Asbestos Exposure: How Diseases & Risks Are Associated With Asbestos Exposure?
Before coming up with the risks and diseases associated to the asbestos exposure, you should first learn what it's all about and why such a term was given to it.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is basically a type of mineral which is used heavily in industries. The name "Asbestos" is given to 6 minerals that are abundantly found in the environment. One of the most crucial properties of asbestos is that it's resistant to heat and due to this it is used heavily.
Asbestos relates to bundle of naturally occurring fibers that can be separated into the form of threads. It's then used in many industrial and commercial purposes. More asbestos related minerals are also available naturally like erionite.
If you look the structure of Asbestos chemically, it exists in nature in the form of silicate compounds which means that they are made up of the atoms of Silicon and Oxygen in their molecular form.
You can understand the term asbestos by looking at their basic structure. Researchers say that asbestos is generally divided into two major types of groups. One is Serpentine asbestos and another is known as amphibole asbestos.
The peculiar thing about Serpentine asbestos is that it contains a mineral named chrysotile which is abundantly found in the form of long and curly fibers that can also be woven. These chrysotile fibers are a type of asbestos fibers that are still being used in various commercial applications.
On the other hand, Amphibole asbestos naturally occurs in the form of minerals like amosite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite. Please note that Amphibole is made up of short and long needle like fibers that are way too brittle as compared to the serpentine fibers.
How is Asbestos Used?
The first use of asbestos came into effect in late 1800s when it was mined and used for commercial purpose. After the world came to know about the relevance of asbestos, it started using more often. It was also used during world wars.
One great use of asbestos is in the building and construction industries that mainly used the mineral to strengthen plastic and cement. Its use is also being made in some other works like fireproofing, insulation, sound absorption and roofing.
For example, the ship building industry has consistently used asbestos for the insulation of hot water pipes, steam pipes and boilers. In the same ways, asbestos is also used in the automotive industry in clutch pads and vehicle brake shoes.
In addition to this, asbestos is also being used in many other ways including adhesives, coatings, paints, ceiling, floor tiles and more. Asbestos use has also been spotted in garden products like vermiculite along with some talc-containing crayons.
The first ill effect of asbestos came into light in the late 1970s after the CPSC (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) simply banned the products in products like gas fireplaces and wallboard patching compounds because there was a danger of releasing asbestos fibers into the environment, especially at the time of using those products.
It all happened in 1989 when EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) decided to ban the use of asbestos and related compounds. In the same ways, some more precautions were taken to ensure that no ill use of asbestos is being done. The main purpose of this entire exercise was to reduce or eliminate asbestos exposure.
Another research in this relation was done in the year 2000 when CPSC finally stated that risks associated due to the exposure of asbestos fibers in crayons was too low. And so, all the US manufacturers of crayons unanimously took the decision to eliminate talc (clay mineral) from all their products.
Later in the year 2000 in August, EPA gain conducted a series of tests to ensure the ill effects or hazards of asbestos exposure containing a substance vermiculite. In the findings, EPA came to a conclusion that asbestos exposure containing vermiculite products have only a minimal effect on the health of people who come in contact with it.
With that, EPA also suggested people need to lower the use of asbestos containing vermiculite products for their gardening use. This was suggested as a precautionary measure. It also suggested limiting the amount of dust produced while using vermiculite use for various gardening purpose.
It further stated that all those consumers who use vermiculite products need to practice such products in a well ventilated area. Also, to keep it damp while using it and so on.
All the above regulations that are given by various institutions in the US managed to lower the use and health risk of asbestos and related products in the US.
Health Hazards Due to the Exposure to Asbestos
First of all, people should know that asbestos is completely harmless if not touched or manipulated in any way. As far as the exposure to asbestos is concerned, people can become its prey at their homes, workplace or communities.
Asbestos has a tendency to release its fibers into the environment when products containing them are disturbed in any way. After tiny asbestos fibers are released into the air, there are high chances that they get breathed in. Since they are such tiny fibers, they can easily trap into the linings of lungs and can remain there for several years.
Over the years, these fibers get accumulated in lungs and cause complications like inflammation and scarring that can affect normal breathing process and may bring serious complications over the time.
After s deep and thorough study, asbestos has now been classified as a known category of human carcinogen by HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) and EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). After studies conducted at various levels, it has now been established beyond doubt that asbestos exposure can become a strong reason of developing mesothelioma (rare cancer of the lining of abdomen and chest).
