For nearly a century, product manufacturers saw asbestos as a substance with almost miraculous properties. It does not burn. It is non-corrosive. It does not react with other compounds. It has sound-deadening properties. It is easy to use in any shape or application. It is cheap to produce. This last factor, as much as any other, is why manufacturers ignored the medical community for decades in using a substance that sickens and kills the people who are exposed to it.
While the medical community was convinced of the dangers associated with asbestos more than 50 years ago, it continued to be used into the 1980s. In fact, asbestos is still used in a number of products today, including brake pads. There are laws preventing the use of asbestos in new categories of products, but some products have been grandfathered in and continue to use the substance in small quantities.
The popularity of asbestos means that it is impossible to know how many Americans have been exposed. One estimate puts the number at 27 million Americans exposed in the 1900s. But the truth is that there is no way to know for sure. It isn’t even possible to create a complete list of the products that contained asbestos. It was an inexpensive and useful substance, so it was thrown into countless products that didn’t even necessarily benefit from its presence.
Of the people exposed to asbestos, some will suffer no ill effects. While even tiny amounts of asbestos can lead to the development of mesothelioma or other illnesses, it is possible to be exposed and not get sick. For others, a medical diagnosis might be the first hint that they inhaled asbestos particles. Identifying the source of that asbestos is not always a straightforward process. The popularity of asbestos during its heyday can make it a challenge to tie a manufacturer to a person’s illness. That is one of the many reasons it is important to work with an experienced team after a diagnosis of asbestos-related illness.