What Causes Mesothelioma?


The primary risk for developing mesothelioma is through exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is known for its strength, durability and capacity to resist fire and heat. It is located in the mines of various regions in the world. Asbestos was widely used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications and products for much of the 20th century because it was inexpensive to obtain and excellent for heat and fireproofing. As the link between asbestos and mesothelioma became more apparent, the use of this material has decreased. However, unfortunately up to 8 million Americans may already have been exposed to asbestos.

How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma

When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they become embedded in mucus membranes inside the air passages, similar to how a small sliver becomes embedded in the skin. The long, thin, fibers are sharp, and cannot be cleared when they penetrate into the pleural lining of the lung and chest wall. These fibers will eventually cause mesothelioma.

Asbestos fibers can also damage cells of the lung causing asbestosis or lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer among people exposed to asbestos is increased by 7 times, compared with the general population. Indeed, asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer are the three most frequent causes of death and disease among people with heavy asbestos exposure. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which forms in the abdomen, may result from coughing up and swallowing inhaled asbestos fibers. Cancers of the larynx, pancreas, esophagus, colon, and kidney have also been linked to asbestos exposure, but the increased risk is not as great as with lung cancer.

The risk of developing mesothelioma directly relates to both how often the person is exposed to asbestos and how long these exposures last. People exposed at an early age, for a long period of time, and at higher levels of fiber density are most likely to develop cancer.

Although the risk of developing mesothelioma increases with the amount of asbestos exposure, it is clear that genetic factors also play a role in determining who develops the disease. This explains why not all persons exposed to high levels of asbestos particles develop mesothelioma.

Types of Asbestos

While there are six types of asbestos, only three were most commonly used in construction and the manufacture of products. They are chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite. Actinolite, anthophyllite and tremolite are the other three types of asbestos that exist.

Chrysotile - Chrysotile was most commonly used in the manufacture of products. It is also known as white asbestos. Insulating and fireproofing were the primary applications where chrysotile was used. A highly versatile material, chrysotile could be woven into cloth to make fire-proof theater curtains and protective clothing. It was also commonly found in cements and automotive products including brake shoes, brake pads and clutches.

Amosite - Amosite asbestos is also known as brown asbestos. Next to chrysotile asbestos, it was the most commonly used type of asbestos that workers were exposed to. Amosite was typically used as insulation in the construction of buildings and factories as well as in acoustical applications and situations that required anti-condensation materials.

Crocidolite - Crocidolite, known as blue asbestos, represents less than 10% of asbestos use in the United States. This is primarily because crocidolite is more brittle than chrysotile and amosite and therefore has a tendency to break more easily. It was most commonly used in the manufacture of yarns and rope lagging and to reinforce plastic materials.

Risks of Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos is a highly hazardous substance. When it is cut or damaged in any way, the tiny, microscopic fibers that characterize this mineral become airborne. Those working in the vicinity of these airborne fibers are then at risk to inhale them. Navy personnel working in poorly ventilated and close quarters on ships were highly susceptible to breathing in airborne fibers. Because the fibers are so tiny in nature, once they enter the lungs or get ingested it is difficult for the body to expel them. If they are not expelled, they lodge in the thin lining that surrounds the major organs of the lungs, heart and/or abdomen, which in turn can result in the development of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.

History of Asbestos Use

Asbestos has long been used in the manufacture of building materials and textiles. As the industrialized nation continued to develop throughout the 20th century asbestos use widened dramatically. This extremely durable fire-proofing material was broadly used in many commercial and industrial applications. These included pipe and boiler insulation, oil tank lining and the construction of factories and buildings including homes, schools and churches. It was also used to manufacture a large number of asbestos products such as automotive and railroad braking products, floor tiles, wallboard, cement, roof shingles, house siding and more. Perhaps the most notable and dangerous use of asbestos was in shipbuilding and in the construction of shipyards. Virtually every Navy ship built prior to 1980 contained large amounts of asbestos that was especially prevalent in the engine and boiler rooms where fire-proofing is required. As a result, many of our nation's veterans were placed at extreme risk of asbestos exposure while serving their country and a great number of them have developed mesothelioma.

Occupations at Risk

The following occupations and lifestyles have a history of high levels of asbestos exposure. If your past or present lifestyle fits one or more of these classifications, you may wish to be examined by your physician for an asbestos-related condition.

