What happens to asbestos when it enters the environment?

Asbestos fibres can enter the air or water from the breakdown of natural deposits and manufactured asbestos products. Asbestos fibres do not evaporate into air or dissolve in water. Small diameter fibres and particles may remain suspended in the air for a long time and be carried long distances by wind or water before settling down. Larger diameter fibres and particles tend to settle more quickly. Asbestos fibres are not able to move through soil. Asbestos fibres are generally not broken down to other compounds and will remain virtually unchanged over long periods.


Where Can Asbestos Be Found?

Asbestos is commonly used as an acoustic insulator, thermal insulation, fire proofing and in other building materials. Asbestos fibres are incredibly strong and have properties that make them resistant to heat. 
Many products are in used today that contain asbestos. Most of these are materials used in heat and acoustic insulation, fire proofing, and roofing and flooring.


How likely is asbestos to cause cancer?

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the EPA have determined that asbestos is a human carcinogen.

It is known that breathing asbestos can increase the risk of cancer in people. There are two types of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos: lung cancer and mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the thin lining surrounding the lung (pleural membrane) or abdominal cavity (the peritoneum). Cancer from asbestos does not develop immediately, but shows up after a number of years. Studies of workers also suggest that breathing asbestos can increase chances of getting cancer in other parts of the body (stomach, intestines, esophagus, pancreas, and kidneys), but this is less certain. Early identification and treatment of any cancer can increase an individual's quality of life and survival.

Cigarette smoke and asbestos together significantly increase your chances of getting lung cancer. Therefore, if you have been exposed to asbestos you should stop smoking. This may be the most important action that you can take to improve your health and decrease your risk of cancer.

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