Asbestos is a rock-forming mineral made up of heat-resistant silicate groups. It’s a naturally occurring compound found in the form of long, thin and powerful fibers. Mining for asbestos began at the end of the 19th century when construction workers and manufacturers discovered its ideal physical properties.
However, workers and citizens who endured asbestos exposure developed severe health problems in the long run.
The fiber typically enters the air during the erosion of natural deposits or during the construction of large buildings. Gardening or other outdoor activities can also stir up asbestos-contaminated dust. It is also present in insulation, plaster, cement, and floor tiles, posing a risk even at home. Although asbestos is not safe in any amount, those exposed to higher concentrations or who have been in contact for a long time tend to have worse health effects. The following are associated with asbestos exposure:
- Occupations like construction, mining, shipbuilding, and power generation
- Asbestos products such as vinyl tiles, cement, durable plastics, and adhesives
- Manufacturers using asbestos for automotive parts, insulation, laboratory equipment, and several other materials.
Hiring contractors for safe asbestos removal can be a lifesaver as it will prevent you and your family from developing asbestosis-related diseases such as:
It is a chronic lung condition resulting from prolonged exposure to high levels of asbestos. These airborne fibers become embedded in the alveoli (air sacs in the lungs), where they cause irritation and scarring. Some common symptoms are shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, chest pain, and other respiratory complications. While there’s no way to reverse the damage to alveoli, your doctor can help you manage the symptoms. The doctor may prescribe oxygen to help you breathe better or even suggest a lung transplant.
The pleura is a thin sheet of tissue that surrounds your lungs and lines the chest cavity. Inflammation caused by the deposition of asbestos may cause the pleura to thicken or accumulate fluid around the lungs. As a result, the lungs cannot fully expand and take in oxygen. Your breathing may become shallow and rapid, and you may experience fever and chills routinely. Other symptoms like cough and weight loss have also occurred in some people. To treat pleural disease, your doctor might prescribe you medication to reduce lung inflammation.
It is possible to have trouble breathing if exposed to asbestos for an extended period or lived near an asbestos mine. Consult a doctor immediately. They can determine whether you have mesothelioma or not by doing radiology scans or a biopsy. Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that forms in the lungs, heart, or abdomen lining. The symptoms include trouble breathing, experiencing a chronic cough, loss of appetite, constipation, or frequent fatigue. Symptoms of mesothelioma may take about 30 years to appear after asbestos exposure. Since it’s considered an aggressive and fatal disease, there’s no cure for it. However, treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can extend your life expectancy beyond the initial prognosis.
When you inhale asbestos fibers over the years, they can lodge inside your lungs. Eventually, they can damage your lung cells to the point where they become cancerous. In its early stages, lung cancer typically doesn’t manifest any signs and symptoms. It’s diagnosed as a malignant tumor when the disease has advanced and invaded the lungs. If you have persistent signs such as breathlessness, dry cough, crackling sounds when breathing, hoarseness, or weight loss, you must visit your doctor. You are more likely to develop lung cancer if you smoke tobacco and have been around asbestos.
Other diseases like COPD, pleuritic, and laryngeal and ovarian cancer are also associated with chronic asbestos exposure.
Reducing exposure to asbestos
Asbestos is still legally used in many countries across the world, even though its use is prohibited. To reduce its exposure, subsequent risks and stay safe, you can implement the following solutions:
Be sure to get the proper training if you work with asbestos or asbestos-containing materials. Whenever you’re at work, wear the appropriate personal protective equipment and take all necessary precautions.
It’s always best to let the professionals do their work. Hire a certified agency to dispose and safely remove asbestos. By implementing safe protocols, they ensure safe removal without contaminating the rest of your home or environment.
Involve the government
Talk to a local government representative whenever there’s a demolition or renovation of a building in your neighborhood. Laws exist to protect citizens from asbestos exposure, and implementing these regulations will keep you safe.
Conceal possible sources
Before gardening or planning any outdoor activity, use water first to wet the soil. It keeps contaminants from rising in the air and entering your lungs. Instead of sweeping pavements, use water to wash them down as a safer alternative.
Avoid old buildings
It is best to avoid rundown locations with visible waste in their surroundings. Often, the damaged materials from these buildings contain high levels of asbestos, which can stick to you and cause contamination wherever you go.
Use alternatives to asbestos
Asbestos use is heavily regulated, so many manufacturers have now turned to safer alternatives. Construction workers can install polyurethane foam for insulation, while materials like silica fabric and cellulose fiber are used to assemble products. The construction industry commonly uses polyurethane foam for insulation. In addition to silicon fabric, cellulose fiber is also widely used for product assembly.
Unless you’ve directly been affected by this hazardous mineral, it’s unlikely that you think much of its risks. However, prolonged asbestos exposure has dire consequences and is very easily inhaled due to its small size. It increases the risk of fatal diseases like lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Other factors like smoking can enhance the risk even more because of irritation in lung passages caused due to cigarette smoke. Asbestos use is so common that it is likely you have encountered it at some point, whether or not you knew it. While it may take several years for it to start manifesting its effects in the form of a fatal disease, the only hope for you to stay protected is by reducing its exposure starting now.