Asbestos: What Are the Potential Health Risks of Being Exposed to It?

Asbestos is a mineral found in nature that’s composed of fibers protected from heat, electricity, and erosion. Because of these characteristics, asbestos is highly toxic and poses a harmful health risk. It is utilized to make many commodities like paper, cloth, cement, plastic, and other materials to make them stronger.Asbestos Zone

Types of Asbestos 

Asbestos is a group of fibrous minerals that naturally occur. Its two main types comprise the amphibole and serpentine mineral families.

  1. Amphibole Asbestos
  • Actinolite Asbestos: Actinolite asbestos are sharp, pointed fibers that, when airborne, can be easily inhaled. Actinolite has recently been used in commodities such as insulation materials, paints, cement, sealants, and drywall.
  • Amosite: Amosite can be found in thermal insulation products, ceiling tiles, and insulating boards. This is also frequently used in cement sheets and pipe insulation.
  • Crocidolite: Crocidolite was generally utilized in some spray-on coatings, cement commodities, insulated steam engines, pipe insulation, and plastics.
  • Anthophyllite: Anthophyllite was utilized in certain quantities for insulation commodities and building materials. It’s a fiber that can be easily inhaled. It also arises as an impurity in vermiculite, chrysotile asbestos, and talc. It may have a grey, green, or white color.
  • Tremolite: Tremolite and actinolite are not utilized commercially, but they can be created as impurities in chrysotile asbestos, vermiculite, and talc. These two chemically identical minerals can be brown, white, gray, green, or transparent.
  1. Serpentine Mineral Family

Also known as white asbestos, this mixture is made of curly fibers and has a lot of layered structure.

  • Chrysotile: Chrysotile asbestos is the only known type of asbestos that associates with the serpentine family. It is the most commonly utilized element of asbestos. It can be found in the floors, roofs, ceilings, and walls of residences and companies. Factories also utilized chrysotile asbestos in automobile brake linings, appliances, gaskets and boiler seals, insulation for pipes, and ducts.

Read Also: Mesothelioma: A Promising New Treatment Extends Life Expectancy

Are All Asbestos types Dangerous?

Some types of asbestos may be extra hazardous than others, but all are dangerous. All the identified aspects of asbestos can cause diseases such as asbestosis, different types of lung cancer, ovarian cancer, throat cancer, and others.

Where Does It Come From?

Countries like the United States of America, China, Kazakhstan, and Russia are the main exporters of asbestos.

What Products Contain Asbestos?

Asbestos is utilized to create merchandise like furnace insulation, pipes, ducts, siding and roofing, electrical wires, soundproofing materials, floor tiles, and adhesives.

Who Is at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?

Individuals working with asbestos have a high risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. There are many occupations like asbestos mining, railway construction, shipbuilding and naval service, construction of building trades, chemical development, flooring, plastics, rubber, and building destruction that pose a high risk of asbestos exposure to employees.

Read Also: Drug Helps Shrink Mesothelioma Tumors

How Does Asbestos Affect Your Health?

Asbestos is harmful only when it stays in the air and its fibers decompose into tiny fractions. Once inhaled, it causes swelling, infection, and destruction of the lungs.

Diseases That Can Develop from Asbestos Exposure

  • Lung cancer: Scientists have verified that the risk of lung cancer increases up to 4 percent for each year a person is exposed to asbestos. It has a longer duration and causes most types of small cell lung cancers, and non-small cell lung cancer types are caused by asbestos.
  • Asbestosis: A disease that destroys the lungs.
  • Mesothelioma: This is a cancer of the lung lining. Incidents of mesothelioma are less than lung cancer in a person exposed to asbestos.
  • Other Cancers: Asbestos exposure can also cause cancer of the stomach, kidney, and throat.
  • Pleural Effusion: This is a condition where fluids accumulate in the lung linings and causes many respiratory symptoms like difficulty breathing and a high respiration rate due to lung compression.

Other Factors That Increase the Risk of Developing Asbestos-Related Diseases

Not all people exposed to asbestos acquire a disease or are at risk, but those who are exposed for a longer duration are significantly at risk.

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Other factors that affect your risk of developing asbestos-related diseases include:

  • The amount of asbestos the person has been exposed to. The greater the amount, the higher the risk.
  • It also depends on where the individual is working or what industry they’re in. There’s an increased risk of developing asbestos-related diseases in industries like sawing or drilling, where asbestos stays in the air longer compared to those who produce tiles or textiles.
  • A person who smokes and has lung cancer is also in danger of developing asbestos-related diseases.
  • Genetic modifications exposed to asbestos.

Pathophysiology

Inhaled asbestos fibers go to the upper and lower respiratory tract, wherein inhaled fibers are cleared by the cilia of the respiratory tract mechanism. However, some asbestos fibers may go to the lower lungs and can be kept there for many years.  Asbestos fibers are recognized by the lungs as foreign bodies, resulting in the activation of the immune system, which can lead to swelling, as well as cell and tissue damage. In the long term, this can advance to lung fibrosis or cancer.

