When clumped together in small chunks, asbestos doesn’t pose a significant threat to humans. It is only once airborne that we can breathe in the fibres. The inhalation of these fibres and the resulting ailment is known as ‘Asbestosis’ when referred to generally and causes a reported 20 tradesmen to die each week.
It is only through disturbing asbestos either through fixing, moving or removing a material which contains asbestos do these fibres become airborne which then poses a threat. In many cases, illnesses aren't apparent until 20-30 years after asbestos exposure. This is the main reason as to why UK lawmakers were slow to act as the risks weren’t apparent straight away.
When asbestos is breathed in, it can cause the following illnesses:
is the swelling of the lungs when a person breathes in asbestos. The thin spikes of the asbestos cut and inflame the lung, making it difficult to breathe. It can cause a squeezed feeling across the chest. These symptoms are felt early after asbestos exposure and are indicative of possible future problems.
Asbestosis is the name for the damage and resultant scarring given to the lungs once you have inhaled asbestos. You might exhibit symptoms of;
- shortness of breath,
- pain in the chest,
- (in some cases) clubbing of the fingers.
In most cases, the symptoms of asbestosis aren’t felt until many years after breathing in asbestos. It is often diagnosed in former tradespeople, such as plumbers, builders or electricians.
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer which occurs in the lower digestive tract and respiratory system. If you are diagnosed with mesothelioma, it is likely a result of asbestos exposure. Once diagnosed, it is often fatal. Over 2,700 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma a year, most of which are over 75 and male.
Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer
Asbestos causes cancers by sticking into the pleura lining of the lung, causing mutations. These mutations can turn into cancers and spread.
Asbestos and lung cancer are historically tied in the minds of those who remember it being outlawed and the resulting social panic. Similar in nature to the damage caused by cigarette smoking, asbestos-related cancers occur at similar rates to that caused by mesothelioma.
As mentioned, these illnesses were not immediately apparent when people were working with asbestos. As a result, many people treated asbestos carelessly and became ill as a result years later. It was only with ongoing medical advancements and research that the pieces started to fall into place and it became apparent that asbestos was the cause of these illnesses.