Asbestos (ass-BEST-us) is a mineral mined from the earth that was once commonly used in floor and ceiling tiles, insulation materials, spray-on fireproofing, roof shingles, and many other products. Its ability to withstand heat and chemicals, and its resistance to evaporation and decay made it a popular insulating material. But when disturbed, asbestos tends to shed microscopic fibers, which can be up to seven hundred times smaller than a hair. These particles can hang in the air for long periods of time, and become inhaled. If they reach the lungs or intestinal tract, the fibers remain in the body forever, and may cause serious health problems. Possible complications include lung cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, chest, or abdomen. In addition, doctors believe that some cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach, colon, and kidneys may be linked to asbestos inhalation. If you feel you've been exposed, and notice symptoms such as chest pains, hoarseness, difficulty breathing, or rattling sounds in the lungs, consult a doctor right away. Also, never disturb any item that you believe to contain asbestos; these materials can give off dangerous dust when they crumble, and must only be removed by licensed professionals.
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