Exposure to Asbestos - Health Risks

Asbestos is an accumulation of six naturally occurring silicate minerals. The composition of the minerals are long, thin, soft, flexible and fibrous. The long fibers contain many microscopic fibrils that can be released into the air by abrasion or erosion. Asbestos has very high heat resistance and it is an excellent electrical insulator, so for many years it was used commercially.

Exposure to Asbestos - Health Risks

  • What is Asbestos:

Asbestos is an accumulation of six naturally occurring silicate minerals. The composition of the minerals are long, thin, soft, flexible and fibrous. The long fibers contain many microscopic fibrils that can be released into the air by abrasion or erosion. Asbestos has very high heat resistance and it is an excellent electrical insulator, so for many years it was used commercially.

During the 20th century asbestos was widely used for building manufacturing and it has other industrial uses as well.

  • Types of Asbestos:

There are only two major groups of asbestos that can be found all over the world.

  • Serpentine group:

The main component of this group is chrysolite and it is the only silicate mineral in this asbestos group and it is commonly known as white asbestos. Chyrolite has long, thin and curly fibers that can be woven as a fabric. This is the most popular asbestos in commercial use because of its flexible nature.

  • Usage:

The usage of this chrysolite can be:

Building construction, floor tiles, roofing, plasters, industrial and marine gaskets, sheetings, thermal pipe insulators etc.

  • Amphibole group:

Amphibole asbestos contains five other minerals, such as:

  • Crocidolite.
  • Amosite.
  • Anthophyllite.
  • Tremolite.
  • Actinolite.

          Among these five Crocidolite and amosite can be found in commercial products. Rest have very less usage in commercial products. Still they can be found in some insulators, spray paints and tacls.

         Crocidolite is the most common amphibole mineral that is used commercially. Under the microscope it can appear blue in color and it has long, thin and straight fibers. The blue asbestos was very popular in the 80s, and it can be found in asbestos cement sheets, engine insulators, insulation boards, spray paint ceiling tiles etc.

       Under the microscope amosite can appear as brown in color and it has long and straight fibers. Amosite also used commercially but it was not popular for much long. This kind of asbestos can be found in ceiling tiles, thermal insulator etc.

       Anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite have very less usage in commercial sectors. Still it can be found in some insulators and talcs.

  • How does asbestos exposure can happen:

All types of asbestos are known to cause serious health issues in humans as well as animals. The exposure of asbestos can happen when the thin microscopic fibers or fibrils become airborne. Amosite and crocidolite are considered as the most dangerous and asbestos fiber types, however chrysolite can also cause several health issues in the human body.

Most of the people who are working in the industry of building construction are highly exposed to these risky minerals. Because of its high health hazards and risky nature most of the developed countries stopped using asbestos as a construction material. However in an ideal environment it takes almost 2-3 days to settle down any asbestos fiber particles and it can easily become airborne again if it get disturbed.

  • Factors that increases the risk of asbestos related disease:

There are several factors that can determine how asbestos exposure can effect any individual.

  • Duration of exposure:

How much time an individual was exposed to asbestos or asbestos fiber particles. It can be a workplace, it can be home renovation etc.

  • Dose:

How much asbestos an individual was exposed to in his or workplace or in lifetime. Size, shape and chemical composition of asbestos fiber also controls the exposure.

  • Individual risk factor:

Individual risk factor is also one of the important factors. Cause if an individual already has any pre-existing lung disease then that will be a big trigger for getting more sick after being exposed to asbestos.

  • Smoking habits:

Cigarette smoking and inhaling asbestos can increase the risk of getting lung cancer very positively.

  • Where asbestos exposure can happen:

There are several places where serious asbestos exposure can happen. Such as:

  • Using products that contain asbestos.
  • Workplace where asbestos is common.
  • If asbestos containing product get disturbed and stays like that for a long time.
  • Any natural disaster that makes asbestos fibers airborne.

           However, all forms of asbestos are considered dangerous and different types of asbestos can lead people into different kinds of disease. As an example, studies showed that Amphibole asbestos fiber can be more dangerous than chrysotile asbestos fiber.

