Why Asbestos Fibers Cause Disease

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Asbestos is a group of minerals composed of fibers. There are two distinct types of fibers: amphiboles and serpentines. The amphiboles have long needle-shaped fibers that once inhaled or ingested can stay in the body for many years. An amphibole, crocidolite, is the most carcinogenic asbestos and the one most associated with Mesothelioma.

The other type of fiber is the serpentine. It has corkscrew- shaped fibers. One type of serpentine asbestos, chrysotile, can be contaminated with the amphibole tremolite. When this happens chrysotile becomes highly carcinogenic causing malignant Mesothelioma.

In Libby, Montana, a mineral known as vermiculite is mined. This mineral is mixed into the garden soil and is also used in insulation. Vermiculite is now associated with Mesothelioma as the incidence of Mesothelioma in the people living near the mine has risen sharply.

Why do the asbestos fibers cause cancer? When asbestos fibers are breathed or inhaled, it can cause asbestos-related disease such as lung cancer, Mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural plaques and effusions. The asbestos fibers that are carried to the lung are unable to be removed with usual way the body deals with foreign substances. They remain in the body which, over time, leads to inflammation and scarring. Then, after a latency period of 20-40 years, cancer can develop. In fact, most victims are between 50 and 70 years of age because they are people who were exposed to asbestos over a decade ago.

People who work in insulation and occupations such as brake repair, shipbuilding, factory work and mining of asbestos have the greatest risk of developing Mesothelioma. In WWII alone, millions of people were exposed to asbestos while working in shipyards or factories.
Asbestos is being used less today than it was prior to the 1970’s when the risks of asbestos became known. However, it is still being used in some fire safety products and can be a health hazard to people working on the renovation of homes built prior to the 1970’s. 

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