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    What Is Asbestos?

    Asbestos.

    Sounds dangerous, right? But what exactly is it? Unless you’ve been affected by this hazardous material -- or you know someone who has -- it’s probably not something you think about every day.

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    Asbestos is found in rocks and soil. These mineral fibers have worked well for manufacturers for many reasons. For starters, they’re flexible and resistant to heat, chemicals, and electricity. That’s why they were widely used for years to make construction materials, automotive parts, and even textiles.

    Other items that may contain asbestos include:

    · Insulation in walls and attics

    · Vinyl tiles used for floors

    · Shingles

    · Siding on houses

    · Blankets that protect hot water pipes

    · Fabrics that resist heat

    · Car brakes

    The fibers that form asbestos separate very easily into tiny pieces when they’re handled or damaged. They’re too small to see, but they’re easy to breathe in. They can build up in your lungs and cause health problems.

    What Health Problems Can Asbestos Cause?

    If you breathe in the fibers over long periods of time, you increase your risk for diseases like lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Smokers are even more affected. That’s because cigarette smoke irritates lung passages. This makes it harder for the lungs to remove asbestos fibers.

    Mesothelioma. If you’ve worked with the substance, shared a home with someone who has, or lived close to an asbestos mine, see your doctor if you have trouble breathing or believe it’s affected your health.

    He can do a chest X-ray or a pulmonary function test to see how much air your lungs can hold. A CT scan or biopsy might help him determine whether you have mesothelioma. That’s a type of cancer that affects the lining that covers the lungs, chest or abdomen. An early warning sign is fluid buildup around the lungs. Other symptoms include pain around the rib cage, problems breathing, a cough, pain or lumps in the belly, fatigue, and constipation.

    People who have this kind of rare cancer were typically exposed to asbestos at work or lived with someone who was. It can take up to 20 years for symptoms to show up. Treatment may include surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.

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