Widespread Use of Asbestos-Containing Products
Asbestos showed up in products everywhere — from drug store cosmetics to Navy ship insulation — before its dangers were widely known.
It’s estimated that 27 million Americans were exposed to asbestos products during the 20th century.
Asbestos had many benefits that made it useful in a wide variety of products. It was hailed as a so-called “miracle mineral” for decades.
It was also chemically inert so product manufacturers could blend its fibers into all sorts of different materials without a chemical reaction.
This made asbestos safe and simple to handle during all manufacturing processes, allowing for its use across most American industries.
Asbestos products were used in:
- Automotive parts
- Construction products
- Aircraft parts
- Consumer products
- Heavy equipment parts
Yet asbestos had a major drawback: when inhaled, its fibers never leave the human body and can cause life-threatening diseases like asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma.
Why Were Asbestos Products Used?
Asbestos products were used because the wide-ranging benefits of the mineral outweighed its deadly drawbacks.
Learn more about some of the benefits below.
Asbestos was exceptionally strong, and any product that used it was made more durable.
Asbestos products were desirable in high-heat and high-combustion settings since they could withstand high temperatures. Asbestos liners in boilers and fireboxes controlled heat in amazing ways.
Automotive assemblers found asbestos resisted friction and wear. Automobile makers manufactured brakes, clutches, and gaskets from asbestos. Almost every American car, truck, and heavy equipment piece contained asbestos parts at one time.
Asbestos was so lightweight that it could be used to make airplane parts.
Asbestos was relatively cheap to extract from the ground and blend into products. This property allowed manufacturers to make handsome profits.
Asbestos resisted electricity very well. This made it highly useful as insulation for electrical wiring.
Shipbuilders found asbestos products perfect. These products were absorbed sound like no other material yet discovered.
For decades, the only ones who knew of the horrific dangers were the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products.
But these manufacturers downplayed and even hid the dangers of asbestos from the general public rather than keeping people safe.
Products That Contain Asbestos
The benefits and natural availability of asbestos resulted in the material being used in hundreds of products from the 1920s until the 1980s — when clear links were made between asbestos exposure and illness.
Below are examples of some common asbestos-containing products.
Asbestos was used in the manufacturing of dozens of automobile parts due to its durable nature.
Asbestos could be found in:
- Brake pads
- Brake shoes
- Clutch facings
The use of asbestos was extremely common in automotive parts in which durability and friction was a factor.
Many construction materials were manufactured with asbestos because the mineral is strong, lightweight, friction- and fire-resistant, and cheap.
These factors made asbestos the perfect material for helping construction workers build durable and sustainable structures.
Asbestos could be found in these construction materials:
- Cement pipe
- Cement powder/mortar mixes
- Electrical components
- Pipe and blockwork
- Protective clothing
Considering the extent to which asbestos was used in the construction industry, these blue-collar workers faced a high risk of asbestos exposure.
Asbestos was also found in dozens of other industrial and consumer products.
Talc & Baby Powder
Talc — a common ingredient in baby powder — is a mineral that helps absorb moisture and reduce friction.
This makes it a perfect additive in baby powder, cosmetics, and other consumer goods.
In October 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised consumers to stop purchasing Johnson & Johnson’s famous baby powder.
This alert came after the agency found trace amounts of asbestos in samples of the company’s baby powder.
Asbestos in talcum powder has been linked to ovarian cancer, mesothelioma, and other health issues.
Asbestos was commonly used in the manufacturing of various types of tiles found in commercial buildings, military barracks, and even homes.
Though asbestos tiles are sealed with a protective coating, the dangerous fibers can still be dispersed into the air if the tiles are cut or damaged.
Asbestos was used in the following types of tiles:
- Bathroom tiles
- Ceiling tiles
- Kitchen tiles
- Vinyl floor tiles
Proper safety precautions should be taken to avoid inhalation of hazardous asbestos when remodeling tiles in homes.
Other Asbestos Products
In addition to the products listed above, asbestos was also used in dozens — even hundreds — of other products.
