Asbestos is a naturally-occurring substance that was used for a number of years as a building material due to its range of useful properties. Unfortunately, asbestos can also be dangerous, and it is best to avoid it if at all possible.

People who come into contact with asbestos are at risk of developing a number of health problems – and it is at its most dangerous when the asbestos is damaged or disturbed and fibres are able to get into the air.

It should also be noted that not everyone who comes into contact with asbestos will develop health problems, however, symptoms and signs of very serious illnesses often do not show for up to 20 years after exposure. This shows just how important it is to be extremely careful around asbestos.

So, what exactly are the health risks relating to asbestos? And what illness can exposure to the substance cause?

Asbestos exposure is dangerous

It is important to recognise that exposure to asbestos particles is extremely dangerous to human health. If asbestos is damaged or disturbed, or simply has deteriorated through time, asbestos particles can get into the air. Here they can be breathed into the lungs. Once they are in the lungs, these tiny fibres are functionally impossible to remove.

In the lung, the fibres can cause irritation to the lungs and the lining of the lungs. Some of the illnesses that are most common associated with asbestos are almost exclusively caused by the substance.

Common asbestos-related diseases

Some of the most common asbestos-related diseases are highly debilitating, and can not only reduce quality of life but can cause serious breathing difficulties. Common diseases include:

  • Asbestosis – this is the name given to the scarring that occurs in the lungs caused by breathing in tiny asbestos fibres. With the scarring, it is harder to pass oxygen and carbon dioxide through the lungs, which ultimately makes it harder to breathe. It typically occurs only in people who had high exposure to asbestos over a long period.
  • Pleural disease – this disease is slightly difference in that it causes changes to the membrane that surrounds the lungs and the chest cavity. As the membrane thickens – also known as pleural thickening – fluid can build up. This can cause less efficient breathing and in more serious cases, sufferers may require assistance with breathing.

Common cancers associated with asbestos

As well as a number of diseases, asbestos exposure can increase the risk of a number of different types of cancer. These include:

  • Mesothelioma – this is a rare cancer that is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. The cancer typically affects the membrane that covers the lungs and chest cavity but can also be related to cancer of the membrane covering the abdominal cavity.
  • Lung cancer – there are many causes and risk factors for lung cancer, and asbestos can be counted amongst them. The risk is significant worsened through asbestos exposure combined with smoking.

How to minimise your risk of exposure

The best way to limit the chance of developing an asbestos-related illness is to minimise your risk of exposure to the substance. This might seem easier said than done, and in some cases, it is not your responsibility. For example, at work, your employer has the responsibility to ensure that your risk of exposure to asbestos is minimised.

At home, it is important to by mindful of dealing with asbestos if you buy an older property as well as where the substance is most commonly found. Minimising your risk often means understanding where asbestos is on the property, and creating a plan to avoid it.

Get an asbestos survey

If you have any concerns about asbestos and want to ensure that you are not at risk of exposure, it is important to have an asbestos survey carried out. These are the industry standard survey to look for signs of asbestos, and to sample materials that could be or contain asbestos on a property.

If you are interested in having an asbestos survey carried out, get in contact with the team at Crucial Environmental today.