For much of the 20th century, asbestos was one of the most popular products out there.
It can still be found in everything from building materials to health and beauty items. Being lightweight, organic and heat-resistant made it the perfect building material.
Unfortunately, research has overwhelmingly concluded that it also presents deadly health risks. Exposure increases the risk for a range of cancers, most notably mesothelioma.
Over the years, steps have been taken to limit the amount of asbestos products and ban the importation of others. The EPA maintains a list of banned items, but there is no complete ban on asbestos-contaminated products.
It is currently used in certain manufacturing processes such as the chlor-alkaline industry. It is still used in brake pad linings or gaskets. And legacy asbestos use may increase under the current regulatory framework.
Asbestos is still be found in numerous building materials from the 1970s and earlier, including homes. Proper asbestos abatement procedures done by trained workers need to be followed during demolishion and renovations. Asbestos also naturally decays, especially in buildings that are poorly maintained, meaning older buildings, including schools, have tested positive for asbestos dust.
Imported items still a risk
Some imported items may contain unsafe amounts of asbestos, including toys, make-up and school supplies. Even crayons have been reported as having small amounts of asbestos.
It is not clear how many products contain asbestos. However, as recently shown from the litigation involving asbestos-laden talc in J & J baby powder, asbestos can show up anywhere, particularly in talc-based products. Talc is used as ubiquitously as asbestos used to be, and is found in consumer products ranging from lawn fertilizer to prescription medications.
5,000-plus products may still have asbestos
Today, asbestos is found in as many as 5,000 products, including garden fertilizers, some health and beauty products, and even some appliances such as antique toasters.
While asbestos is a natural mineral found in rocks and soil, that does not diminishits potency as a carcinogen. Due to its known health effects, it should not be in any product, let alone products that we ingest, apply on our skin or handle regularly.
It takes years, even decades, for health conditions from exposure to show up. Once a person is diagnosed with mesothelioma, it can be difficult to trace exposure. If it can be done, however, legal options are available to help pay for the extraordinary treatment costs.
The above is not meant to induce panic. If in good repair, existing asbestos in older buildings may not present a danger, for example. And talc can be purified of asbestos. However, the fact that asbestos remains so prominent, and asbestos imports continue to surge, is a troubling sign.