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Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that once was lauded for its versatility, recognized for its heat resistance, tensile strength and insulating properties, and used for everything from fire-proof vests to home and commercial construction. It was woven into fabric, and mixed with cement.
Its properties were so desired that the United States military mandated its use in every branch of service. Asbestos was a perfect blend to make things better – except it was highly toxic, too. Today asbestos is a known cause of mesothelioma cancer, is banned in more than 50 countries (not the U.S.), and its use has been dramatically restricted in others.
There are six types of asbestos minerals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. Although all commercial forms of asbestos are carcinogenic, there are differences in their chemical compositions.
More than 75 different types of jobs in America have been known to expose workers to asbestos, according to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety. At the same time, an estimated 30 percent of all mesothelioma cases are military veterans, an indication of where the worst damage has been done.
Occupations in the construction industry have been hit the hardest, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Plumbers, pipefitters, steam fitters and electricians were the most vulnerable to asbestos-related diseases. The occurrence in both the shipbuilding and the electrical power industries also has been abnormally high. A little more than 80 percent of those stricken have been males.