Asbestos is a naturally found mineral that has been mined for thousands of years. Over the millenniums it has been used in a variety of applications. In early Egypt is was used to wrap Pharaohs for burial. In medieval Europe asbestos was used in table clothes and curtains to prevent the spread of fire. More recently it has been used in a variety applications throughout the home, business and transportation.
Such items include: roofing materials, floor tiles, industrial glues, siding, window caulking, fire proofing sprays, acoustical (popcorn) textures, brakes and drywall. Asbestos was used because of its very beneficial properties such as high tensile strength, heat and fire resistance, and light weight. In many instances where this mineral is left undisturbed and embedded in these items it is not inherently dangerous to humans. When it is disturbed, the material may be rendered friable which releases the asbestos fibers into the air. Once the fibers are airborne they can be inhaled and due to the physical structure of the fiber it can lodge itself deep inside the lungs and remain there. This causes the body to attack the fiber in a variety of ways and ultimately can lead to reduced lung capacity, cancer and death. This is exacerbated when combined with other negative influences that decrease lung capacity such as smoking.
When working around asbestos containing items one must be very aware to not disturb the asbestos fibers and inhale them. State certified abatement contractors follow very specific regulations and industry best practices to minimize disturbing asbestos fibers and keeping them from going airborne. Additionally, the abatement contractors will wear appropriate personal protective equipment to prevent individual exposure to these fibers.