February 20, 2019

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos exposure is one of the more talked about topics when it comes to asbestos, and rightly so, as asbestos exposure can lead to fatal disease and more often than not, asbestos exposure is preventable. This post has been written to assist in educating the public about asbestos exposure, how it happens, what it means and what can be done about it.

Today, asbestos is identified as a known carcinogen (cancer causing), although that wasn’t always the case. In 1920, “leather-like” growths across the interior of the lungs was discovered among patients believed to have been exposed to asbestos. By 1930, England recognized asbestos as a disease producing agent. It was until 1960 that the public of the United States accepted asbestos as a disease-producing agent. In the 1970s, it was found that prolonged inhalation of the tiny asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, and/or mesothelioma, all serious and potentially fatal lung diseases. The incidence of mesothelioma is most commonly associated with extensive inhalation of amphibole asbestos. In 1989, the U.S. government instituted a gradual ban on the manufacture, use, and export of most products made with asbestos. However, many asbestos containing products are still produced today and can be purchased at your local box store.

Some facts that I like to cover in this post have been shown in various health studies and include the following points:

* Inhaling asbestos fibers increases your risk of developing certain diseases
* Most victims of exposure were asbestos workers with little or no protection
* Safe work practices and protective clothing minimize the risk of exposure to asbestos

First, a little biology lesson. Asbestos exposure primarily effects the respiratory system, which provides oxygen to the body and generally consists of the nose and mouth, the trachea (windpipe) and lungs. the lungs are located in the pleural cavity, where asbestos exposure does its most harm. Asbestos fibers can impair oxygen absorption. In layman terms, the human body does not have the ability to breakdown an asbestos fiber. So, when asbestos exposure occurs and you inhale an asbestos fiber, it lodges itself in the lining of the lungs. Your antibodies attack this foreign object and die in place trying to break it down. Over time, this causes scar tissue and and begins to clog up your lungs. The more fibers you inhale, the more your lungs get clogged up, eventually suffocating their victims to death. Mesothelioma and Asbestos resulting from asbestos exposure can really be nasty diseases.

One of the interesting facts about these diseases is what is referred to as “Latency Period”. “Latency Period” is the length of time between asbestos exposure and the onset of the disease. Typically, the latency period after asbestos exposure is 15 to 40 years later.

asbestos exposure

The most common asbestos related diseases include Asbestosis, lung cancer and Mesothelioma, although other health related skin effects and cancers can also result. Generally speaking, Asbestosis is Fibrotic Scarring and the symptoms include and shortness of breath and tightening or pain in the chest. The result of Asbestosis is a lack of oxygen and eventual heart failure, after a latency period of 15 to 30 years. Symptoms of lung cancer include development of a persistent cough; change in a chronic cough; loss of appetite; weight loss; pain; and a general feeling of illness and weakness. The result of lung cancer is death, usually within 5 years and after a latency period of typically 30 years. It should also be known that if you are exposed to asbestos you are eight times more likely to contract lung cancer and you are also a smoker, you are 92 times more likely to contract the disease. Mesothelioma is very rare but always fatal. Pleural Mesothelioma is cancer of the chest cavity lining, while Pertoneal Mesothelioma is cancer of the abdominal cavity lining. Both have a latency period of between 30-40 years. Cancer of the digestive tract is also believed to be caused by asbestos exposure and asbestos “warts” can develop on skin punctured by asbestos, although these do not pose a health hazard and can be removed.

Breathable size for asbestos fibers is often 1/50th the diameter of a human hair and are considered microscopic, meaning that you typically cannot see them. Highly carcinogenic fibers are generally 0.25 to 0.50 microns in diameter and are 10 times longer than they are wide.

As can be seen in the following graphic and in my opinion, there really is no safe exposure level, as evidenced by the change in regulatory standards over time.

asbestos exposure

The silver lining is that asbestos exposure associated with most building maintenance activities fall below OSHA’s permissible exposure limit (PEL). As the public has become more aware of the dangers associated with asbestos exposure, awareness and training can and does minimize asbestos exposure during routine building maintenance. If you are ever in a position to work in or around asbestos, be sure to follow company policies and procedures.

The best defense against asbestos health risks is to limit asbestos exposure and stop smoking. Asbestos exposure can be limited through:

*Proper work practices

All of which we promote here and will be discussed in detail in future posts here at Friable Asbestos.com.

Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos Exposure