What is Asbestos?
A naturally occurring mineral composed of flexible fibers, Asbestos is commonly found in soil and rocks. Its fibers offer exceptional chemical and heat resistance along with incredible strength and fireproofing capabilities. As a result of these physical and chemical qualities, Asbestos became a popular choice for manufacturing plastic, cement, paper, insulators, and more.
Asbestos mining, especially in the United States, was at its height from the mid to late 1900s. However, due to the dangers of inhaling toxins released from its dangerous fibers, its manufacturing and use is mainly banned in the United States and is allowed only when it accounts for less than one percent of the entire product.
Why is Asbestos so Dangerous?
Even though Asbestos offers amazing fire retardant and insulation capabilities, it was found to be carcinogenic. This means that it is a substance that can cause cancer in living tissue after prolonged exposure or inhalation. Asbestos is one of the greatest public health threats because it is the main culprit in causing a very aggressive and rare cancer called mesothelioma. This type of deadly cancer is exclusively caused by asbestos exposure.
The most common of the six types of Asbestos is chrysotile, which is found in white powder and causes pleural mesothelioma. Asbestos is such a dangerous substance because when asbestos fibers get trapped inside the body, it can cause scarring, inflammation, and eventually genetic damage over time. To know more about mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, you can check out this website.
However, asbestos fibers, once inhaled, do not break down easily or be destroyed by our body’s natural defense system. The barb-shaped ends of the fibrils burrow deep into the lungs and can stay there for decades, damaging the organ through time. This eventually leads to the disease mentioned above, such as mesothelioma and other forms of lung cancers.
Health Risks Associated with Asbestos Exposure:
The worst thing about asbestos exposure is that there is no way at the moment to reverse the damage caused by it. While no amount of Asbestos is considered safe for humans, the worst effects show in a person who has been exposed to intense concentrations of the substance over extended periods.
Studies show that asbestos-related diseases and other health risks have long latency periods, and it isn’t until too late that damage becomes irreversible. Take a look at the following serious health effects that occur due to asbestos exposure:
1. Pleural Disease and Effects (non-cancerous abnormalities):
Asbestos causes cancer and is also the reason for developing various non-cancerous abnormalities, mainly in the chest cavity lining. There are generally four types of abnormalities that occur due to inhaling asbestos fibers which include:
- Pleural infusion (fluid in the pleural space)
- Pleural plaques (localized deposits of collagen)
- Rounded atelectasis or Folded lung (occurs when the portion of the lung becomes airless due to the rolling of an area of pleural fibrosis into the lungs.
- Fibrosis of the pleura and diffuse thickening
It is a rare and aggressive type of cancer that is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. This type of cancer typically occurs within the abdomen, chest, lining of the lungs, and rarely in the heart as the asbestos fibers become lodged in organ linings.
People who have had high levels of asbestos exposure typically develop mesothelioma, and most of the exposure occurs while on the job. Occupations like mining, construction workers, railway workers, firefighters, demolition crews, insulation manufacturers, etc., are at most risk for asbestos exposure.
Almost 3,000 Americans every year receive a mesothelioma diagnosis, and Asbestos is the cause for eight in ten people who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis.
3. Effects on the Immune System and Asbestosis:
Asbestos exposure causes various nonmalignant illnesses such as asbestosis, a chronic lung disease that occurs from the scarring of lung tissue. This condition cause chest pain, shortness of breath, cough, and even permanent lung damage.
It is also known as diffuse pulmonary fibrosis and causes scarring and inflammation in the lung tissue. Apart from asbestosis, studies reveal that workers with this disease specifically suffered from weakened immune system function.
4. Lung Cancer:
Asbestos fibers can become lodged in the lung tissue after exposure and may lead to lung cancer. Since asbestos-related cancer can take up to several years to develop, the symptoms may not even present themselves until decades have passed after the initial exposure. Studies suggest that higher levels of asbestos exposure typically led to a higher risk of lung cancer.
The risk of developing asbestos-related lung cancer can also significantly increase with other risk factors such as smoking.
5. Laryngeal Cancer:
A small number of studies indicate that asbestos exposure can significantly increase the incidence of laryngitis or laryngeal cancer, which is also called the cancer of the voice box. The cancer is typically the result of asbestos fibers traveling through the larynx before reaching the lungs after inhalation. This leads to the development of malignant cells as the fibers become embedded in the tissues of the voice box.
There is no doubt that Asbestos is a killer mineral and that it is still regulated in some parts of the world and the U.S and is also a significant threat to public health. Many occupations expose workers to high levels of Asbestos and cause illnesses like mesothelioma, lung cancer, and various non-cancerous diseases. Workplaces must practice the highest level of safety against asbestos exposure and products with traces of harmful substances.