Asbestos and Your Health

Asbestos is a commercial and legal term referring to a class of minerals that naturally form long, thin, very strong fibers. Asbestos has been mined and used in many products worldwide, mostly during the 20th century. In the United States, mining asbestos has ended, but asbestos is still present in older homes and buildings and some products still contain it. Asbestos occurs in the environment, both naturally and from the breakdown or disposal of old asbestos products.

Disturbing asbestos minerals or other asbestos-containing materials can release tiny asbestos fibers, too small to see, into the air. Workers and others who breathed asbestos fibers over many years have developed asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis, pleural disease, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Some of these diseases can be serious or even fatal.More

asbestos collage

People may be exposed to asbestos by breathing tiny asbestos fibers in the air. The asbestos gets into the air when something disturbs natural deposits of asbestos or products that contain the minerals.

Asbestos is a dangerous substance and should be avoided. But being exposed to asbestos does not necessarily mean a person will develop health problems. The risk of disease depends on many factors.

ATSDR has been involved in both general research on asbestos and in evaluating site-specific exposures to asbestos. Our reports are available for public reference.

Links to additional information from ATSDR, other federal agencies, and other organizations.

Page last reviewed: November 3, 2016