Health Risks Of Asbestos Exposure

By:    Published: November 13, 2012

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Most people understand that asbestos exposure can be a very dangerous thing, but not everyone realizes just how many different types of health problems this exposure can potentially cause. It's important to learn how asbestos can affect your health as well as how you can prevent exposure from happening in the first place. Read this article to learn more about asbestos and its risks.

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a term used to describe naturally occurring groups of minerals which appear like bundles of fibers. In fact, those fibers can be separated into thin and surprisingly durable threads. The threads can withstand a host of different environments and hazards, including high heat, fire and chemicals. Additionally, the threads do not conduct electricity. The combination of these two qualities led to the use of asbestos in many industries. Generally, asbestos has been used for building materials like roofing, shingles and ceiling tiles. However, it has also been used to make other products like vehicle brakes, packaging and heat-resistant fabrics.

Since 1989, the use of asbestos has been banned in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, this does not mean that asbestos is no longer a threat since asbestos products created before 1989 are still in use.

Health Risks Of Asbestos Exposure

The main danger with asbestos is damage to the lungs. This is because people who are exposed to asbestos often inhale tiny airborne asbestos fibers. Obviously, this means that the more an individual is exposed to asbestos, the higher their risks for the potential health threats will be. People who work in construction or manufacturing and those who live or work in buildings containing asbestos are at a higher risk for prolonged exposure. Smokers who are exposed to asbestos have an even higher risk of developing an asbestos-related health condition.

The following are some of the main health risks of asbestos exposure:

  • Mesothelioma: This rare form of cancer is found in the membrane of the lungs, heart, chest and abdomen. Sadly, almost all cases of mesothelioma are linked to asbestos exposure. To make matters worse, the disease often appears many years after a person has initially been exposed to asbestos.
  • Lung cancer: The most deadly disease linked to asbestos exposure is lung cancer. Individuals who have been exposed to asbestos have a higher risk of developing lung cancer than those who have not been exposed. Symptoms of lung cancer including coughing, hoarseness, difficulty breathing, chronic chest pains and anemia.
  • Asbestosis: Although it is not cancerous, asbestosis is another serious health risk associated with asbestos exposure. Symptoms of this disease include a dry, crackling sound in the lungs and shortness of breath. This is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers leading to irritated and scarred lung tissues.

If you have been exposed to asbestos or if you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, be sure to see a doctor right away.

How To Prevent Exposure To Asbestos

There are several ways to reduce your risk for asbestos exposure. Because most people spend their time at home and work or school, it's best to focus on these three areas when eliminating the risk for prolonged asbestos exposure. Take these steps to keep you and your family safe from the health risk of asbestos:

  1. Have someone inspect your home for asbestos. If you are unsure about whether your home contains any asbestos, have a certified asbestos inspector come to your house to check it for the presence of asbestos fibers. Older homes obviously have a higher risk of containing asbestos because they were created before the asbestos ban. If asbestos is found in your home, there are two routes you can take. The first is to leave the asbestos alone since, in many cases, this is safer than disturbing it. In other cases you may need to remove building materials which contain asbestos. Your asbestos inspector can provide you with instructions on what to do in case asbestos is detected.
  2. Ask your employer about asbestos in the workplace. For people working in an office building or other structure, this could mean simply asking about when the building was last inspected for asbestos and how any problems were handled. For people who work in manufacturing or construction, the risk is increased so it's important to talk to your employer about precautions that need to be taken in the workplace to reduce asbestos exposure. If you have any questions or concerns about asbestos exposure in the workplace, contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for more information.
  3. Find out about asbestos in local schools. If you or your children attend school, it's important to find out if the buildings for that educational institution have any asbestos. Your school administrator should be able to provide this information.

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