Basic Asbestos Facts

Most people have a basic understanding of what asbestos is and that it is bad for them, but few understand exactly why. Though the majority of human exposure to asbestos happens in the workplace, people can also be exposed to the mineral in their homes, in their communities, and even when they’re out in nature. When asbestos is in place and undisturbed, it does not pose a danger, but when it breaks down as a result of exposure or damage, its fibers become airborne and can easily be inhaled or ingested into the body.

Here are some basic asbestos facts regarding the impact that exposure to asbestos has on the body.

  • Once asbestos fibers are breathed in, it is very hard for the lungs to expel them. The fibers get trapped in the lungs’ cells and an inflammatory response begins. Eventually, scar tissue forms or genetic changes occur at the cellular level, leading to significant breathing problems and the risk of malignant mesothelioma.
  • Asbestos is a carcinogenic material, and the most common form of cancer that results from exposure to asbestos is mesothelioma, followed by cancers of the lungs, larynx and ovaries. Asbestos exposure has also been linked to other cancers, including stomach cancer, pharynx cancer, and colorectal cancer.
  • In addition to malignancies, the inflammatory response to asbestos can lead to asbestosis, pleural thickening, and abnormal collection of fluid in the tissues of the lungs known as pleural effusion.
  • There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, but the longer a person is exposed to the mineral (duration) and the greater the concentration of asbestos they are exposed to (dose) increases their risk of being diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease. Other factors include the type of asbestos fibers they are exposed to, the source of the exposure, and individual risk factors such as whether they are smokers, their overall health, and their individual genetic makeup.
  • Asbestos diseases have long latency periods. Depending upon the illness and the individual’s health characteristics, it generally takes between ten years and forty years for symptoms of asbestos-related diseases to manifest.
  • Asbestos-related diseases each have their own characteristics and prognosis, but there are many symptoms that they share, including shortness of breath, persistent cough, coughing up blood, and pain or tightening in the chest.

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