  • Aeronautical Engineer
  • Asbestos Plant Workers
  • Auto Mechanics
  • Blacksmiths
  • Boilermakers
  • Brick Masons and Stone Masons
  • Bulldozer Operators
  • Cabinetmakers
  • Carpenters
  • Car Shop Workers
  • Checkers, Examiners & Inspectors, Manufact.
  • Chemical Technicians
  • Civil Engineer
  • Clothing Ironers and Pressers
  • Crane, Derrick and Hoist Men
  • Draftsmen
  • Drill Press Operatives
  • Drywall Tapers
  • Electric Power Linemen & Cable Men
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineers
  • Electricians
  • Engineers
  • Excavating Machine Operators
  • Filers, Polishers, Sanders, Buffers
  • Foremen
  • Forge Men and Hammer Men
  • Freight and Material handlers
  • Furnace Men, Smelter-Men & Pourers
  • Garage Workers and Gas Station Attendants
  • Grinding Machine Operatives
  • Hairdressers and Cosmetologists
  • Heavy Equipment Mechanics
  • Household Appliances Installers and Mechanics
  • Household Residents of Exposed Workers
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Industrial Plant Workers
  • Insulators
  • Iron Workers
  • Job and Die Setters
  • Laborers
  • Locomotive Engineers
  • Longshoremen and Stevedores
  • Loom Fixers
  • Machine Operatives, Misc. Specified
  • Machinists
  • Machinist Mates
  • Maintenance Workers
  • Managers and Superintendents; Building
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Mechanics and Repairmen; Aircraft
  • Merchant Marines
  • Metal Lathers
  • Millwrights
  • Mixing Operatives
  • Molders
  • Officers, Pilots and Pursers; Ship
  • Oil Refinery Workers
  • Operating Engineers
  • Painters, Construction and Maintenance
  • Painters and Sculptors
  • Personnel and Labor Relations Workers
  • Pipefitters
  • Plasterers
  • Plumbers
  • Power Plant Workers
  • Railroad Workers
  • Residents of towns with former Asbestos Manufacturing Plants
  • Road Machine Operators
  • Rollers and Finishers
  • Roofers and Slaters
  • Sailors and Deckhands
  • Sales Engineer
  • Sawyers
  • Sheetmetal Workers
  • Shipyard Workers
  • Stationary Engineers
  • Steamfitters
  • Structural Metal Craftsmen
  • Teachers: Elementary, College and University
  • Technicians
  • Telephone Installers and Repairmen
  • Textile Operatives
  • Tile Setters
  • Tinsmiths
  • Tool and Die Makers
  • U.S. Navy Veterans
  • Weavers
  • Welders and Flame-cutters
  • Winding Operatives

Asbestos Products

Asbestos was not widely used in the manufacture of products until the 1940’s. It is currently estimated, however, that around 3,000 products were made with this dangerous insulating material prior to 1980. The types of asbestos containing products range from home and commercial building materials like floor and ceiling tiles to automotive products such as brake pads and linings and industrial products including sealants, cement, insulation and more. The following products that may contain or have contained asbestos in the past include:

Adhesives, Cements, Sealers

  • Adhesives
  • Bonding Cement
  • Caulking
  • Cement
  • Duct Adhesive
  • Finishing Cement
  • Furnace Cement
  • Insulating Cement
  • Joint Cement
  • Masonic Cement
  • Mastics
  • Mortar
  • Plastic Cement
  • Sealer

Asbestos Paper, Rollboard, Millboard

  • Asbestos Paper
  • Corrugated Paper
  • Flexboard
  • Millboard
  • Permaboard
  • Rollboard
  • Vinyl Wallpaper

Automotive Materials, Friction

  • Brake Linings
  • Brake Pads
  • Brakes
  • Clutch Linings
  • Disc Brakes
  • Drum Brakes
  • Elevator Brake Shoes
  • Transmission Plates

Cement Pipes, Cement Boards, Sheets, Plastics

  • Asbestos Board
  • Asbestos Sheets
  • Cement Pipes
  • Plastics
  • Stone Sheathing

Clay, Compounds, Paints, Plasters

  • Acoustical Plaster
  • Asphalt
  • Filler
  • Finish
  • Joint Compound
  • Paint
  • Patching
  • Plaster
  • Putty
  • Spackling Compounds

Electrical, Mechanical Products

  • Boilers
  • Cables and Wires
  • Electric Boards
  • Furnaces
  • Generators
  • Heating Ducts
  • Pumps
  • Turbines
  • Valve Rings
  • Valves
  • Weatherproof Jackets
  • Wiring Insulation

