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January 9, 2018

Fiberglass as a Substitute for Asbestos

For decades throughout much of the 20th century, asbestos was used in countless applications. From insulation, ceiling tiles, and vinyl flooring, to cigarette filters, curtains, and ironing board covers, asbestos could be found in almost every home, especially those built before 1980. The dangers of asbestos exposure were hidden from the public for years, but today the facts about asbestos exposure and its consequences are well-known. Exposure to asbestos can cause serious and life-threatening illnesses such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma – a cancer that currently has no cure and a prognosis of less than a year from the time of diagnosis. Once it became apparent that this material was a health hazard, alternatives to asbestos – such as fiberglass – grew in popularity

Fiberglass is a man-made material that became a good substitute for asbestos mainly because of its heat resistant qualities, making it valuable for insulation. Consisting of mostly silica sand, limestone, and soda ash, these ingredients (along with others mixed in for improvement) are mixed and melted together at a high heat, forming molten glass. This molten glass is then passed through heated brushings and then comes out as fine filaments. Based upon production techniques the fibers can be categorized as either continuous fibers (used for yarns, fabrics, and textiles), or discontinuous fibers (used for insulation, filters). While fiberglass accounts for most the insulation in use in the United States today, it is also a key ingredient in glass-reinforced plastic, or GRP.  GRP can be found in tent poles, bows and arrows, water tanks, surf boards, and more.

Is Fiberglass Safe?
There are many similarities between fiberglass and asbestos, from chemical composition to similar use and applications. Like asbestos, fibrous glass is small and the fibers can become airborne during installation or removal. Additionally, asbestos and fiberglass are both silicates and exposure to silica dust can result in major respiratory and lung problems, such as silicosis. Research conducted on rats in the 1970s concluded that fiberglass is a “potent carcinogen,” even calling it “man-made asbestos.” However, more recent studies disagree, stating that there is not enough data to support that fiberglass causes cancer in humans, and since production of fiberglass can vary, testing would have to be done on a case-by-case basis.

The most common health risk from fiberglass is skin irritation. When fiberglass comes into contact with bare skin, the particles can become lodged into the pores, causing dryness, itchiness, and rashes. It is more commonly categorized as an allergic reaction, as not all who come in to contact with fiberglass end up with irritated skin. Fiberglass can also irritate the eyes, nose, and throat if left exposed.

Even though asbestos use is severely restricted in the United States, there are still thousands of people each year diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. The latency period between the time of asbestos exposure and illness can range anywhere from 10 to 40 years, so those who were exposed to asbestos decades ago, are now just learning of their illness. If you are suffering from lung cancer or mesothelioma, the attorneys at Goldberg, Persky & White, P.C., are here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation and learn more about your rights and what compensation you may deserve.

 

Sources:

Gary Hanington, “Professor Hanington’s Speaking of Science: The Science of Fiberglass,” The Elko Daily Free Press (January 6 2018). [Link]

John Fuller, “Is Insulation Dangerous?” How Stuff Works.com (March 24, 2008). [Link]

“How Products are Made,” Vol. 2., Fiberglass [Link]

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