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The Hidden Dangers of Asbestos

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It's been well over one hundred years since lung diseases were first linked to asbestos. Nonetheless, because asbestos is so durable and because it is so resistant to fire, chemicals, and heat, it had been used extensively in the construction industry throughout most of the twentieth century. Builders loved the fact that a simple application of asbestos would soundproof, fireproof, and insulate the structures that they were building.

Although durable, asbestos does deteriorate over the course of time. And because asbestos was sprayed onto most public buildings along with almost every school ceiling during the construction boom that began in the United States in the 1950s, many of the people who live in those building as well as the children that are currently attending those schools are now at risk.

Asbestos begins to crumble as it gets older. When that happens it turns into a dust that contains asbestos fibers. This cloud of asbestos particles can hang, suspended in the air that surrounds the children who attend those schools.

Although the level of asbestos inside a school that has asbestos ceiling materials is lower than the levels in companies that work with asbestos, it is still up to one hundred times higher than the air outside the schools.

It often takes twenty or more years before asbestos related diseases become apparent. Therefore it is difficult to anticipate what effects this exposure will have on our country's children in the future.

A different kind situation relating to asbestos exposure has evolved in Libby, Montana.

Until 1991 a vermiculite - mine operated in that town. The mine's vermiculite was naturally heavily impregnated with asbestos.

The vermiculite that came out of Libby's mines provided most of the world's supply - until the mine was closed. Most of the asbestos bearing vermiculite was used to insulate attics.

Secondary exposure to asbestos was once not even considered as a potential health problem. However, what has happened in Libby over the years has disproven that notion.

Although many of the citizens of the town did not work in the mine, they did do laundry for the miners, played in the ball fields near the mine, or played in the mine tailings in Libby.

A mortality study was recently done for Libby, Montana. The mortality rate in that community is forty times higher for asbestosis and other asbestos related diseases than are the standardized mortality rates.

And now, all of the residents of the homes that have Libby's vermiculite in their attics are also at risk, as are any of the cable installers, plumbers, electricians, telephone repair people, and insulators who go into these attics.