  • Different types of Asbestos exposure:

Exposure to asbestos can lead to severe health issues. There are many different ways   people can get exposed to asbestos. There are two types of asbestos exposure that can happen to an individual. Such as:

  • Long term exposure:
  • Exposure in workplace:

Exposure in the workplace is very common when it comes to any building construction site. Also there are maintenance workers, they are also very likely to get exposed to asbestos.

In the mills and in some industries where asbestos is in their finished products, the users of the products and the maker of the products are in risk of exposure.

Thousands of companies used asbestos for decades after knowing all the dangerous health hazards. Workers used to wear suits for fire protections that contained asbestos, making them more likely to be exposed.

  • Exposure form products:

During the 20th century many manufacturers put their consumers' lives at risk by distributing the finished products containing asbestos. Electric insulators, sheets, floor tiles and roof sheets contain heavy amounts of asbestos and exposure to that kind of material can cause severe health issues.

  • Exposure from talc:

Talc or talcum powder is a natural mineral that is actually safe for use but it can be very dangerous if it gets contaminated by asbestos fibers. The main reason to get contaminated by asbestos is, the natural deposits of asbestos and talc can be found in similar places. So it is very easy for talc to get contaminated by asbestos. Several products such as baby powder and other talcum powder manufacturing units were used to make products containing asbestos in the 20th century.

  • Military Exposure:

During world war II asbestos was the main ingredient for military base and military ships. Historical record shows that almost 4million got exposed to asbestos fibers while working on military camps or dockyards.

  • Short term exposure:

Short term exposure can happen if asbestos contained products get disturbed by the consumers and there are other causes as well.

  • Secondary exposure:

Secondary exposure happens when a worker brings microscopic asbestos fibers home with their clothes. Because of this family members of the worker also can get health problems and that can be a life risking situation.

  • DIY:

DIY renovation in asbestos contained houses is a major cause of getting asbestos related disease.

  • Improper asbestos removal:

Improper asbestos removal can be very dangerous and this way many people get exposed to the asbestos fibers.

  • Health risks:

When people get exposed to microscopic asbestos fibers unknowingly they inhale it. Once it enters our human body it gets trapped in our respiratory system and digestive tract. Our natural toxin release system flush out most of the fibers but most of them get stuck in our system permanently. Asbestos is very dangerous and not safe. After all this if people get exposed for over a long period of time then also the symptoms of the asbestos related health issues start to appear after a long of being exposed, as a matter of fact the time can be 10 or 15 years.

Asbestos fibers that are stuck in our system can be the reason for DNA mutation or inflammation.

  • Asbestos and the risk of cancer:

There are 4 types of cancer an individual can grow in their body after getting exposed to the asbestos fibers.

  • Mesothelioma:

Study shows that 75% mesothelioma cases can happen to those who were exposed to asbestos for over a long period of time. Mesothelioma is a rare and incurable disease that can happen in the lining of the lungs and abdomen as well. It is a fast spreading cancer but it can take 15 to 50 years for the symptoms to appear.

  • symptoms:
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Persistent and dry cough.
  • Weight loss.
  • Pain in the center of the chest.
  • Lung cancer:

It showed in the studies that 4% of all lung cancer can be caused only by being exposed to asbestos. This kind of disease can take a long period of time to develop but it can spread only over a period of months.

People who smoke and also are exposed to asbestos are in high risk of getting lung cancer.

  • Laryngeal cancer:

Laryngeal cancer develops in the tissues of the larynx, that is the area of the throat that contains the vocal cord. In 2006 the studies proved that it can happen after getting exposed to asbestos fiber for a long time.

  • Ovarian cancer:

Asbestos causes ovarian cancer in the female body.

  • Asbestos and other health risks:

There are other serious health conditions that can happen when an individual is exposed to asbestos for a long time.

  • Asbestosis:

Asbestosis is a disease that can occur from the inhalation of asbestos particles for over a long period and it can speed up the process of getting mesothelioma.

Asbestosis is basically an inflammation in pleura i.e. lung tissues.

  • Pleuritic pain:

Pleuritic pain or pleurisy is an inflammation that can happen in pleural lining due to the exposure of asbestos fibers.

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