For decades, asbestos was considered an ideal substance to use in a variety of industrial materials and equipment due to its remarkable heat and fire resistance properties, paired with incredible durability, poor electrical conductivity, and high tensile strength. Because of these properties, and because it was available in large quantities and inexpensive to produce, asbestos fibers were often combined with other materials for use in thousands of industrial, maritime, automotive, and building products. Asbestos is still used today in a limited number of industrial settings, such as for filtering chemicals, and is included in some vehicle brakes and roofing products.
Before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began regulating asbestos, it was believed that asbestos-related diseases occur only in people who worked closely with the mineral. In fact, exposure to asbestos can occur just about anywhere and in anyone from factories that produced asbestos-containing products and released asbestos fibers into the air polluting nearby neighborhoods, to those who worked with asbestos and brought the mineral home on their clothes and tools, thus exposing their families.