Well, this is quite rare but asbestos exposure is the most common reason of causing cancer of lungs. On the other hand, there is almost no or limited evidence that shows that long term asbestos exposure may become the reason of some other type of cancers like larynx, lungs and ovaries.
Increased risk of asbestos exposure can become the reason of causing asbestosis which happens to be an inflammatory condition that affects lungs. The symptoms include coughing, breath sordidness or permanent damage of lungs.
It can also become the reason of several other types of cancers including pleural disorders, pleural plaques and other malignant lung disorders. For example, take the case of Erionite which has become the most common human carcinogen by HHS and IARC.
Who is at risk for an asbestos-related disease?
Asbestos exposure is meant different at different point of time. Speaking generally, all people get asbestos exposure at some level during their lifetime. But it doesn't mean that they pose any kind of danger to their lives.
However, large amount of asbestos exposure over the time generally cause serious complication. Most of the time, it has been reported that people come in contact with asbestos exposure at the place of their work directly or indirectly.
Throwing some light on the data collected in this regard, it has been come to the light that during the early 1940s, hundreds of American workers came in contact with asbestos.
Most of the cases related to the health hazards caused due to the exposure of asbestos fibers are found in the workers exposed in various activities like asbestos mining, shipbuilding trades, construction and building trades, drywall removers, firefighters, automobile workers, asbestos mining and milling and various other works.
Studies conducted in this regard suggest that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure which means there is not a prescribed level of asbestos exposure that has been termed as dangerous. This is the reason why the government always advocates taking precaution while working at such places.
It's not a complete fact that those who are not heavily exposed by asbestos are safe. Even a smaller amount of asbestos exposure can be harmful as well. The most peculiar thing about asbestos related diseases is that there is no sign or symptoms that arise because of it even for a long time. To be precise, it may take from 10-40 years for the symptoms to appear.
What factors affect the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease?
There are a number of factors that are responsible how asbestos exposure actually affects an individual. Take a look at some of them:
· Duration (how long an individual was exposed)
· Source of the exposure
· Genetic factors, such as having a germ line mutation in BAP
· Dose (how much asbestos an individual was exposed to)
· Size, shape, and chemical makeup of the asbestos fibers
In general, all types and forms of asbestos are hazardous to health, different type of asbestos fibers are responsible for health risks. As per the results and findings by various institutions, amphibole form of asbestos is more dangerous as compared to chrysotile.
How are asbestos-related diseases detected?
The biggest problem related to those exposed by asbestos is that symptoms appear late. Sometimes, it happens that symptoms may appear after a gap of many decades.
But those who have a long term asbestos exposure need to realize that symptoms will appear sooner or later. But they can at least go to a doctor and narrate their stories to the doctor concerned.
Well, you might be thinking about the symptoms that are most common when someone is exposed to asbestos:
· Swelling of the neck or face
· A persistent cough that gets worse over time
· Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
· Fatigue or anemia
· Swelling of the neck or face
· Weight loss
· Pain or tightening in the chest
· Blood in the sputum (fluid) coughed up from the lungs
All the above symptoms are generally prevalent when people are long term exposed by asbestos. One of the tests which are most reliable in detecting any such deformity happens to be the chest x ray.
But at the same time, the above test is unable to detect the asbestos fibers accumulated in lungs. Still, the above test helps identify the early signs of any kind of lung disease causing due to asbestos exposure.
How Can Workers Protect Themselves from Asbestos Exposure?
In order to protect from the alarming cases of asbestos exposure, workers are often at a greater risk. It's because they have to come in the direct contact with the harmful chemicals at their workplace. The best way to protect them and to avoid such a situation is to be well informed about the hazards of asbestos and related products.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) happens to be a component of the US DoL (Department of Labor) and is categorized as a government agency to take care of the safety and health of workplaces, construction sites and more.
In the same ways, Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is an institution that deals with labors working under mines. It's an administrative body that falls under DoL which is also concerned about the quality of equipment of labors working under such an area.
Now, there are some other ways how workers can protect themselves from getting asbestos exposure. First of all, they should be well informed about this and secondly, they should discuss it with other employees.
They can also inform the same to their safety and health representative as well. In this regard, OSHA can play a great role by making an inspection of the workplace concerned.