Asbestos has been part of human history for thousands of years. The crystalline fiber's natural resistance to heat led to its name, which is an ancient Greek word meaning "inextinguishable." This led some early societies to make cooking tools with solid pieces of asbestos.
But just as industrial improvements led to an increased need and more uses for the substance, governments in the United States and Europe discovered that laborers who worked with the material had several risk factors for asbestosis and other respiratory diseases. Thousands of construction workers, shipbuilders and others were affected, and they developed lung cancer, mesothelioma or problems breathing.
Much of the remaining asbestos in buildings and work sites was installed as a spray-on flame retardant. The two main choices that builders and owners have to address this problem are abatement and remediation. Abatement involves removing or sealing an asbestos-affected area, so it no longer can affect the health of workers or inhabitants.
Remediation is often a larger strategy that usually involves abatement. However, on top of simply sealing an affected area, remediation involves the source of a problem, so it never occurs again. Some types of abatement may be compromised or reversed by renovation, demolition or environmental factors. Since asbestos is no longer common, it is these projects that often cause new exposure problems.
People who suspect or know they were exposed to asbestos may be eligible for financial damages from the responsible parties to help with medical expenses and other related costs. An attorney can help victims and their families present evidence and forward claims in civil court.