What Exactly Is Asbestos And What Harm Can It Cause

What Exactly Is Asbestos And What Harm Can It Cause

Most people have heard about asbestos and know that it is harmful to the human body. However, they don’t know much else than that about an important topic as asbestos.

Understanding asbestos and the harm it can cause is the first step in ensuring you are adequately protected from harm. As with many other things, knowledge about asbestos is the key to avoiding its adverse and severe effects.

1.  What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally on the planet, though not as plentiful as other minerals. It is made of soft and flexible fibers that are resistant to heat, electricity, and corrosion.

The above qualities make asbestos a useful and valuable mineral in industry. Contrarily, the same qualities make the mineral very harmful to organic life, which includes human beings.

The qualities of asbestos make it an extremely effective insulator; hence industries can use it to strengthen other materials such as paper, cloth, cement, and plastic. You will thus find asbestos in tiles, cabinet tops, shingles, and doors.

2.  When is Asbestos Dangerous?

Asbestos-containing items will not release asbestos fibers unless they are tampered with in some way. For example, if an asbestos-containing shingle is broken or drilled, it will produce the fibers into the air.

Asbestos is most dangerous when it is friable, which means when it can easily crumble. It is then that it will release tiny asbestos fibers into the air. Therefore, an asbestos ceiling tile is not hazardous, but sprayed-on asbestos insulation is highly friable.

Asbestos fibers can be trapped for decades inside asbestos-containing items until they are damaged or disturbed. The continuous damage and deterioration of asbestos-containing materials will increase their friability. They will be affected by factors and activities such as water damage, constant vibration, aging, and physical impact from cutting, sawing, drilling, or striking.

The most prevalent manner in which asbestos fibers enter the body is to enter the body while breathing. When you inhale asbestos fibers, they will become caught in the nose and throat mucous-filled membranes.

If you remove the mucous, you will remove the asbestos fibers alongside it. That is when they become trapped in the lungs or swallowed then embedded in the digestive tract that they become dangerous and cause serious health problems. 

3.  Health Effects of Asbestos

Asbestos fibers are essentially indestructible, and once they are inside the body, they cannot be broken down or dislodged. Over time, trapped asbestos will cause inflammation, scarring, and eventually genetic damage.

There are three main types of disease you can develop as a result of asbestos exposure:

1.   Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that is almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. Cancer affects the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and sometimes the heart.

About 2500 cases of Mesothelioma are diagnosed every year in the United States alone. If your doctor diagnoses you with Mesothelioma, you should immediately contact a lawyer. If you live in the United States, you should reach out to renown mesothelioma attorney, Scott Frost because even though contacting a lawyer will not change the diagnosis, it will help those guilty face responsibility. It will also help prevent future generations from contracting the disease.

Mesothelioma is not only aggressive with severe symptoms, but it is also often fatal. The disease can remain latent for up to 40 years, making it very hard to diagnose and even harder to cure.

You will often find Mesothelioma in miners and textile workers, especially those involved in manufacturing asbestos-containing gas masks. Those who work in asbestos factories, shipyards, and manufacturing of asbestos insulation also have a much higher risk of Mesothelioma than the rest of the population.

2.   Asbestosis

Asbestosis is a severe, chronic, non-cancerous respiratory disease but just as serious as cancer. The condition is caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers, damaging the lung tissues and causing them to scar.

The primary symptom of asbestosis is shortness of breath and the production of a distinct crackling sound when breathing. When asbestosis becomes too far gone, it may cause cardiac failure.

There is no treatment for asbestosis; hence the disease usually disables and eventually kills the patient. At the most risk are the people who work with asbestos, especially people who remodel or destroy buildings with asbestos.

It also takes at least five to ten years of exposure to develop the disease. The risk of contracting asbestosis from neighborhood or family exposure is relatively low.

3.   Lung Cancer

Most deaths caused as a result of asbestos exposure are due to lung cancer. People directly involved in the mining, milling, manufacturing, and use of asbestos and its products are at a much higher risk of developing lung cancer than the rest of the population.

People who smoke and are also exposed to asbestos are ninety times more likely to contract lung cancer than those who don’t smoke and have no asbestos exposure. Tobacco smoking history is one of the most crucial factors affecting the development of lung cancer in an individual.

However, getting lung cancer due to asbestos exposure will depend on a variety of other factors, including the level & duration of exposure, time since exposure, age at which exposure happened, and the type & size of asbestos fibers.

The average latency period from asbestos exposure to cancer development is twenty to thirty years. Lung cancer development due to asbestos is often associated with long-term periods of exposure. However, even a year of exposure increases the chance of getting lung cancer in the future.

The symptoms of lung cancer due to asbestos exposure will often arise in its advanced stages. The symptoms will be similar to other lung disorders and include chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, weight loss, and chronic cough.

There are cases of household transmission of lung cancer to household members, presumably due to the asbestos fibers carried home on work clothes.

To conclude, asbestos is a dangerous mineral whose effects on the human body are increasingly becoming known with research. The three main harmful effects of asbestos exposure are the development of asbestosis, lung cancer, and Mesothelioma. If you are diagnosed with any of the above diseases, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.


I am a pop culture and social media expert. Aside from writing about the latest news health, I also enjoy pop culture and Yoga. I have BA in American Cultural Studies and currently enrolled in a Mass-Media MA program. I like to spend my spring breaks volunteering overseas.

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