Asbestos: A Toxin Used Legally in the US Causes Cancer

Rachel Lynch

Health is impacted by what we eat, how much we exercise, and our environment. Attempting to
achieve great health in each of these three categories can be difficult — especially within our environment. Outdoor air quality is a hot topic — and for good reason — but there are dangers in the air we breathe indoors as well. A toxin not visible to the naked eye could cut your life short.

What Is Asbestos and Mesothelioma?

Asbestos is a microscopic, naturally occurring fiber that was commonly used in building materials through the 1970s because of its fire retardant properties. Unfortunately, the material also causes mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. When asbestos is disturbed, the asbestos dust is inhaled and embedded in the lining of the organs. The three main types of mesothelioma occur in the lungs, heart, and the abdominal cavity. The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural, occurring in the lining of the lungs. Mesothelioma has also been described in the testicles but little is known about the form.

The disease has a long latency period: Symptoms typically do not manifest until 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma symptoms are particular to where the cancer develops, which makes diagnosis difficult because each form presents itself differently. Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma impact lung function, resulting in fluid build-up in the lungs and difficulty breathing. Patients with pleural mesothelioma symptoms are often misdiagnosed as having more common illnesses such as the flu or pneumonia. These roadblocks to proper diagnosis often lead to patients going undiagnosed until the cancer is stage three or four and has spread. At this stage of the disease, prognosis is poor and often treatment options are no longer viable. Patients are typically only given 12 to 21 months to live. There is currently no cure for mesothelioma so the best course of action is to avoid asbestos exposure.

How Does Asbestos Exposure Occur?

There have been three waves of asbestos exposure. The first involved those who worked with the materials — mostly male employees of industrial companies or the military. The second wave occurred when the asbestos fibers were brought home on the clothing of those workers and they unknowingly exposed their families to the toxin. The third and current wave of asbestos exposure is due in part to the DIY craze. Homeowners undertaking their own home renovations are unaware of the possibility of asbestos in their home and do not take the necessary precautions. If your home was built prior to the 1980s, it is best to have a professional inspect your home for asbestos before beginning any renovation project.

Where Was Asbestos Used?

Asbestos was used in many building materials including insulation, roofing, and floor and ceiling tiles. The toxin was also used in wallpaper, paneling, furnaces, and boilers. In addition to building materials, asbestos has been found in automotive materials such as brake pads, brake linings, transmission plates, and clutch linings.

Is Asbestos Still Legal?

While asbestos is no longer mined in the United States, the toxin is still legal to use and regularly imported. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did try to achieve a complete ban of asbestos in the 1970s but their efforts were overturned after those benefiting from its use protested. In 2007 action was taken again when a bill called the “Ban Asbestos in America Act” passed the Senate unanimously. Unfortunately, the bill was thwarted in the House and never made it to the president's desk. While a complete asbestos ban is expected in Canada this year, other developing countries are experiencing a growth of asbestos trade and use. A complete ban of asbestos in the United States is not expected under the current presidential administration.


Rachel Lynch is the Press and Media Coordinator for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, specializing in asbestos use around the world.


  1. Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Mesothelioma Cancer.
  2. The Medical Journal of Australia. Increasing incidence of malignant mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos during home maintenance and renovation.
  3. Asbestos Nation. Why isn’t asbestos banned in the United States?


Unknown said...

If the problem was presented to President Trump , It would pass

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