How Common Are Asbestos-Related Diseases?

People who develop asbestos-related diseases may be symptom-free for as long as 10 to 40 years after exposure. Some of the symptoms are as follows:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Progress of a cough or a change in cough patterns
  • Blood in sputum when you cough
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen
  • Difficulty in swallowing or prolonged hoarseness
  • Significant weight loss
  • Swelling of the neck or face
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue or anemia

Read Also: Warning! Talcum Powder Might Be Responsible for Mesothelioma a Rare Form of Cancer

When Should You See a Doctor?

When you suffer from the symptoms as illustrated above, you should visit a physician immediately.

Diagnosis of Asbestos-Related Diseases 

A detailed history about your exposure to asbestos should first be recorded, followed by physical examinations and investigations, which include:

  • Pulmonary Function Test: This is a non-invasive test to determine how the lungs are working. It estimates the lungs’ capacity, volume, rates of flow, and gas exchange. There is a reduction in pulmonary function in asbestos-related diseases.
  • Chest X-Ray: This shows irregular opacities with a fine reticular pattern. In the case of mesothelioma, there may or may not be a calcified plaque in the lung lining.
  • Lab tests: To measure asbestos material in your body.
  • CT Scan: CT scanning is necessary for individuals presumed to have asbestosis.
  • Bronchoscopy: This involves inserting a thin tube down the airways of the lungs to get detailed images.
  • Lung Biopsy: A biopsy is a surgical technique in which a tissue specimen is sampled and examined under the microscope.

How Are Asbestos Diseases Treated?

Treatment and management depend on how much of the lung is affected. Treatment options to pursue include the following:

  • Oxygen supplement: Patients who experience shortness of breath, respiratory problems, and low oxygen saturation require oxygen.
  • Chemotherapy: This is used once a patient develops lung cancer and mesothelioma.
  • Radiation Therapy: This is used to kill cancer cells.
  • Surgery: This is used to remove cancer cells existing in the lungs.

Read Also: Virus Pandemic Health Implications for Mesothelioma Patients

Can Lung Damage Caused by Asbestos be Reversed?

Treatment cannot reverse the symptoms of asbestos-related diseases, though it can relieve them.

Preventing Asbestos Exposure 

  • Avoid bringing home shoes or work clothes that may have been stained with asbestos.
  • If you suspect any asbestos-related health dangers in your workplace, don’t be afraid to ask your employer about it.
  • Don’t work on substances that contain asbestos without wearing protective gear.
  • Don’t clean asbestos debris with an ordinary vacuum cleaner. Utilize wet cleaning methods.
  • Dispose of asbestos materials according to government and federal legislation.
  • Use proper abatement protocol to eliminate asbestos substances. Never appoint an asbestos job for employees who aren’t qualified and certified. Instead, work with a professional company that can properly handle all asbestos. For detailed info on the best practices for asbestos handling, learn the facts here now to avoid putting people at risk.

How Will Smoking and Asbestos Increase the Risk of cancer?

Numerous studies have shown smoking and asbestos exposure are extremely dangerous. A person who smokes and is also exposed to asbestos has a high chance of developing lung cancer. There is an indication that quitting smoking will reduce the risk of lung cancer among asbestos-exposed workers.

Read Also: Lung Cancer Latest Facts: Causes, Risks, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prognosis

 References

Asbestos: Worker and Employer Guide to Hazards and Recommended Controls

https://www.epa.gov/asbestos/safe-work-practices

https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/asbestos

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Public Health Statement for Asbestos. September 2001.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Toxicological Profile for Asbestos. September 2001.

National Toxicology Program. Asbestos. In: Report on Carcinogens. Fourteenth Edition. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program, 2016.

Ullrich RL. Etiology of cancer: Physical factors. In: DeVita VT Jr., Hellman S, Rosenberg SA, editors. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. Vol. 1 and 2. 7thed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2004.

U.S. Geological Survey. Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2016: Asbestos.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Health Effects of Asbestos.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Health Effects Assessment for Asbestos. September 1984. EPA/540/1-86/049 (NTIS PB86134608).

IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risk to Humans. Arsenic, Metals, Fibres, and DustsExit Disclaimer. Lyon (FR): International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2012. (IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, No. 100C.)

O’Reilly KMA, McLaughlin AM, Beckett WS, et al. Asbestos-related lung disease. American Family Physician 2007; 75(5):683–688. [PubMed Abstract]

Landrigan PJ, Lioy PJ, Thurston G, et al. Health and environmental consequences of the World Trade Center disaster. Environmental Health Perspectives 2004; 112(6):731–739. [PubMed Abstract]

Goldberg M, Luce D. The health impact of nonoccupational exposure to asbestos: what do we know? European Journal of Cancer Prevention 2009; 18(6):489-503. [PubMed Abstract]

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