Manufacturers could cut down on costs since asbestos was so cheap while still creating durable and lightweight products.
Other asbestos-containing products included:
- Air-conditioning systems
- Fire blankets
- Heat control materials
- Potting soil
- Roofing shingles
Asbestos is dangerous despite these seemingly positive properties.
The material has been linked to various forms of cancerous and non-cancerous diseases.
Diseases Caused by Asbestos Exposure
Anyone who used the asbestos-containing products listed above could be at risk of several dangerous illnesses.
Microscopic fibers could be released into the air when asbestos-based products get disturbed.
Humans could then inhale or swallow these asbestos fibers.
Asbestos fibers are so durable that the human body cannot break them down.
Over time, the asbestos fibers irritate healthy tissue and eventually cause the affected person to get sick. This causes asbestos diseases to form.
The most common diseases related to asbestos products are:
- Asbestosis: benign (non-cancerous) scar tissue in the lungs
- Lung cancer: malignant (cancerous) cancerous tumors grow inside the lung
- Mesothelioma: cancer masses develop in the lung, heart, abdomen and testicle linings
- Other cancers: asbestos-related cancer can develop in the ovaries and larynx
Other conditions related to asbestos — such as pleural plaques, pleural effusion, and pleural thickening — are not life-threatening, but most are uncomfortable.
Yet asbestos-related diseases affect thousands of people each year.
Approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the U.S. each year, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Anyone with an asbestos-related disease should explore their treatment options and how to pay for their medical expenses.
Banning Asbestos Products
Authorities now focus on preventing asbestos products from being made or sold to prevent more from getting sick and dying.
Regulators in the U.S. federal government started taking steps in the late 1970s to control products containing asbestos materials.
That included regulators such as:
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
Authorities had successfully banned some asbestos products by the late 1980s. But asbestos laws have not totally banned the mineral in the United States as of 2020.
U.S. federal legislation lists asbestos products individually identified as banned substances. They also dictate which products are permitted but highly controlled.
The 3 U.S. laws affecting asbestos products are:
- Clean Air Act
- Consumer Product Safety Act
- Toxic Substances Control Act
Friable (easily crumbled) asbestos products present the highest exposure danger. They are expressly prohibited for sale or use.
Examples of banned asbestos products include:
- Commercial paper
- Flooring and roofing felt
- Fireplace embers
- Pipe and block insulation
- Specialty paper
- Spray-applied asbestos
- Wall patch compounds
United States legislation permits other asbestos products if they contain less than 1% asbestos material. Despite this, most medical authorities state there is no such thing as a safe exposure to asbestos.
Current laws do not restrict asbestos products based on the type of asbestos used. Contrary to some reports, all types of asbestos are dangerous.
It’s also illegal to manufacture “new use” products that didn’t previously contain asbestos.
Asbestos Products Today
Asbestos products still pose a threat to human health today despite modern restrictions.
Millions of American homes, public buildings, and factories were built with asbestos-containing materials. Most of these still stand today with their asbestos products intact.
The same applies to ships and heavy equipment, although removal programs removed friable asbestos materials.
Federal regulations specify strict steps workers must take to remove or work around asbestos products.
The safest way to approach asbestos products today is assuming they are dangerous and taking protective precautions.
Call a licensed professional to remove any asbestos-containing materials. Small samples can be tested in labs to confirm or rule out asbestos contamination before handling them.
Those exposed to asbestos-based products — whether today or decades ago — should also learn if they qualify for compensation that can help pay for expenses.
Compensation for Asbestos-Related Diseases
The bottom line is that nobody expected — or deserved — to develop deadly diseases from asbestos products.
If you used asbestos-containing products and developed mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis, you may be entitled to legal compensation.
This compensation comes from the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products that neglected their duties by putting people like you at risk. Compensation can help pay for lost income, medical costs, and any other expenses.
The court system has held manufacturers responsible for endangering the public and awarded compensation to victims of asbestos exposure. You may qualify to access compensation too.