The Hazards of Asbestos to Humans

Asbestos was commonly used as a building material between the 1930s and the 1950s, after which it was largely banned, although it can still be found in the insulation of older buildings as well as certain types of paint—which were banned in 1977—and automotive parts today. Asbestos can often be found in parts of the home such as the heating system, soundproofing, ceiling and siding—even artificial firewood.

According to Shrader & Associates , breathing in asbestos is extremely hazardous to your health, and can not only have immediate health effects but cause damage and contribute to cancer years or even decades into the future. The following are some of the ways asbestos exposure can damage the body.

Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a condition caused by chronic exposure to asbestos, marked by scarring of lung tissue. Inhaled asbestos fibers will eventually embed themselves in the tiny spaces in your lungs known as the alveoli, which due to chronic irritation will eventually cause lung damage. This damage causes scar tissue to form in the lungs, which then makes the lungs stiffer and makes it more difficult for them to expand and contract, leading the sufferer to have difficulty breathing. The effects of asbestosis can be felt as early as ten years after asbestos exposure and as late as twenty.

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is the most malignant and most aggressive of asbestos-related cancers. The mesothelium is a membrane of cells covering the heart and lungs. When mesothelioma strikes, it can hit any of these areas and begin forming malignant tumors. Mesothelioma can take up to 30 years to develop before it does, and is often mistaken for something else.  Symptoms such as chronic cough and chest pain can often be attributed to other causes, which facilitates its spread throughout the respiratory and circulatory centers. While mesothelioma today is quite rare (less than 3,000 cases per year), it is an aggressive cancer that has a very poor prognosis, despite advancements in treatments.

Mesothelioma incidence is increased substantially when the patient is a smoker.

Lung Cancer

According to Shrader & Associates (click here), while lung cancer is often related to smoking, incidence of lung cancer rises substantially with incidences of exposure to asbestos. Because of this, lung cancer cases often also involve a 10-20 year latency period after chronic asbestos exposure. While there are more treatments available to lung cancer sufferers, like all cancers there is no known cure. Lung cancer can be identified by its most common symptoms, which include chest pain and weight loss as well as chronic cough, which can itself involve coughing up of blood.

Other Cancers and Illnesses

Unfortunately, while the above three are the most common illnesses related to prolonged asbestos exposure, chronic exposure has been shown to play a role in other cancers, such as ovarian cancer and throat cancer, and less serious illnesses. These illnesses mostly related to damage to the pleura (the membranes around the lungs), including pleural plaques (plaque buildup which causes stiffness in the pleura), pleural effusions (liquid buildup between the pleural membranes) and pleuritis. While these conditions are not usually life threatening, they can be quite painful and make life in general more difficult. Further, while in some cases these conditions are not permanent, in others they become chronic.