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Asbestos Defined

Historical Document

This web site is provided by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ONLY as an historical reference for the public health community. It is no longer being maintained and the data it contains may no longer be current and/or accurate.

Asbestos is the name of a group of similar minerals that can separate into long and thin fibers. The fibers are so small that you cannot see them.

Health effects of asbestos exposure

Asbestos can cause health problems when it is breathed into the lungs. Continued exposure increases the amount of fibers that remain in the lungs. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may result in lung diseases such as pleural disease (the lining of the chest wall), asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.


Being exposed to asbestos does not mean you will develop health problems! Asbestos has been used widely in the United States; nearly everyone has been exposed to very low levels of asbestos at some time in their life. However, most people do not become ill from such exposures.

Many things need to be considered when evaluating whether you are at risk for health problems from asbestos exposure. A doctor can help you find out if you have health problems from asbestos exposure.

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