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12 surprising ways you could suffer asbestos exposure

By now, you've probably heard that asbestos is a carcinogen. Exposure can lead to cancers like lung cancer, colon cancer and mesothelioma. It's natural you'd want to avoid exposing yourself to the mineral, but how easy is that?

The truth is that asbestos was everywhere through the 1970s, but the warnings of the dangers were not. Due to its toughness and heat resistance, asbestos found its way into all kinds of building materials, auto parts, paints, sprays and household items. Newer items mostly avoid asbestos, but you can still find it in a surprising number of older items.

A list of asbestos-containing products

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other government sites hint at many of the ways people used asbestos in the past. But they don't always present as clear a picture as one state's Department of Health website does. As that site notes, asbestos found its way into more than 3,000 different types of products.

It's relatively common knowledge that builders used asbestos in insulation, ceiling tiles and fireproofing spray. But the list goes way beyond these. Many of the products containing asbestos would likely fly below the radar. Even though most of these products were common in older homes, workplaces and vehicles:

  • Appliances like hair dryers and refrigerators
  • Flooring products like tiles, linoleum and carpet adhesive
  • Paints
  • Chalkboards
  • Table pads
  • Window glaze
  • Automotive parts like brake pads, brake linings and clutch plates

The good news is that most of these products don't present a danger while they remain intact. The EPA claims such products only present a danger when they start to break down. When they become "friable," they may release fibers into the air and environment. These loose fibers then present your risk of exposure. If you breathe them in or absorb them through your skin, they can sit in your body for decades. At some point, they may trigger the creation of tumors.

The problem with talc

In addition to the products above, all of which were intentionally created with asbestos, you have products made with talc. It's unclear whether talc presents a danger on its own, but it presents a clear threat when it contains asbestos.

The problem is that talc is a mineral that is closely related to asbestos and often mined near asbestos. As a result, talc products sometimes contain asbestos. This is despite talc miners' best efforts and the contrary claims by talc manufacturers. In fact, a recent report found asbestos in roughly 20% of all talc products the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested. These include:

  • Baby powder
  • Facial powders
  • Eye shadows
  • Children's makeup kits
  • Children's crayons

This means you stand a one-in-five chance of exposing yourself to asbestos by using such talc products. That's like playing Russian roulette with your cosmetics, and enough people have come to understand the dangers that many major cosmetics companies have started to move away from talc.

Is it worth the risk?

Of course, there's no guarantee that you'll develop cancer as a result of asbestos exposure. Even though there's no amount of exposure known to be safe. There's also no guarantee you'll encounter asbestos in any talc product you purchase. However, it's a matter of odds. Are the benefits worth the risk?

The fact is that manufacturers have long known of alternatives to talc and asbestos. They don't need to use these products, but they did. They chose to pursue profits over public health. And they left it up to you to protect your family and yourself.

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