Consequences of Asbestos Exposure

Most people are exposed to low levels of asbestos at some point during their lives.
However, not everyone suffers from the adverse effects of exposure. For the most part,
the people who develop asbestos-related diseases are commonly those who are exposed to
asbestos on a regular basis, or exposed to high concentrations of asbestos fibers.
In most cases, people who develop these diseases have been exposed to asbestos at work.
Since the 1940s, millions of Americans working in construction, ship-building, and manufacturing
industries have been exposed to asbestos. Hundreds of thousands of people who once worked in trades
such as mining, milling, construction and building, ship-building, and manufacturing
of asbestos-containing materials and products, have developed asbestos-related diseases as
a direct consequence of work-related exposure to asbestos.
Not all people who develop these diseases have been exposed to asbestos at work, however.
In some cases, family members of asbestos workers have been exposed to the substance as a
result of asbestos dust being brought into the home via contaminated work clothes.
Similarly, not everyone who is exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos-related disease.
Some occupations are at higher risk than others, and some medical studies indicate that certain
types of asbestos are more dangerous than others. Despite this, it is important to consider all
forms of asbestos as being potentially harmful. Working with any type of asbestos requires that
proper safety precautions be taken, including the use of a respirator and protective clothing.

Asbestos-Related Diseases

Asbestos is a serious health hazard, because the substance is composed of mineral fibers that can
damage delicate body tissues. In most cases, asbestos fibers enter the body via inhalation.
The body is unable to cough up or otherwise expel the fibers, and they are highly durable,
and cannot be broken down by the body. Over time, these trapped
asbestos fibers cause irreparable damage to the lungs.
The damage caused by many asbestos-related diseases is proportional to the amount of exposure experienced
by an individual, and is also related to the type of asbestos involved, and the length and diameter of the
fibers that are breathed in. The fibers that are the most dangerous are so small they cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Asbestos-related diseases generally develop as a direct result of chronic irritation
and inflammation in the lungs. Ongoing lung inflammation causes the formation of scar tissue
that cannot perform the necessary functions of normal healthy lung tissue.
Asbestosis occurs when lung damage becomes so severe that non-functional scar tissue present in the
lungs prevents normal breathing. However, because lungs have a ‘reserve’ capacity, the disease is
already considerably advanced before an individual begins showing symptoms.
Asbestosis is most common in people who experience regular exposure to high concentrations
of airborne asbestos fibers, such as people who have worked in the manufacturing
of asbestos products, particularly textiles.
This disease is only caused by exposure to asbestos.
In America, four in every 10,000 people currently suffer from asbestosis.
Lung Cancer is almost always fatal, regardless of the carcinogen involves.
People who are exposed to asbestos have an increased risk of developing lung cancer.
The risk is compounded by smoking.
Mesothelioma is a rare but invariably fatal form of cancer that most commonly develops
in the lining of the lungs, and occasionally develops in the lining of the abdominal cavity or heart.
Mesothelioma cancers are caused only by exposure to asbestos. Currently, around three thousand
new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year in America.
For additional information on mesothelioma treatment please see the resources at
Pleural Abnormalities caused by exposure to asbestos include thickening, and plaques.
Pleural thickening occurs when asbestos-related scarring causes the walls of the lungs to thicken,
and can cause shortness of breath. Pleural plaques are dense bands of scar tissue that do not form
only on the walls of the lungs. People who develop pleural plaques are believed to have an increased
risk of developing lung cancer.
For additional information on pleural mesothelioma please see the resources at
Other Cancers such as gastrointestinal cancer, colorectal cancer and cancers of the larynx, throat,
and kidneys may also have an increased risk of developing in people who are exposed to asbestos.

Preventing Asbestos-Related Disease

Successfully preventing the development of asbestos-related diseases—particularly asbestosis and mesothelioma,
which are caused only by asbestos exposure—is completely dependent on limiting exposure to asbestos.
As mesothelioma and asbestosis are both caused only by exposure to asbestos, these diseases can be prevented
by avoiding asbestos exposure. In addition, the increased risk of lung cancer and other serious diseases can be prevented.
Protective measures such as a respirator with a HEPA filter,
and protective coveralls and other clothing, should be used whenever asbestos exposure
is a known risk. Employers must also, according to OSHA regulations,
regularly monitor air quality in areas where asbestos is used,
and provide their employees with other safety measures that protect them from asbestos exposure.
Where asbestos is present in residential homes, the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases is much reduced in comparison to the risks for occupational exposure.
In residential, commercial, and public buildings, the risks are reduced by encapsulating or enclosing asbestos-containing materials, and by removing such materials when necessary.
For more information on asbestos exposure and abatement please visit the
Asbestos and Mesothelioma Center