According to Tennessee's Department of Environment and Conservation, asbestos is a mineral that was commonly used in building construction until the 1970s. When material containing asbestos is damaged or begins deteriorating, the mineral breaks up into tiny fibers that can become lodged in respiratory or digestive tissues. This can lead to conditions that do not present symptoms for years, such as lung cancer (specifically, mesothelioma and asbestosis) and gastrointestinal cancer.
As explained by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website, the chances of developing an asbestos-related medical problem are enhanced by the length of exposure to asbestos material, which is commonly found in soundproofing, roofing, automotive gaskets and resilient floor tiles. Smokers are at greater risk of asbestos-related conditions than non-smokers.
The CPSC explains that asbestos has been largely prohibited since the 1970s. However, this does not alleviate the need for consumers to be vigilant about the problems that can be caused by inhaling this mineral, as any structures that were built in the first half of the 19th century are likely to have been constructed using building materials that contained asbestos.
Those who suspect that asbestos may be in their homes or places of work may want to take steps to better understand the dangers posed by the substance. The CPSC notes that when left undisturbed, asbestos is usually not dangerous. Problems can arise, however, if it becomes necessary to remove materials that contain asbestos. In order to do this responsibly and with limited risk of inhaling the mineral, the CPSC advises that consumers consult with officials in their local environmental or health departments to determine how to proceed with removal and disposal.