Fiberglass is a multipurpose material used in the construction of buildings, automobiles, fabric and sporting goods. According to its material safety data sheet (MSDS), fiberglass is actually plastic wrapped in glass composed of plastic. The fibers are strung together into a mesh, much like woven wool. Looser weaves provide insulation for plumbing pipes and houses. Tighter weaves provide a sound barrier in airplanes and cars. The tightest weaves are found in surfboards, hockey sticks and racing car bodies. Inhaling fiberglass particles can cause irritation or potential life-threatening conditions.
Inhaling the material could cause irritation of the mouth, nasal passage and throat. The Illinois Department of Health's fact sheet reports the fiberglass strands or dust can be easily inhaled. Mucous membranes in air passages are particularly sensitive to foreign particles. The inhaled particles can irritate these membranes, and, according to the Net Wellness Consumer Health Information network, might cause "bronchitis-like symptoms" or discolored phlegm.
The New York City Department of Health reports that regular or high levels of exposure could spur a person's asthma. Dr. James N. Allen Jr., a clinical professor of internal medicine at Ohio State University, writes that airway irritation related to fiberglass "can sometimes trigger asthma symptoms" in those previously diagnosed, potentially worsening his condition.
The Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University and the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania both write on the debate about fiberglass' cancer-causing effects. The colleges cite studies on laboratory animals exposed to fiberglass particles. Each suggest further research on the topic. The Fiberglass Information Network cites studies by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health showing that glass fibers could damage cellular mechanisms and DNA. These changes could promote the growth of cancer cells in the body.