Asbestos has been linked to mesothelioma and other lung and health problems for decades now. But when it comes to asbestos in consumer products, many people have questions. What is asbestos exactly? Is it still used in consumer products today and, if so, where are you likely to find it? Maybe most importantly, are there steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from harm caused by asbestos exposure? Read on for the answers.
Asbestos in Consumer Products: Health Risks
Asbestos is actually a fibrous material that occurs naturally in the environment. But while we all breathe in trace amounts of asbestos every day, the inhalation of significant levels of asbestos can lead to serious health problems like:
- asbestosis (lung scarring)
- lung cancer, and
- mesothelioma (cancer in the lining of the abdomen and chest; learn more in Nolo's article Mesothelioma: Symptoms, Treatment, and Causes).
It should be noted that there is a relatively low risk of developing serious health problems from exposure to asbestos in consumer products -- especially when compared with the health risks that come from long-term exposure to asbestos on the job. (To learn more, see Nolo's article Asbestos in the Workplace.)
What Kinds of Products Contain Asbestos?
The commercial value of asbestos was discovered more than a century ago and, thanks to its durability and resistance to heat and flame, asbestos saw wide use in a variety of consumer products. But, since the 1970s, as the health dangers of asbestos started to come into focus, its use has been greatly curbed. A 1989 EPA ban on asbestos was overturned by a federal appeals court in 1991, and while some restrictions on asbestos use remain in place, asbestos can still be found in certain consumer products that remain on the market, and products you may still have in your home.
Certain products have traditionally included asbestos because of the material's resistance to fire and heat, and its durability. These include:
- stove mats
- stove door gaskets
- clothes iron rest pads
- furnace duct connectors
- laboratory gloves and pads
- asbestos paper and millboard, and
- asbestos-cement sheet.
There are other products that might or might not contain asbestos, including:
- adhesives, caulking, and spackling material
- tiles (ceiling and floor)
- older appliances (coffee pots, toasters)
- older clothes irons and ironing pads
- vermiculite in garden soil (you can learn more about this on the EPA's website at www.epa.gov)
- crayons that contain talc
- older handheld hair dryers
- older electric blankets
- chalkboards, and
- automotive parts (brakes and clutches).
Asbestos in Products: Protecting Your Family
Consumer advocacy groups have raised concerns over the possible presence of asbestos in a number of the products listed above. But, remember, not all of the products listed above will definitely contain asbestos and, even if they do, the asbestos may be at very low (and legally permissible) levels so that health risks are minimal or non-existent. Still, the consumer groups argue that when it comes to asbestos, there is no such thing as safe levels of exposure.
To find out whether a specific product contains asbestos, check the product label, go online to research a specific brand or model number, or call the product's manufacturer or the store where you bought the product.
For some of the older products listed in the section above, non-asbestos substitutes are widely available these days, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). So if you've got any of these products around the house -- like older appliances, hair dryers, and ironing board pads -- it may be time to replace them with new versions that don't contain asbestos.
Lawsuits Over Asbestos in Consumer Products
Health problems linked to asbestos in consumer products are rare, but the risk does exist. If you suspect that an illness could be caused by exposure to asbestos in a product, here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to lawsuits over asbestos.
What legal theory would I use? If you suffer from health problems that are caused by the presence of asbestos in a consumer product, you would most likely bring a lawsuit based on product liability. To learn more about these kinds of cases, read Nolo's Product Liability FAQ.
Finding an attorney. Although lawsuits over asbestos in consumer products are rare, if you think you have a case, you'll want to make sure that your health and your legal rights are protected. Keep in mind that most asbestos or mesothelioma cases are handled on contingency, meaning you don't pay your attorney anything, but the lawyer takes a percentage (probably 25% to 40%) of any compensation you receive via settlement or judgment. To find a lawyer in your area who handles asbestos cases, check out Nolo's Lawyer Directory.
If you want to learn more about pursuing an asbestos-related lawsuit, check out Nolo's articles Asbestos and Mesothelioma Lawsuits: What to Expect and How to Hire a Mesothelioma or Asbestos Lawyer.