North Carolina and Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos has many practical uses, and industries that used it can be found in each of North Carolina’s major cities. Asbestos was utilized in industries key to North Carolina’s development such as the steel industry, maritime industry, and in power plants due to its wide variety of uses. Unfortunately, asbestos causes serious health problems in those who inhale the hazardous material, and is no longer in use today.
From the 1930s to 1980s, asbestos was used for many purposes in North Carolina. Asbestos is an excellent heat and fire-retardant, and was therefore commonly found in steam pipes, steamship engines, fireproof doors, and even protective gloves and aprons. Asbestos could also be found in electrical circuits, electrical cloth, panel partitions and electrical wiring since it also served as an exceptional electrical insulator. In many facilities throughout North Carolina, asbestos was used in elemental construction materials such as drywall, plaster and cement as a heating insulator. Asbestos was even used as a noise dampener between decks on certain maritime vessels constructed on the North Carolina coast.
Sadly, despite its many practical industrial uses, individuals exposed to asbestos are at risk of developing an asbestos-related lung disease. The most common of these is a chronic inflammatory condition called asbestosis. If diagnosed in its early stages, asbestosis has a better long-term prognosis than mesothelioma, an cancer of the lining of the lungs. Both diseases manifest after prolonged exposure to asbestos and inhalation of the fiber-like crystals. Despite knowing of the dangers posed by asbestos in the 1950s, it was not until the late 1980s that its use was widely discontinued in the U.S.
Between 1980 and 2000, North Carolina reported just over 1,000 asbestos-related deaths, slightly more caused by mesothelioma than asbestosis. North Carolina ranked 15th in the U.S. for malignant mesothelioma, and had a mesothelioma mortality rate of 9.3 deaths per million people. While asbestos appears to only pose a minor risk to U.S. citizens today, the proportion of people exposed to asbestos to those who develop an asbestos-related disease is noteworthy.