Understanding Asbestos-Related Diseases

Asbestos has been classified as a cancer-causing or carcinogenic substance by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Asbestos is a natural microscopic fibrous material and is extremely toxic. In the 70s, asbestos was used quite commonly in several commercial products like tanks, pipes, building materials, tiles, etc. owing to its properties of heat resistance and strength. In the recent years, the use of asbestos has been banned by many countries.

When asbestos gets damaged, the asbestos fibers are released into the atmosphere and when you inhale, these fibers can get lodged deep into your lungs. The asbestos fiber build-up remains in the lungs for a very long time and does not get expelled easily and in the long run, this can cause inflammation and scarring and can lead to chronic diseases and even death.

About asbestos-related diseases

Asbestos-related diseases and ailments develop slowly over the course of time. Symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, and pain may surface even after 10-50 years after a person’s contact with asbestos and even then, these are quite difficult to pinpoint as being asbestos-related diseases.

There is no cure or treatments to reverse the effects of asbestos-related diseases. There may be some treatments that help to alleviate the symptoms but these treatments can be quite expensive and weakening. Also, asbestos-related diseases may cause other problems like depression, fear, anxiety, and stress.

Kinds of asbestos-related diseases

Asbestos-related diseases can be non-cancerous and cancerous.

Asbestosis

This is a chronic lung disease caused solely by inhaling asbestos fibers that get lodged in the lungs. The normal function of the lungs gets hampered due to the formation of scar tissue that forms within the lungs, which makes breathing extremely difficult. Asbestosis is a progressive disease and up to 15% of the people suffering from this disease die due to respiratory failure. Symptoms of asbestosis include coughing, tightness in the chest and shortness of breath.

Asbestos lung cancer

Exposure to asbestos is a primary cause of contracting lung cancer. There are essentially two forms of the disease:
Small lung cancer: This is an aggressive form of the disease and spreads quickly throughout the body.

Non-small cell lung cancer: This is a less aggressive form of cancer and accounts for almost 80% of all lung cancer.

Lung cancer symptoms may include an ongoing or a worsening cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue and weight loss.

Mesothelioma

This is also known as the signature asbestos-related cancer and is the deadliest among all the asbestos-related diseases. Mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer that develops on the protective linings of the heart, chest, abdomen or testicles and most cases of this disease are caused due to exposure to asbestos.

There are 4 kinds of mesothelioma

Pericardial Mesothelioma that affects the heart

Pleural Mesothelioma that affects the lungs

Peritoneal Mesothelioma that occurs in the abdomen

Testicular Mesothelioma

People at risk

Normally, people who work with asbestos or those that are exposed to asbestos dust and fibers are at the greatest risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases.  People with brief asbestos exposure are also at risk of contracting these diseases.

People who face the greatest risk of asbestos exposure include:

Workers in the asbestos manufacturing and asbestos spraying

Building construction and demolition workers

Miners

Electricians

Brake mechanics

Boiler operators

Shipyard workers

Railroad workers

The asbestos fibers are carried on the clothing of the workers, so the families of people working with asbestos or those in contact with the workers’ clothing can also be at risk. Many deaths of women and children have occurred due to second-hand exposure to asbestos. And even if the worker has stopped working with asbestos and does not have any exposure, the dangers do not cease to exist.

Safe asbestos usage

Many manufacturers and experts claim that white asbestos is safer than the blue and brown variety. However, it is still advised that workers do not inhale the asbestos dust and doing so can still pose a risk for asbestos-related diseases and even death.

Worker protection

Workers must wear protective clothing and respirator masks when working with asbestos. Measures must be taken by the employers to reduce asbestos dust levels at the worksite by installing powerful exhaust and extraction fans, spraying the surfaces regularly to keep them wet and prevent the dust from spreading around and regular vacuuming. The dangers of asbestos cannot be undermined and so the use of asbestos must be avoided as far as possible to safeguard both the workers, as well as the environment, from the hazards of asbestos-related diseases and deaths.

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