The general consensus is asbestos does not cause health problems unless its fibers are released into the air, so the many homes and buildings constructed before the 1980s that still contain asbestos could pose a risk of exposure. Because of this, people should still be wary of asbestos exposure and the future development of an asbestos-related disease. Aging asbestos-containing materials can easily release asbestos fibers into the air.
Exposure to asbestos has been linked to several harmful illnesses, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. A diagnosis of mesothelioma for instance often carries a poor prognosis for patients. This is largely because of the severe latency period of symptoms, which allow the cancer to develop without being noticed. In some cases, the onset of mesothelioma symptoms can take as long as 50 years to occur.
Throughout its use in construction products and other materials, there were multiple forms of asbestos that were used for commercial purposes. One form was chrysotile, which is mined from serpentine rock.
Chrysotile is perhaps the most flexible and commonly used type of asbestos. Scientists say the fibers that make up chrysotile are somewhat curly and do not remain in the lungs for long periods of time like other straight, needle-like fibers.
A second form of asbestos that was commonly used was amosite, which is mined from amphibole rock. This type of asbestos is generally known as the second-most dangerous kind of asbestos.
Another, yet more hazardous form of asbestos is crocidolite, which is primarily mined in South Africa and Australia. Crocidolite fibers are straight and needle-like, making it possible for them to become lodged in the lining of the lungs for long periods of time after being inhaled.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, all three of these forms of asbestos are classified as human carcinogens.
Other regulated asbestos minerals such as tremolite asbestos, actinolite asbestos, and anthophyllite asbestos are less commonly used industrially, but can still be found in a variety of construction and insulation materials. In addition, many of these types of asbestos have been reported to exist in a few consumer products.
Additional information about mesothelioma and asbestos exposure may be found through the Mesothelioma Center.