Why is Asbestos Dangerous?

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Responsible for over 5,000 worker deaths every year, the dangers asbestos poses is vastly understated, especially when you take into account how few people are aware of its presence in buildings and the impact it can have on your body.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that asbestos is considered harmless when it’s in peak condition. Undisturbed, you can safely sit, live and work around it and be none the wiser to the dangers it possesses. However, if it were to become damaged/disturbed, its presence in your home/property would be an entirely different story.

What dangers does Asbestos pose?

The real danger lies in the particles/dust that is released from asbestos containing materials when they have become damaged.

If these particles are released and inhaled/ingested, then these particles can make their way into your body and become trapped by the mucous membranes in your throat and nose. From there they can travel into your lungs and digestive tract, where with time they can cause major health problems.

Now, it is important to note at this point that not all asbestos containing materials are at high risk of becoming ‘hazardous’. For instance, asbestos is at its most dangerous when it is friable (when the asbestos is easily crumbled in your hand, releasing fibres into the air).

This means, sprayed on asbestos insulation is highly friable, whereas asbestos containing materials such as floor files, ceiling tiles, shingles, fire doors etc. won’t release fibres unless they are disturbed or become damaged i.e. through drilling, cutting, etc.

Yet this doesn’t mean they are 100% safe either.

Water damage, continual vibrations, aging and drilling, grinding, buffing, cutting, and sawing etc.… can all work to deteriorate its condition and increase its chances of becoming friable. The only difference is – you have got more opportunities to spot it, prevent it and implement repairs.

What are the health risks?

Asbestos fibres are hard to destroy, meaning that once they are in your body, you will struggle to break them down or remove them – especially if they are lodged in your lungs or body tissues.

Yet what is most frustrating about asbestos is that it could be years before you even begin experiencing symptoms. In fact, there have been cases where more than 20 years have passed before individuals have started to feel ill. As such, the onset of the following diseases can feel quite sudden and unexpected. More so, if you didn’t realise you’d been exposed:  

  • Asbestosis – this is a serious, chronic non-cancerous respiratory disease that occurs as a result of long term exposure to asbestos fibres that aggravate lung tissues and cause scarring.

    From shortness of breath to a dry crackling sound within your lungs whilst breathing; in its advanced stages, it can cause cardiac failure. There is no effective treatment for this disease.

    Risk levels – minimal if you don’t work with asbestos. However, if you renovate or demolish a building, you may be at risk of exposure.
  • Lung Cancer – the most common cause of death for those who have been exposed to asbestos; you may suffer from coughing, changes in breathing, shortness of breath, consistent chest pains and anemia. This risk is amplified if you have got a history of smoking, as in one study it was discovered that asbestos workers – that smoked – were 90 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who didn’t smoke.
  • Mesothelioma – this rare form of cancer is found within the thin membrane lining of your lungs (pleura), chest, lower digestive tract and sometimes your heart. It is almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure, and is often seen in miners and textiles workers who have worked for years in asbestos mines, mills, factories and shipyards. As it is hard to spot, in many cases it can prove fatal.

Asbestos exposure has also been linked to other forms of cancer, including esophagus, larynx, oral cavity, stomach, colon and kidney.

What are the risk factors?

Whilst all forms of asbestos exposure can pose a threat to your health, certain factors can increase your likelihood of developing the diseases above:

  • The amount and duration of exposure – naturally the more you are exposed to asbestos fibres, the greater the chance of them getting into your body and causing health issues. Similarly, the more regularly you are exposed – or the longer you remain in its presence – the higher the risk.
  • Smoking – as previously mentioned, the combination of smoking and being exposed to asbestos can increase your chances of developing lung cancer. If you think you have been exposed to asbestos, then you should stop smoking immediately, as this will reduce your chances of developing cancer.
  • Age – the younger you are when exposed to asbestos, the more likely you are to develop mesothelioma. And this exposure doesn’t have to be direct. There have been cases of young people breathing in the dust when it has been brought home on clothing by other family members. As a result, it is vital to prevent school children from being exposed.

With a reputed 20 tradesmen believed to die as a result of asbestos exposure every week; asbestos is far from being a problem of the past.

As long as properties built prior to 2000 exist, there is always a chance of asbestos containing materials becoming disturbed/damaged. And as seen above – you don’t even have to be present at the time of damage for the fibres to do harm. Simply being around someone who was present but hasn’t disposed of their clothing, can cause health issues for the entire family (particularly children).

For this reason, before you consider doing any work on your residential or commercial property; first check to see when it was built so you can determine the likelihood of asbestos being present. By employing an EPA approved surveyor, they can safely survey your property, take samples and provide you with a map of where it is present.

For more information on asbestos; the dangers it poses and how to safely remove it, contact our team at ICE Asbestos today.

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