Health Literacy

Asbestos – All You Need to Know


Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral substance that can take on a fluffy consistency. The fibers in asbestos are pliable and soft but resistant to chemical corrosion, electricity, and heat. Pure asbestos is an effective insulator and can be blended into plastic, cement, paper, cloth, and other materials to enhance their strength. At one point, these properties made asbestos highly profitable for the construction industry, but unfortunately, they also render asbestos extremely toxic.

Where Can Asbestos Be Found in Homes?

Exposure to asbestos, regardless of the amount, is not safe. However, it poses the greatest risk when an individual is exposed to a high concentration or encounters it daily over an extended period. Asbestos accumulates within the body, and there is no way to reverse the cellular damage it causes.

Asbestos Is Dangerous

The asbestos fibers are microscopic, odorless, and tasteless, so exposure does not lead to immediate symptoms. This makes it easy for an individual to ingest or inhale asbestos dust without realizing it. Once these fibers enter the body, they do not dissolve, making it challenging for the body to expel them.

Over time, trapped asbestos fibers can lead to scarring, inflammation, and eventually cause genetic damage to body cells. Asbestos-related diseases take a long time to develop. Occupational exposure is the primary cause, followed by second-hand exposure. These diseases can affect individuals living in contaminated environments or using asbestos-containing products regularly.

Diseases Caused by Asbestos

Most commonly, asbestos fibers accumulate in lung tissue. Asbestos-related benign conditions include COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), pleuritis, and asbestosis, which make breathing difficult. On the other hand, deadly conditions resulting from asbestos exposure include occupational cancer, peritoneal mesothelioma, pleural mesothelioma, and lung cancer.

Products Containing Asbestos

In the 20th century, insulation and asbestos were used interchangeably. The asbestos and insulation industry expanded significantly with the introduction of large-scale manufacturing facilities and oil refineries. Asbestos insulation was used on pipes and walls in power plants as well as family homes.

Occupations Associated with High Asbestos Exposure

  • Military Service
  • Shipbuilding
  • Electricity Generation
  • Heavy Industry
  • Firefighting
  • Construction
  • Asbestos Product Manufacturing
  • Mining

The Importance of Safe Asbestos Removal

Even slight disturbance of asbestos can lead to various problems, so its removal is crucial. This helps prevent the harmful effects associated with asbestos exposure. Here are some benefits of asbestos remediation:

Preventing Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is often diagnosed after a tumor has spread beyond the lungs, making treatment challenging. Many people die each year due to lung cancer. Approximately 5000 cases of lung cancer are attributed to asbestos exposure annually. Removing asbestos through professional services can effectively prevent this.

Controlling Environmental Asbestos

Environmental asbestos exposure, whether from natural deposits or pollution from nearby industrial sites, can be hazardous. Swift removal methods should be employed. Any form of asbestos exposure can lead to the risk of contracting mesothelioma. These deaths account for 22% of cancer-related deaths. Asbestos removal significantly reduces the risk of developing mesothelioma.

Reducing contact with asbestos through removal can have a long-term positive impact on overall health. While government regulations have reduced asbestos risks over the years, individuals living near environmental asbestos should take precautions.

Hiring a Professional is Essential

If asbestos is discovered in your home or if there’s a suspicion of its presence, it’s crucial to contact a professional promptly. While asbestos in good condition poses minimal risk, if left to deteriorate and become airborne, it can become potentially deadly. Asbestos was widely used for insulation in homes until the mid-1980s, meaning many homes may still contain it in various forms like floor tiles and other building materials.

Attempting to remove asbestos on your own exposes you to risks due to lack of proper training and safety equipment. This increases the likelihood of asbestos becoming airborne and leads to potential health issues. An asbestos removal specialist will assess the danger level and advise on the best way to address it. While many public buildings have already undergone asbestos removal, there are still places where it’s necessary for safety and health. These experts will meticulously inspect your premises for asbestos presence and assess its condition.

In conclusion, consulting an experienced asbestos removal specialist is crucial for your safety and well-being.

Would you like to receive similar articles by email?

Dr. Jade Marie Tomaszewski is a pathologist-in-training at McGill University, where she also did her degree in MSc Pathology. She obtained her medical degree (MD) from the University of the Philippines, after completing a BSc in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. In her (little) spare time, she enjoys spending time with family, curling up with a book and a large mug of tea, and trying out new recipes in the kitchen. You can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *