Asbestos is a dangerous material that many different industries used until its regulation in the 1970s. Asbestos’s danger comes from the fact that it easily reduces to dust, leaving a cloud of harmful particles in the air. Asbestos exposure occurs when someone comes into contact with these particles, and either inhales or ingests them. The fibers make their way into the tissue that lines a person’s organs. The human body cannot expel the fibers, so they stay in that tissue for the rest of a person’s life. The fibers can irritate and inflame the tissue, which has health consequences on its own, and puts people at risk for mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. However, this is just one of the many potential health effects of asbestos exposure
Asbestos exposure comes with a variety of health risks including mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and pleural diseases. Mesothelioma is the most well-known of these diseases. It is a cancer of the mesothelium, a protective tissue that surrounds someone’s internal organs. The asbestos fibers can lodge in this lining and cause the development of tumors
Asbestosis, another medical condition arising from asbestos exposure, is a precursor to this form of cancer, though not all cases of asbestosis give rise to mesothelioma. Asbestosis occurs when the asbestos fibers irritate the protective tissue. Some common symptoms of asbestosis include shortness of breath, persistent dry cough, weight loss, and chest pain.
In addition to causing the rare form of cancer known as mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can also cause lung cancer. This happens when the fibers embed themselves in the lung’s tissue, causing tumors to grow there, rather than in the mesothelium. Lung cancer can be particularly hard to diagnose because its early stages have few symptoms, and even the later stages’ symptoms mimic less serious diseases.
Asbestos exposure can also cause other lung problems known as pleural diseases. These pleural diseases affect the two layers of tissue between the lungs and chest cavity. Ordinarily, they slide smoothly against each other to allow a person to breathe, but pleural diseases can cause scarring or hardening of the tissue that makes it more difficult for the victim to breathe.
How You Could Be Exposed
The majority of asbestos exposure occurred began in the 1940s, when the government started using asbestos in the Navy’s ships, and ended in the 1970s when the government began regulating the material’s use. The people at risk for asbestos exposure include those whose jobs brought them into contact with the substance, their families, members of the military, and people who used asbestos-based consumer products. These people all came into contact with asbestos repeatedly throughout the course of their lives, and consequently are at risk for mesothelioma. Furthermore, many people today may still be at risk for asbestos exposure.
Modern Day Exposure
Although the government began regulating asbestos in the 1970s, some groups of people today may still be exposed to the substance. Construction workers who renovate or demolish old buildings may stir up asbestos that was used in the building’s construction. First responders and other emergency personnel could also end up inhaling asbestos fibers released from older structures by fires or other emergencies. Natural disasters may also cause more widespread asbestos exposure, discharging asbestos into the air when they damage infrastructure.