Asbestos Exposure - Asbestos is a group of minerals that occur as fibres in soil and rocks in many parts of the world. They are made of silicon and oxygen. There are two types of asbestos, chrysotile, and amphibole, and both have been linked with cancer. Asbestos is strong, resistant to heat and chemicals, and does not conduct electricity. Hence it is an excellent insulating material. Asbestos has been used to insulate factories, buildings, homes and, ships, to make automobile parts, roofing materials, floor tiles, cement and, many other products.
It was only during the first half of the 20th century it was proved that breathing in asbestos-caused scarring of the lungs. So in the 1930s, steps were taken in England to protect workers from asbestos. Exhaust systems and ventilation were installed in the worksite. But during the Second World War workers were exposed to high doses of asbestos in the shipbuilding yards. Later laws were enacted that banned the use of asbestos in construction materials. In the United States, alternative insulating materials have since been developed. But it is still possible to be exposed to asbestos in older buildings, water pipes and other products.
Exposure to asbestos and asbestos products at the workplace, in the military or even at home can lead to asbestos-related diseases. Work-related asbestos exposure is the primary cause of asbestos diseases. It has been proved that asbestos is the only known possibility for malignant mesothelioma, cancer that affects the tissues lining the lung and abdomen. When microscopic asbestos fibres are inhaled or swallowed, they can be trapped in the lungs and digestive tract.
The body can naturally get rid of some of the asbestos fibres. But many of them get stuck in the body and remain there permanently. One should always take precaution to avoid inhaling asbestos fibre because there is no safe limit when it comes to asbestos exposure. Any product containing greater than one percent of asbestos minerals is said to be asbestos-containing. The longer the exposure to asbestos, the higher the chances of getting an asbestos-related disease.
Asbestos related pleural disease
Asbestos-related diseases include asbestosis, pleural effusion and, atelectasis which are non-malignant, and diseases such as lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, which are deadly. Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by the scarring of the lung tissue. It usually manifests itself after 15 or more years from initial exposure. The asbestos fibres scar the tissues in the lungs. The scarred tissues cause the alveolar walls to thicken, thereby reducing the capacity of the lungs. This leads to the patient experiencing shortness of breath. Asbestosis is a progressive disease because the disease progresses in the lung even if the person is no longer exposed to asbestos.
Pleural effusion is a build-up of fluid between two pleural layers following asbestos exposure. It usually occurs within 10 years from exposure. Effusions last for 3-4 months and then resolve completely. Rounded atelectasis or folded lung syndrome is an unusual type of asbestos-related pleural disease. It develops from an infolding of thickened visceral pleura with the collapse of the intervening lung parenchyma. It is a chronic condition. Malignant mesothelioma is an incurable tumour caused by asbestos. It happens in the mesothelial cells in the pleura, peritoneum and rarely elsewhere. Lung cancer is a tumour in the lung itself. Exposure to asbestos for an extended period can cause inflammation and genetic changes in the lung that can lead to cancer.
Common signs of asbestos exposure are the symptoms of related diseases like shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, persistent dry cough, chest pain, loss of appetite, fatigue, aching muscles and joints, high blood pressure and difficulty in swallowing. Diagnosis is made based on past exposure to asbestos, symptoms, a physical checkup and, tests such as chest x-ray and CT scan. Chest x-rays cannot detect asbestos fibres in the lungs, but they can identify any signs of lung disease due to asbestos exposure.
Most asbestos-related diseases happen only after being exposed regularly to asbestos for many years. For instance, workers who are engaged in the manufacture of asbestos-containing products, in shipbuilding and the installation of asbestos insulation are easily affected by asbestos-related diseases. When these workers come home wearing their work clothes, the people at home are exposed to the microscopic asbestos fibres stuck to their clothing. This is called secondhand asbestos exposure. The women who launder these clothes are at an even higher risk of inhaling the asbestos fibres and developing an asbestos-related disease.
Asbestos exposure summary and legal advice
A short term low-level exposure at home is not likely to pose any significant threat. A one-time exposure while working on do-it-yourself renovation work at home is also not a significant risk. But a great short term exposure can increase the risk of the disease in the years to come. Asbestos exposure is cumulative, and repeated short term exposures can add up. A disaster, even if it is one time, can expose a person to dangerous levels of the mineral.
After the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, a massive cloud of smoke, dust and, debris released asbestos fibres into the air. Asbestos fireproofing materials from the tower fell on New York City. The Twin Towers were constructed in 1966 before any regulations had been passed on the use of asbestos. The lower column of the World Trade Centres in Manhattan contained anywhere between 400-1000 tons of asbestos. The people who were at risk after the attack were the volunteers, emergency service personnel, the survivors, and the residents of Manhattan.
People can be exposed to asbestos in two ways. Inhaling asbestos fibres in the air is one way of getting exposed. Swallowing the fibres is another way of exposure to asbestos. Inhalation of asbestos can occur during mining of asbestos, manufacturing asbestos-containing products and when installing asbestos insulation. There are chances of inhaling asbestos during the demolition of old buildings or when products containing asbestos start to break down. Exposure can take place in deteriorating old buildings containing asbestos-based insulation, ceiling and. floor tiles. In all these cases the fine dust made by the asbestos fibres float in the air and are easily inhaled.
But if the asbestos is firmly bonded to the finished product, and if the material is not damaged or disturbed, there is no health risk. Asbestos fibres are swallowed when people consume contaminated food. Water that flows through corroded asbestos cement pipes usually contains asbestos fibres. Asbestos fibres can even get into the water supply through rock or soil erosion. Low levels of asbestos were found to occur naturally in outdoor air as a result of erosion of asbestos-containing rocks.
Although asbestos is not a total ban in all countries, there are laws in place regarding asbestos use and safe removal. There are strict guidelines and safety procedures in place to help prevent asbestos exposure at the workplace and in public areas. Everyone should abide by the asbestos abatement laws. Removal of asbestos materials should not be done by anyone other than a certified person, who is trained in asbestos disposal and understands the laws of the land. People should keep in mind that any amount of asbestos exposure is dangerous and avoiding asbestos exposure is the only way to prevent asbestos-related diseases.