Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral composed of soft and flexible fibres that are resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion. These qualities make the mineral useful, but they also make asbestos exposure highly toxic.
Asbestos is an effective insulator, and it can be used in cloth, paper, cement, plastic and other materials to make them stronger. But when asbestos dust is inhaled or ingested, mineral fibres can become permanently trapped in the body.
Over decades, trapped asbestos fibres can cause inflammation, scarring and eventually genetic damage. A rare and aggressive cancer called mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Asbestos also causes other forms of cancer as well as progressive lung disease.