Asbestos is a mineral that can cause multiple cancers and illnesses, including mesothelioma. Exposure is most common in the workplace but can also happen in the home, in the military and/or through asbestos products. Asbestos is not fully banned in the United States and continues to pose a health risk.

Key Facts on Asbestos Exposure

mesothelioma diagnoses in the United States from 1999 – 2018


American lives lost due to asbestos related diseases each year


of asbestos is legal in certain products within the United States


asbestos exposure is dangerous

01. What Is Asbestos?

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is six naturally occurring minerals that are heat and fire resistant. Various industries and products used asbestos for decades. When asbestos materials become damaged or disturbed, individuals may inhale or swallow airborne fibers. Asbestos exposure can cause serious health problems, such as malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

Photo of Asbestos Fibers

Asbestos was recognized as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 1977. Today, it is still allowed in certain products in small amounts. Continued use of asbestos leaves the public at risk of dangerous exposure.

02. Asbestos Dangers

Why Is Asbestos Dangerous?

Asbestos is dangerous when fibers become airborne. Once an individual inhales or ingests asbestos, the fibers cannot be removed from the body. The fibers may embed into the tissue and cause irritation and scarring over time. This may lead to cancer or other health effects.How asbestos causes mesothelioma

How Much Asbestos Exposure Is Dangerous?

There is no safe level of asbestos exposure. The amount and duration of exposure can impact the risk of asbestos-related diseases.

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Short-Term Asbestos Exposure

Short-term exposure is generally lower risk. But asbestos exposure is cumulative, so repeated instances of short-term exposure are dangerous.

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Long-Term Asbestos Exposure

Long-term asbestos exposure is more likely to lead to the development of related diseases. Consistent exposure occurring over years is considered long-term.

First responders at the World Trade Center on 9/11

Asbestos and the World Trade Center

One of the most infamous examples of short-term asbestos exposure is the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Those that worked or lived in the area surrounding Ground Zero may have experienced short-term asbestos exposure.

03. Asbestos Exposure Types

How Are People Exposed to Asbestos?

Asbestos exposure may occur at work, school, home or in the military. However, exposure is most common on the job. Asbestos workers’ loved ones may also be at risk of secondhand exposure. Other sources of exposure include household products, talc or damaged asbestos in older homes and buildings.

Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Photo of a Naval DestroyerRecords show many employers were aware of the dangers of exposure but continued to use asbestos because it was inexpensive. A worker’s risk of occupational exposure varies depending on the field.

Those often exposed to asbestos-containing materials include:

Estimates show at least 27 million U.S. workers in various occupations were exposed to harmful asbestos between 1940 and 1979. Asbestos exposure and cancer risk are still concerns today in industries no longer using the mineral.

Asbestos Companies

Photo of a Brick FactoryUntil the 1980s, hundreds of companies across many industries used asbestos. Companies may have used asbestos in their manufacturing processes, in their buildings or in the products they made. As a result, thousands of people have faced asbestos exposure from working for these companies, living near their facilities or using their products.

Notable asbestos companies include:

Asbestos jobsites across various industries continue to put workers and the public at risk of exposure, such as industrial and chemical plants.

Asbestos Products

Photo of Brake RotorAsbestos was commonly used in products from the early 1900s through the 1970s. Today, certain products may still be made with small amounts of asbestos, including gaskets and brake pads. Asbestos products may also remain in old homes, schools and buildings.

Common asbestos products include:

If asbestos-containing products are in good shape and not disturbed, they are not immediately dangerous. However, if the products are worn or become damaged, fibers may become airborne. Anyone who suspects asbestos materials are present should talk to an asbestos professional.

04. Asbestos in the U.S.

Asbestos Exposure in the United States

Individuals living in all 50 states may experience asbestos exposure. Asbestos naturally occurs in certain areas of the country and was mined for decades. The mineral is not fully banned in the United States and is still in certain products.

Find Asbestos Exposure Sites Near You

Find Asbestos Exposure Sites Near You

Asbestos Sites by State

Asbestos exposure can occur anywhere in the country. Certain states, such as California, have high quantities of natural asbestos deposits. Other states, such as New York, have high mesothelioma rates due to industries and jobsites with known asbestos use. Learn more about asbestos dangers in your state.

05. Symptoms of Exposure

Signs and Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure

Photo of Woman CoughingThere are no immediate signs of asbestos exposure. Symptoms of asbestos exposure typically take 10 – 50 years to develop. After decades have passed, it can be difficult for individuals to recall their exposure. Some people may not even realize they were exposed to asbestos.

Identifying Symptoms of Asbestos-Related Diseases

Symptoms of asbestos diseases may vary in severity. Patient symptoms will also differ based on disease location. Some of the most common signs of asbestos exposure include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fluid buildup
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fatigue
06. Preventing Asbestos Exposure

Preventing Asbestos Exposure

Photo of Worker Exposed to AsbestosTo avoid dangerous exposure, individuals should not attempt to handle asbestos on their own. Asbestos abatement workers can safely remove materials containing the carcinogen. These professionals will know the federal, state and local laws pertaining to asbestos removal in the area.

What to Do if You’ve Been Exposed to Asbestos

After experiencing asbestos exposure, it is important to talk to your general practitioner and maintain frequent checkups. A doctor familiar with your medical history may notice asbestos exposure symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath and/or chest pain.

Common Questions About Asbestos