Asbestos Health Effects

Asbestos, once the solution to thousands of industrial needs, is considered a leading respiratory health hazard if it is disturbed, damaged or deteriorated. In a bonded state, asbestos is not a harm to you. Asbestos becomes a danger to you when asbestos fibers are released in the air and you breathe them in. Exposure to high levels of asbestos over a long period of time has shown to cause various forms of cancer, including asbestosis, an emphysema-like condition, and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung and abdominal cavities.

When you breathe airborne asbestos fibers into your lungs, the body traps some of the fibers in the nose and throat. But other fibers can pass through the nose and throat, down your windpipe in into the lungs. Once there, they can become embedded in the alveoli. Alveoli are tiny air sacs in your lungs that are surrounded by blood vessels. Each lung has between 300 and 400 million alveoli. They have thin membranes that separate them from the blood stream and collect the carbon dioxide from the blood so it can be exhaled.

Once asbestos fibers enter the alveoli, they cannot be removed. Over a period of time scar tissue forms. This reduces the alveoli’s ability to pass oxygen into the blood stream and causes shortness of breath, condition that is called asbestosis. As the condition worsens, oxygen starvation sets in. Permanent physical disability and/or death can occur. Asbestosis is also suspected to cause cancer in various organs of the digestive tract. Other diseases caused by years of unprotected exposure to asbestos include lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdominal cavities. Symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breathe, pain in the chest, and/or abdominal pain.

Symptoms of these diseases do not develop immediately, but may take 10 to 40 years or more after the first exposure to occur.

“A worker who smokes and has also been exposed to asbestos may have as much as a 90 times greater risk of getting cancer than a worker who does not smoke.”