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Understanding the health risks of asbestos exposure

Asbestos was once one of the most widely used building materials, but after WWII ended, the picture changed. Scientists and doctors began exploring the link between asbestos and severe illnesses such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. This research showed that asbestos was the major cause of such illnesses. For mesothelioma, it was just about the only cause. The proliferation of lawsuits, especially class action suits, in the late 1960s and 1970s threatened asbestos manufacturers and industries that used asbestos in their products with financial ruin. Asbestos has been largely eliminated as a building material, but it still exists in the environment in buildings constructed before 1950, and the asbestos that was used for heat insulation and fire-proofing in those buildings is still released into the environment. For this reason, the nature of asbestos and its attendant health risks can still necessitate the need to avoid exposure and seek prompt and competent medical care for any asbestos-related illness they may have contracted.

Asbestos is a collection of six minerals that occur naturally in the environment. The mineral is usually found in bundles of fibers. If the bundles are separated, a common occurrence when asbestos sheets are cut or otherwise modified on a construction project, the individual fibers are released into the atmosphere. Once released, the fibers may remain airborne for a significant period of time.

If asbestos fibers are inhaled, they usually lodge in the lungs or surrounding tissues. Medical research has shown that after a dormant period of 20 to 30 years, the fibers can cause a variety of cancers or other lung ailments. The most serious illness is mesothelioma, an especially virulent form of lung cancer. It is almost always fatal, and no real cure exists. Asbestos can cause other diseases, too, such as more generic forms of lung cancer and a severe lung inflammation called asbestosis. Asbestosis is not always fatal, but it severely limits the body's ability to inhale and distribute oxygen.

Anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to airborne asbestos fibers should seek a competent medical examination and diagnosis. Anyone who receives a positive diagnosis for asbestos inhalation or any of the asbestos-related diseases may wish to consult a lawyer who is experienced in representing persons who seek damages for exposure to asbestos fibers.

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