Mesothelioma and Asbestos FAQ

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a rare form of lung cancer that attacks the lining around the lungs and ribs called the pleura.  The pleura lining produces fluid which allows the lungs to move inside the chest cavity while providing surface tension that keeps the lungs in contact with the chest wall.  Mesothelioma is a very rare form of lung cancer.  The great majority of Mesothelioma cases in the United States are linked to direct exposure to asbestos dust and fibers.  Typically, asbestos exposure in Mesothelioma patients occurs decades prior to the development of symptoms. 

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is typically found in a fiber-like form.  Asbestos is a fire-resistant mineral that does not conduct electricity, which makes it a valuable for many industrial purposes including insulation for pipes, boilers, and buildings among other things.  Additionally, when asbestos is mixed with concrete it can increase the tensile strength of the concrete, allowing construction companies to use and transport less concrete.  Asbestos comes in two forms: serpentine and amphibole.  There are several types of amphibole asbestos, including amosite and crocidolite. 

Where does asbestos come from?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring, metamorphic mineral which can be found in the ground all over the world.  The first commercial asbestos mines were located outside of Quebec, Canada.  For years Canada was the leading producer of asbestos.  Today Russia, China, Australia, and South Africa all compete with Canada in the production of asbestos.  

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos is composed of bundles of millions of little fibers.  When asbestos is disturbed, these bundles of fibers break into dust clouds of microscopic asbestos particles that enter the air or water, or stick to clothing where they can easily be inhaled or swallowed.  Once inside the lungs, the asbestos particles cannot be broken down by the body; thus, after many years, the toxic asbestos particles begin to eat away at the lungs and its lining, causing various forms of cancer (like lung cancer and Mesothelioma) and other diseases (like Asbestosis).

Is asbestos always dangerous?

Not always.  When asbestos remains in good condition, it is not immediately dangerous.  However, if the asbestos is "friable," then it becomes dangerous once it is disturbed and releases asbestos particles into the air.  The term "friable" describes asbestos that can be reduced to dust by a small amount of hand pressure.  "Non-friable" asbestos logically represents forms of asbestos that are too hard to be reduced to dust by hand pressure.  For example the sanding or dry buffing of floor tiles containing asbestos can cause enough damage to release asbestos particles into the air.

Am I required by law to remove asbestos?

There are no laws that say asbestos has to be removed.  Instead, only when the asbestos cannot be maintained in good condition or the airborne concentration levels of asbestos exceed the permissible exposure limit (PELs) are you required by law to remove the asbestos.  Laws regarding removal may vary from state to state.  Many states require that removal be done by licensed removal contractors.