These days, most people are aware of the risks associated with asbestos exposure, but for a very long time, the world had no idea how dangerous this naturally-occurring substance could be. It was used in the construction of many buildings and homes across the US and elsewhere around the world, highly prized at a time for its insulating properties and general usefulness.
Asbestos was routinely used in many household products too, and it was only as time went by that the true risks of asbestos were revealed and changes had to be made, but a lot of damage had already been done by that time, and even now, lives are being lost and so many people are suffering from illnesses and issues connected with asbestos exposure.
Statistics show that around 39,000 people die in the US from asbestos-related diseases and health problems every single year, and there’s a lot of asbestos still out there, both naturally occurring in nature and still hidden away in homes, buildings, automotive brakes, insulation materials, and so on. So what are the exact risks of asbestos and how can one be exposed? Read on to find out.
How Does Asbestos Exposure Occur?
Even though new rules and regulations have been put in place to vastly limit the usage of asbestos in the US and other nations around the world, many people have still being exposed to this dangerous substance in the past and there are still cases occurring every year in which people suffer as a result of asbestos exposure. Here are three main ways in which it can happen:
- Occupational Exposure – When we talk about occupational asbestos exposure, we’re referring to people who encounter asbestos as a part of their work. In the past, this could involve people in the military, people working in construction, people working on shipyards, and so on. Asbestos exposure in working life used to be very common, and the long-term effects are still being studied and discovered to this day, leading to a lot of older people developing conditions like mesothelioma.
- Secondary Exposure – It’s not just workers who were directly exposed to asbestos who can suffer from it. Their families and friends can suffer too, as a result of secondary asbestos exposure. As the name implies, this occurs when asbestos is brought into an environment by someone else, like workers who got asbestos fibers on their clothes during the day and then brought them back into the house, inadvertently putting their families at risk.
- Environmental Exposure – Environmental asbestos exposure refers to any kind of indirect asbestos exposure simply in the environment around us. Asbestos is a natural substance and asbestos deposits can be found in natural spaces, so even just going for a hike or bike ride somewhere peaceful could lead to a disturbance of asbestos fibers, which may then be inhaled by people passing by. Asbestos may also be in your surrounding environment if you live near a place where asbestos was heavily used in the past, like a power plant or shipyard.
The Risks of Asbestos Exposure
Now that we’ve seen some of the risks associated with asbestos exposure, it’s important to take a look at what risks are associated with this substance to understand why it’s so dangerous and should always be treated with such care.
An asbestosis is a form of chronic lung disease that can occur when too much asbestos is inhaled into the lungs. Essentially, when the asbestos fibers get into the lungs, they can do direct damage to the lung tissue. Not only that, but the body can actually end up harming itself as it attempts to remove the foreign material but is unable to do so.
These factors lead to the development of asbestosis, which results in severe lung damage and can have a range of symptoms, from dryness of breath and persistent coughs to chest tightness and pain. Many people can actually suffer from asbestosis without realizing the severity of their condition, which is why it’s so important to get a check-up if you notice any symptoms.
Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that may be caused by asbestos fibers building up in the membranes around the lungs. There are 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each and every year, and it’s highly common in older people who used to work with asbestos in the past, like veterans of the military or those who spent a lot of time in construction leading up to the 1970s.
The symptoms of mesothelioma are quite similar to those for asbestosis, such as tightness around the chest, difficulties with breathing, regular coughing, and so on, and the symptoms can worsen greatly over time, eventually posing a fatal risk for the patient.
Another terrible potential outcome for people who are exposed to lots of asbestos is the development of lung cancer. This is another potentially fatal disease in which tumors can develop around the lungs and surrounding tissue of the respiratory system, making breathing much harder and even possibly blocking the flow of air altogether.
There are various symptoms associated with lung cancer like difficulty breathing, general fatigue, coughing blood, chest tightness, chest pain, and so on. There are ways to treat this disease, but early diagnosis is key in reducing the risk of death, so it’s vital to visit a doctor and get diagnosed if you’re worried about any symptoms.
Asbestos was so commonly used for such a long period of recent history that avoiding any exposure to it is almost impossible. Many people are still being exposed to asbestos every single day, albeit in very small and relatively harmful quantities.
However, the risks of long-term and high-quantity exposure are clear to see, so it’s absolutely vital for anyone who works or lives in an environment containing asbestos to take all necessary precautions, and if you notice any symptoms whatsoever of the illnesses listed above, be sure to contact your doctor.