Flooring, Tiles

  • Ceiling Tiles
  • Floor Tile
  • Flooring
  • Tiles
  • Vinyl Floors
  • Wall Tile

Gaskets, Packing, Packing Materials

  • Braided Packing
  • Gasketing Material
  • Gaskets
  • Packing Material
  • Rope Packing
  • Sheet Packing

Home Use Products

  • Agricultural Filler
  • Attic Insulation
  • Cigarette Filters
  • Crock Pots
  • Fertilizer
  • Fume Hoods
  • Iron Rests
  • Ironing Board Covers
  • Laboratory Hoods
  • Potting Mixtures
  • Stove Mats

Panels, Wallboard, Wallcoverings

  • Acoustical Panels
  • Panels
  • Marine Panel
  • Sheetrock
  • Wallboard

Pipe Covering and Block

  • Block Insulation
  • Calcium Silicate
  • Duct Insulation
  • Insulation
  • Magnesia
  • Pipe Insulation
  • Preformed Pipe Wrap
  • Sponge Block
  • Tank Jacket

Protective Clothing

  • Aprons
  • Asbestos Helmet
  • Dust Masks
  • Glassblowers Mits
  • Gloves
  • Laboratory Gloves
  • Mitts & Mittens
  • Respirators
  • Sleeves
  • Textile Garments

Protective Coatings, Fireproofing

  • Asbestos Curtains
  • Asbestos Spray
  • Boiler Coating
  • Fire Blankets
  • Fire Dampers
  • Fire Doors
  • Fireproofing Cement
  • Fireproofing Materials
  • Insulation Jacketing
  • Roof Coating
  • Textured Coatings
  • Weathercoating

Raw Asbestos

  • Asbestos Fiber
  • Fake Snow
  • Raw Asbestos
  • Silicate Calsilite
  • Talc Powder
  • Transite
  • Vermiculite

Refractory Products

  • Castables
  • Firebrick
  • Marinite
  • Refractory Cement
  • Refractory Products

Roofing, Shingles, Siding

  • Cement Siding
  • Flashing
  • Roof Coating
  • Roofing
  • Roofing Felt
  • Shingles
  • Siding
  • Stucco
  • Tar Paper

Rope, Wick, Cord, Tape, Cork

  • Asbestos Cord
  • Asbestos Rope
  • Cork Covering
  • Sheet Rope
  • Tape
  • Wicking

Textiles, Felts, Cloth

  • Asbestos Blanket
  • Asbestos Canvas
  • Asbestos Cloth
  • Asbestos Felt
  • Asbestos Lap
  • Asbestos Wool
  • Asbestos Yarn
  • Lagging
  • Roving
  • Textiles
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Jennifer Lucarelli Partner Jennifer Lucarelli

Asbestos Job Sites

Shipyards, power plants, schools and steel mills represent just a small cross section of jobsites where the risk of asbestos exposure was extremely high. In this section we provide a comprehensive list of jobsites across a variety of industries where workers were placed at risk for being exposed to asbestos and developing mesothelioma.

You may have been exposed to asbestos at any number of locations. Asbestos can be found in and was used at the following broad categories of jobsites:

  • Air Force Bases
  • Air Craft Carriers
  • Aluminum Plants
  • Banks
  • Churches and Synagogues
  • Construction Sites
  • Destroyers
  • Dry Cleaners
  • Factories
  • Fire Departments
  • Garages
  • Government Buildings
  • Hospitals
  • Hotels
  • Manufacturing Plants
  • Merchant Marine Ships
  • Mills
  • Naval Bases
  • Navy Ships
  • Power Plants
  • Railroad Stations
  • Refineries
  • Residential Homes
  • Schools and Colleges
  • Shipyards
  • Stadiums
  • Steel Mills
  • Stores
  • Town Halls

Asbestos Job Sites by State

A large number of jobsites across the United States were known to contain asbestos. Today, many individuals who worked in these locations have developed mesothelioma as a direct result of asbestos exposure while on the job. Click on a state below to view a listing of these jobsites by city.


Request a Free Case Evaluation

Request a Free Evaluation now if you or someone you love has been diagnosed with mesothelioma. The evaluation will cost you nothing. Our lawyers will travel to visit you at your convenience or conference call with you over the phone. We understand how difficult a time this is for you and will assist in any way that we can. You can also call us toll-free at 1-800-336-0086 at any time.