workers.

Other risk factors that may contribute to the development of mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure include the duration of your exposure, the characteristics of the type of asbestos you were exposed to, and genetic factors. 

It is essential to understand that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Every exposure has the potential to cause a deadly disease. Therefore, if you suspect that you have been exposed to asbestos, it is important to seek medical attention and get tested for mesothelioma. Early detection can improve your chances of successful treatment and may help you avoid more serious health complications.

Can a One-Time Exposure to Asbestos Lead to Mesothelioma?

Most cases of mesothelioma affect people who were exposed to significant amounts of asbestos over an extended period. If you were exposed to a low level of asbestos one time, your risk of developing an asbestos-related illness is significantly lower compared to someone who experienced high levels of exposure over an extended period of time.

However, the risk still exists. Your risk is heightened if the exposure level is higher, even if it only occurs once.

When Was Asbestos Banned in The U.S.?

Asbestos is not currently banned in the United States. While its use is limited and restricted by many laws, it is still legal for certain purposes despite nearly 70 countries banning asbestos entirely due to its negative health effects. 

Over the years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken several measures to prohibit the use of asbestos. In 1989, the EPA banned the manufacture, import, and distribution of certain asbestos-containing products while prohibiting new uses. In April 2019, the agency issued additional restrictions on discontinued uses of asbestos, ensuring that these products cannot return to the market. 

In December 2020, the EPA found unreasonable risks to human health for all ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos. As a result, in April 2022, the EPA proposed a ban on the ongoing use of chrysotile asbestos, which is currently the only known form of asbestos imported into the U.S. 

The proposed rule aims to protect American workers and families from the risks of asbestos exposure by prohibiting the manufacture, processing, distribution, and commercial use of chrysotile asbestos.

What Are the Laws Regarding Asbestos in the United States?

The U.S. has several laws governing asbestos use but no general ban. Federal Agencies have chipped away at some of the most dangerous asbestos exposures. Some of the organizations and laws related to regulating asbestos use include:

“We, of course, wish that this would be a complete and total ban, but that may be what’s coming next. The EPA is still looking into legacy uses…They’re also going to take a look at the asbestos contamination in talc. This is not the last time we’re going to hear from the EPA in regards to asbestos.” – Manny Cabrera, Senior Attorney, Asbestos Litigation

Where Is Asbestos Still Used Today?

Asbestos is still allowed in the U.S. in certain instances, including in limited capacity in the automobile, manufacturing, and construction industries. Although the U.S. does not mine asbestos, it imports asbestos from other countries for approved use.

According to the EPA, chrysotile asbestos is the only known form of the material still imported and used in the United States. As of March 18, 2024, it was still used in the following products:

  • Membranes and diaphragms in the Chlor-Alkali industry
  • Sheet gaskets
  • Oilfield brake blocks
  • Aftermarket automotive brakes and linings
  • Vehicle friction products
  • Gaskets

These industries are prohibited from continuing to use asbestos as of March 2024. However, the EPA is allowing each industry to phase out chrysotile asbestos use while transitioning to alternative materials.

While most chlorine in the United States is produced without asbestos, eight facilities still use asbestos diaphragms and membranes. The EPA has given the Chlor-Alkali industry five to 12 years to transition from asbestos.

Sheet gasket manufacturers must phase out asbestos in two to five years, but they can continue using asbestos-containing sheet gaskets until 2037. The automotive industry must phase out asbestos within six months of the final rule.

What Does Asbestos Look Like?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber mined in countries worldwide and comes in multiple varieties and colors. Unprocessed asbestos fibers look soft and usually appear in clusters. However, because the fibers were often mixed into different materials, they are not likely to be seen in their natural state.

That means asbestos can be difficult, if not impossible, to see without the help of a microscope. If you were to look at asbestos under a microscope, what you would see depends on the type of asbestos. Chrysotile asbestos, the one most typically found in buildings, is fibrous and curly. Crocidolite asbestos would be varying shades of blue under a microscope. Its fibers are sharp.

How Can You Identify Asbestos?

Asbestos fibers are classified by their shape and color. Since asbestos fibers are microscopic, laboratory confirmation, done by a professional, is generally required to identify asbestos. 

You may also be able to identify whether an item contains asbestos based on the types of materials used to create the item, when the item was built, or by the specific maker or builder of the item. 

For example, asbestos was widely used in home building materials and industrial facilities from around the 1920s to 1990. If there are surfaces or materials in your home or workplace that were built before 1990, the best practice is to assume they contain asbestos and have a professional laboratory test before you disturb the material.

What Does Asbestos Smell Like?

Unlike natural gas and other toxic substances, asbestos isn’t identifiable by smell. You can’t tell you have been exposed by walking into a room and inhaling a tell-tale odor. Buildings constructed before 1990 likely have asbestos in their insulation, texture, and other building materials, but you can’t tell by smelling them. The only way to know for sure that your home or building has asbestos is to test for it. 

People often associate asbestos with the materials surrounding it. If you think you smell asbestos, you are likely experiencing non-related smells from demolition and other causes. What you smell often depends on what you’re doing to release asbestos particles. For example, your popcorn ceiling likely contains asbestos, but you’re not at a high risk of inhaling the particles unless you dislodge the “popcorn.” 
However, if you’re cleaning or painting the ceiling and break the texture, you could be releasing asbestos particles into the air. In this case, you would smell the paint or the product you’re using to clean the ceiling. If you’ve dislodged asbestos while doing construction, you’re likely smelling dust, wood rot, or chemicals. You’re not smelling asbestos.  

Contact Our Mesothelioma Lawyers Today For Answers to Your Questions

If you believe you or a loved one were exposed to asbestos and were diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma, The Lanier Law Firm can help. Our team of skilled mesothelioma attorneys takes cases nationwide and has over 25 years of experience helping victims of asbestos exposure. 

We have won more than $20 billion in mesothelioma compensation for our clients. Contact us for a free case evaluation today.

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