Asbestos exposure refers to the inhalation or ingestion of airborne asbestos fibers. There are multiple activities which can release asbestos fibers in the air and thereby, exposure can happen in numerous settings – including at home. As fibers are microscopic, people may be unaware that they were exposed to asbestos in certain cases, especially since this mineral occurs naturally in plenty of geographic regions across the world. However, asbestos is a known human carcinogen. While exposure does not result in immediate symptoms, it can lead to the development of serious diseases over the years.
Our bodies are not designed to eliminate asbestos. Thus, after you breathe in or swallow toxic fibers, they will lodge in your lung tissue or inside your digestive system forever. The rough texture of asbestos fibers, as well as their needle-like shape, makes their natural elimination impossible, although some may be coughed up occasionally. Moreover, fibers can also travel through the body, which – depending on the organ they migrate to – may result in kidney cancer, colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer or bladder cancer. These asbestos fibers can gradually produce severe inflammation and tissue scarring, which might subsequently give way to a disease. However, due to their long latency period, asbestos-related diseases only occur after 15 to 50 years of first exposure.
Types of Asbestos Exposure
As previously noted, asbestos exposure can occur under multiple circumstances. Depending on the setting in which it takes place, asbestos exposure is of four types:
Occupational exposure is accountable for the vast majority of asbestos-related conditions. Approximately 20% of the individuals with a history of workplace asbestos exposure will develop a disease. In nearly half of the cases, this disease is going to be mesothelioma, the most aggressive form of cancer asbestos can cause. People who were in contact with asbestos on the job are most likely to become ill because the concentration of toxic fibers in the air they would regularly breathe was extremely high, as well as because their exposure would generally extend over several years.More about Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Deposits of asbestos can be found worldwide, some of the largest in the U.S. occurring in the following states:
- New Jersey
It is not uncommon for people to come in contact with asbestos by accidentally disturbing mineral deposits.More about Environmental Asbestos Exposure
Surprisingly, asbestos exposure can also happen at home. As building materials were commonly manufactured with asbestos, construction companies would accordingly employ asbestos-containing products for their projects. Nowadays, millions of old buildings across the U.S. have asbestos-containing materials in their structure, which may pose a considerable threat to the health of inhabitants over time.More about Domestic Asbestos Exposure
Secondary asbestos exposure takes place when one inhales or ingests toxic fibers without being in direct contact with the source of exposure. As the harmful effects of exposure were not officially recognized until 1973, people who handled asbestos-containing products on the job were not required by employers to wear protective equipment or to change their clothes at the end of their shift. Consequently, not only would they inhale astounding amounts of carcinogenic fibers, but they would also carry asbestos dust home, involuntarily putting their family members’ health at risk.More about Secondary Asbestos Exposure
Is Asbestos Exposure Always Dangerous?
The consensus, as expressed by multiple U.S. federal agencies and worldwide health organizations, is that there is no safe asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a carcinogenic mineral which can cause terrible diseases, regardless of the source of exposure. However, there are several factors which may increase the risk of developing a disease, as follows:
- the duration of exposure – studies suggest that the longer one was in contact with asbestos, the more likely they are to be diagnosed with a related illness
- the amount of asbestos fibers in the body – it is also believed that if a person is exposed to a high concentration of airborne asbestos, their risk of developing a disease increases, as they will inhale a larger amount of toxic fibers
- the type of asbestos – there are conflicting opinions in this respect, as while some believe chrysotile asbestos is the most dangerous, others argue that the minerals in the amphibole group are more hazardous due to their needle-like shape
- smoking – smokers with a history of asbestos exposure are between 50 and 90 times more susceptible to developing lung cancer than non-smokers who were exposed to asbestos
- preexistent pulmonary disease – asbestos-related diseases are more likely to occur in individuals who suffer from a pulmonary condition, since their lungs are already weakened
- a germline mutation in BAP1 – it was found that this genetic mutation increases one’s chances of developing mesothelioma significantly, which partially explains why only a small portion of people exposed to asbestos are diagnosed with this form of cancer
Considering the toxicity of asbestos, you should always be cautious in this respect – even if there is only a slight possibility of exposure. Although people with a history of heavy and prolonged exposure are at highest risk, there have been situations in which individuals who had been in contact with asbestos on only one occasion developed mesothelioma. Since occupational exposure is quite rare nowadays and strict workplace regulations for industries which still employ asbestos are currently effective, we advise you to be vigilant in regard to asbestos in your home, as well as when purchasing new building materials.
If you suspect asbestos might be present in one or more products in your house, we strongly encourage you to collect a sample by following the instructions in our guide and send it to us for a free-of-charge, professional analysis. We will promptly let you know whether asbestos lurks in your home and also offer you further advice. If your house has damaged or friable asbestos materials, please contact a certified asbestos removal company in your area as soon as possible, as exposure will inevitably occur in this case. You can find a list of the highest-rated asbestos abatement companies at the end of our free guide.