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A brief history of asbestos and mesothelioma

Asbestos is a mineral that has a long, long history of use that dates back as far as ancient Greece. However, the use of asbestos expanded immensely after the Industrial Revolution, and in the ensuing decades, the risk of asbestos exposure, which can cause mesothelioma, rose exponentially.

Shipyards, boiler rooms, oil refineries, chemical plants, even schools -- these are all places where the human carcinogen asbestos could be found. Initially, asbestos was used to insulate things like ovens, pipes and boilers, but eventually manufacturers began utilizing asbestos in products such as cement, roofing shingles, plaster, ceiling tiles and joint compounds.

In the 20th century, a link between asbestos and mesothelioma became apparent. However, despite evidence that asbestos exposure can lead to growth of cancerous cells, companies still continued to use the carcinogen, placing people's lives at risk.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that develops after asbestos particles are inhaled and become lodged in the outer tissue of the lung. The asbestos fibers irritate the tissue and cause inflammation, which in turn results in the formation of scar tissue where cancer cells develop.

The United States government has banned the use of asbestos, but many still-standing industrial and commercial structures continue to pose a risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos was also widely used by the U.S. military and in the construction of schools, and there is a heightened risk of asbestos-related disease for veterans, educators and students who were exposed to the carcinogen.

Our asbestos and mesothelioma overview has more on the legal issues related to asbestos exposure.

Source:, "Asbestos Exposure," 2014

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