The Dangers of Asbestos Exposure at Work

Asbestos is a mineral that boasts of excellent resistance to heat, fire, chemical and electrical damage, has good tensile strength, and is fairly affordable. Given these qualities, the use of asbestos spiked after the Industrial Revolution, and gained popularity as the ideal material for use in building construction, heating industries, shipyards, insulation projects, oil refineries, and automotive industries in the late 19th century.

But between the early and mid 20th century, it became evident that there was an increase in health problems and deaths traceable to asbestos exposure. Upon recognition of the potential health hazards of asbestos, its mining was stopped, asbestos use was phased out, and eventually asbestos as an industrial and commercial material was banned entirely. However, jobsites and work buildings where asbestos and asbestos-containing products have been used still pose risks to the people working in them or even living near their vicinity. Here are the 3 dangers and health risks of asbestos exposure that you should know about:

  1. Mesothelioma cancer
    This is one of the most serious consequences of heavy and repeated asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that involves the growth of malignant tumors in the protective membrane lining the lungs, abdominal cavity, and the heart. Pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lungs, constitutes about 75% of the cases. It occurs as a result of inhaling the long thin fibrous crystals of asbestos, which lodge in the mesothelial tissues of the lungs where they cause cellular damage and cancerous mutation. Tumors grow in the lining of the lung, and may lead to abnormal fluid accumulation in the area, localized tenderness, and reduced capacity of the chest to expand normally during breathing. Typical symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, coughing up of blood, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, and fatigue.
  2. Asbestosis
    This is another lung disease associated with inhaling asbestos fibers. Asbestosis involves the formation of scar tissue or fibrosis inside the lung. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can lead to the inflammation and irritation of cells that make up the lung tissue. Eventually, the lung tissue is damaged enough that irreversible scarring occurs, resulting to asbestosis. The symptoms of asbestosis are a result of scarred lung tissue restricting the normal contraction and expansion of the lung in the mechanism of breathing. These symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath upon exertion, cough, a feeling of tightness in the chest, wheezing and other abnormal breath sounds.
  3. Asbestos warts
    While pleural mesothelioma and asbestosis are both caused by the lodging of asbestos fibers in the lungs upon inhalation, asbestos warts are caused by the lodging of these same fibers in the skin. When sharp asbestos fibers get embedded in the skin, the body tries to heal the injury by growing over the fiber. This traps the fibers below the skin layers, causing benign callous-like warts to grow. Itching and rash formation are among the initial signs of skin exposure to asbestos, as the skin gets irritated by the sharp fibers especially when they don’t get washed off quickly.
    Asbestos warts in themselves involve health risks that are significantly less severe than the respiratory dangers posed by mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis. However, skin exposure to asbestos does increase the risk of contracting these respiratory problems via skin transfer. Asbestos on the skin can easily spread fibers to the air, food, and other surfaces, raising the possibility of asbestos inhalation or ingestion to more people.