Asbestos is only dangerous if the fibers become airborne, by breaking apart materials containing asbestos, which makes insulation containing asbestos expensive to remove.
When first discovered, asbestos was thought to be so wonderful, it was used in almost all materials coming in contact with fire, including kitchen gloves and artificial fireplace logs. Many residential and business buildings used to have insulation containing asbestos, including a sort of spray-on covering on ceiling tiles; whenever anyone cleaned them with a broom, particles would be knocked down and give all residents a high probability of getting cancer or asbestosis.
Lawsuits in the 70's and 80's regarding asbestos in buildings almost bankrupted Lloyd's of London, a fact they hid from other policy holders which now has them in very big trouble: they didn't have the money to cover other potential large claims.
The United State Environmental Protection Agency provides a wealth of information about asbestos, including how to find it in your home, how to protect yourself if you think you are in danger, and how to remove asbestos. (Read more online at: http://yosemite.epa.gov/r5/r5ard.nsf/2f86cbca09880b61862565fe00588192/a37f2222296572e58625660200520576?OpenDocument ) A lot of removal of asbestos in the US is handled by your local county's Air Pollution Control District.
One aspect about asbestos is that smoking in a place with asbestos products in it vastly multiplies the chances of getting lung cancer. Asbestos was once considered to be such the wonder insulator, that Lucky Strike cigarettes used to contain asbestos in their filters.
This writeup was inspired by Noether's daily log on July 30, 2000.