Asbestos refers to naturally occurring fibrous mineral silicates — which means it’s a soft rock. The asbestos rock is mined and then crushed to produce the material we know as asbestos. Asbestos fibers are categorized as serpentines (curly fibers) or amphiboles (straight fibers). Chrysotile asbestos is classified as serpentine. Amosite, anthophyllite, crocidolite, tremolite, and actinolite are classified as amphiboles.
Use of asbestos became popular near the end of the 19th century due to its resistance to heat, electricity, and chemicals and its use continued through the 1970s. All types of asbestos fibers are associated with asbestos related diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma, and when the health hazards became known, the use of asbestos declined.
Some North Carolina workers who were exposed to asbestos were employed in power plants, textile mills, and other industrial work sites where there were boilers and thermal insulation. These men and women could have been exposed to asbestos dust, also, and be at risk of developing mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, or asbestosis.
A lesser known fact is that family members of North Carolina workers may have had so-called secondhand asbestos exposure from common household activities such as a wife washing the worker’s clothing or, even more unexpectedly, from the children giving a welcome-home hug each day to their father while he was still in his work clothes laden with asbestos dust. These at-home exposures to asbestos dust put these individuals at an increased risk of developing mesothelioma.
Documents reveal that asbestos manufacturers were aware of the health risks related to exposure to asbestos from the 1940s and 1950s, but concealed this information from their employees. In the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began to regulate asbestos. Today workers are protected from exposure to asbestos as a result of very strict regulations and enforcement.
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