Is there any Safe Level of Asbestos Exposure?
In recent years, though there has been greater awareness of the fact that asbestos is dangerous to our health, a lot of misconceptions regarding the mineral's health risks still exist.
A question that lingers in the minds of most people is - up to what level of asbestos exposure is considered to be safe? Surprisingly, no level of asbestos is safe and asbestos exposure for even a brief period can lead to the risk of developing pleural effusions, pleural plaques, mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases.
Also, there is no safe type of asbestos as this increased health risk is seen with all types of asbestos. In fact, amphibole asbestos appears to cause mesothelioma at a much lower level of exposure as compared to chrysotile asbestos.
Asbestos has the worst effects if exposed to an intense concentration of asbestos or if subjected to regular exposure
According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), asbestos-related diseases have developed in people with all levels of asbestos exposure to date. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration established a permissible exposure limit (PEL) at 0.01 fiber per cubic centimeter for workplace asbestos exposure in
- and asbestos abatement work.
However, this level is not identified as the safe level of asbestos exposure and is only a regulation put forward to reduce the risk of workers.
Asbestos-containing materials, when disturbed can release several tiny asbestos fibers that are easily inhaled by everybody in the vicinity without even realizing it. Just a brief exposure to a small amount of asbestos fibers can lead to dreadful illness because our body is unable to break down the rigid asbestos fibers and get rid of it. As a result, the fibers accumulate leading to inflammation and scarring of the lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart. The signs of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases show up after a long latency period ranging from 20-50 years, and this makes asbestos more dangerous. Moreover, early signs of asbestos-related diseases are non-specific leading to misdiagnoses and eventually, the patients tend to reach advanced stages of cancer by the time they are diagnosed properly.
Studies have suggested that all workers that are exposed to asbestos on the job are not affected equally
This means that several factors including genetics, the timing of initial exposure, and smoking history play an important role in deciding an individual's vulnerability to asbestos-related illness. Nevertheless, any level of exposure to asbestos can give rise to health problems in the future. Certain people face an increased risk of asbestos exposure because of their occupations and these include mechanics, construction workers, firefighters, and plant workers. Therefore, it is important to avoid asbestos exposure and choose safer alternatives to asbestos. These include polyurethane foam, cellulose fiber, thermoset plastic flour, and amorphous silica fabric.
As we know, asbestos was used in several industries throughout the world in the past century and is still hidden within thousands of buildings. Thus, people are likely to be exposed to the dangers of asbestos for a few more years to come.