What is Asbestos and is it Harmful?

What is Asbestos and is it Harmful?

Recently, FemSTEM paired up with Samantha Stuhler, an analyst for an environmental testing company, to talk about the EPA and its importance in our current society.  As we did this, we talked about minerals that Miss Stuhler directly works with — asbestos.

When asked if the introduced bill to dismantle the EPA would affect her job, she had said: “[…] without the EPA’s regulations on asbestos, I don’t know if my job would be there still. I would like to hope that it would, due to the fact that most people are aware of the carcinogenic effects of asbestos, [… but] potentially the use of asbestos could actually increase, which is something that I shudder to think about.”


The US is a country that, despite knowing what they do about asbestos, has yet to completely ban the use of the material.


Asbestos minerals are banned in over 50 countries because of the harm that it can cause to human life; the US is just not one of them.  That being said, at the moment, the US does use these carcinogens less than they once did.

Asbestos are actually a group of six different naturally occurring minerals, and all six of them are known to be human carcinogens.  A carcinogen is “a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue”.


The type of asbestos are:

  • chrysotile (which is the most common – 90% of commercially used asbestos is this type)
  • amosite (considered to be more toxic than chrysotile and is primarily sourced in South Africa)
  • crocidolite (or blue asbestos — this is not as resistant to heat as other types)
  • tremolite (was commonly used in US homes)
  • anthophyllite
  • and actinolite (was used in drywall and paint in some cases)


These minerals were once sought after because it was affordable to mine in the 19th century, it was resistant to heat, it had great strength, and much more.  It was mandatory to use in the US military for every branch of service, and was used in common household items such as mats and fabric, as well as building insulation and drywall.

It’s still commonly used, according to Miss Stuhler, “in products like brake pads and cement pipe”.

The continuous use of these minerals is considered a tort, or “a civil wrong that unfairly causes someone else to suffer loss or harm resulting in legal liability”.



What Exactly Are the Carcinogenic Effects?


By National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

“Any exposure to the group of minerals can lead to pleural mesothelioma and other diseases such as lung cancer or asbestosis,” says the Pleural Mesothelioma Center.

Back in 2001, when 9/11 occurred, the men and women who rescued people and cleaned the area came to have an increased risk of developing these issues because of the asbestos that was used in building the World Trade Center.

“Because asbestos was used in the construction of the North Tower of the WTC,”  Says Cancer.Gov  “when the building was attacked, hundreds of tons of asbestos were released into the atmosphere. Those at greatest risk include firefighters, police officers, paramedics, construction workers, and volunteers who worked in the rubble at Ground Zero. Others at risk include residents in close proximity to the WTC towers and those who attended schools nearby.”

Even still, nearly 16 years later, “Despite active removal efforts throughout the country,”  Asbestos.com claims “an estimated 1.3 million general-industry workers in the United States potentially are exposed each year to asbestos.”

These carcinogenic effects do not happen right away.  It can actually take 10 to 40 years (perhaps even more) before the affects would take place according to Cancer.gov.


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