Asbestos Exposure: Causes, Symptoms (2022)

Overview

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of six natural mineral fibers. These fibers are known for their strength and fire- and chemical-resistant properties. Because of these qualities, the manufacturing and building industries have used asbestos to:

  • Strengthen cement and plastics.
  • Provide insulation.
  • Fireproof buildings, textiles and military vehicles.
  • Absorb sound.

Asbestos fibers may be white, blue, brown, gray or green. The white fibers, called chrysotile, are the most commonly used in the United States.

What products contain asbestos?

Asbestos has been mined and used in North America since the late 1800s. During World War II, manufacturers starting using it more. Asbestos is in thousands of products, including building products such as:

  • Asbestos and cement shingles, siding and roofing.
  • Casings for electrical wires.
  • Millboard.
  • Patching and joint compound.
  • Pipe, duct and furnace insulation.
  • Floor tile and adhesives.
  • Soundproofing material.

Many household products and substances also contain asbestos, including:

  • Artificial ashes and embers used in gas-fired fireplaces.
  • Automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets.
  • Fireproof gloves, stovetop pads, table pads and fire-resistant fabrics (including blankets and curtains).
  • Some plastics, paints, coatings and adhesives.
  • Vermiculite-containing attic insulation and consumer garden products.

How does asbestos affect my health?

Asbestos fibers are not harmful unless they are released into the air. When they are released, the fibers break down into tiny particles. The particles become airborne, and we inhale them. Then they collect in the lungs, causing scarring and inflammation. Several U.S. health organizations have classified asbestos as a carcinogen, a cancer-causing substance.

Exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of developing:

  • Lung cancer.
  • Asbestosis, which causes permanent lung damage.
  • Mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the chest and stomach lining.
  • Cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, kidney and throat (larynx or oropharynx).
  • Scarring of the lung lining.
  • Pleural effusions, when fluid collects around the lungs.

Is it legal to use asbestos in building material?

Since the late 1970s, the United States has passed regulations limiting asbestos use. These regulations:

(Video) Asbestos Exposure Lung Cancer Survivor – Patrick Appert

  • Ban asbestos use in situations where it could be released into the air (like in gas fireplaces).
  • Require regular inspections to make sure asbestos materials are intact and undamaged.
  • Establish guidelines to ensure asbestos particles aren’t released during use.

Many products — especially buildings built before the regulations — contain asbestos. However, overall there has been a significant decline in the use of asbestos in the United States.

Who is at risk of asbestos exposure?

Everyone has some level of asbestos exposure. There are low levels of asbestos in the air, water and soil. However, these levels are low enough that they do not make people ill.

People who have worked directly with asbestos have the highest risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. Occupations that have a high risk of asbestos exposure include:

  • Shipbuilding and naval service.
  • Railway construction.
  • Asbestos mining and milling.
  • Construction and building trades.
  • Manufacture of chemicals, flooring, plastics or rubber.
  • Auto industry (specifically brake repair).
  • Firefighting.
  • Fabric milling.
  • Building demolition.

Those who were involved in rescue, recovery and cleanup at the site of the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City are at higher risk for developing asbestos-related diseases.

Not everyone exposed to asbestos develops an illness. In general, the longer your exposure, the higher your risk. But even if you only had brief exposure to asbestos, you still have a risk of developing a disease.

Factors that affect your risk of developing asbestos-related disease:

  • Duration: How long you were exposed to the asbestos.
  • Intensity: How much asbestos you were exposed to.
  • Type of industry: Lower risk if asbestos is bonded into a product (such as walls or tiles); higher risk if asbestos is released into the air, such as during sawing or drilling.
  • Personal risk factors: Smoking or pre-existing lung disease.
  • Genetic mutations: Gene change that makes it more likely you’ll develop a disease.

According to the National Cancer Institute, millions of Americans have had asbestos exposure since the 1940s.

  • Around 3,000 Americans receive a mesothelioma diagnosis every year. About 90% of mesothelioma cases are due to asbestos exposure.
  • Of all the conditions caused by asbestos, asbestos-related lung cancer causes the most deaths, followed by mesothelioma.

Symptoms and Causes

Asbestos-related conditions result from exposure to tiny asbestos fibers that collect in the lungs. The longer you were exposed to asbestos and the more intense the exposure, the higher your chances of developing a related condition. Working with asbestos-containing materials is the main cause. People who laundered clothing containing asbestos fibers or live in areas with high levels of airborne asbestos are also at risk.

You may have no symptoms until years after exposure. People who develop asbestos-related disease may be symptom-free for as long as 10 to 40 years after exposure. If you have any of these symptoms, see your healthcare provider:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Development of a cough or a change in cough patterns.
  • Blood in the fluid (sputum) coughed up from the lungs.
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen.
  • Difficulty in swallowing or prolonged hoarseness.
  • Significant weight loss.
  • Neck or face swelling.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fatigue.
(Video) What Are the Symptoms of Asbestos Exposure?

Diagnosis and Tests

To diagnose asbestos-related disease, your healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms and asbestos exposure. Your provider will then perform a physical exam, including:

  • Lung (pulmonary) function tests.
  • Chest X-ray to check for changes in the lungs from asbestos exposure.
  • Lab tests to measure asbestos material in your body.

What other tests might I need?

Your provider may recommend further testing to see your lungs in more detail:

  • CT scan.
  • Bronchoscopy, passing a thin tube down your airway and into your lungs to get detailed images.
  • Lung or pleural biopsy, taking a small sample of lung tissue to check for signs of disease.

Management and Treatment

Your treatment for asbestos-related disease depends on how asbestos has affected your lungs. There is no “one size fits all” treatment. For example, if you have a pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs) the fluid may need to be drained. Other treatments include:

· Oxygen therapy, which can help improve shortness of breath, breathing problems and low oxygen levels in your blood.

(Video) Asbestosis : Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment [Patient Education]

· Chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, one or all of which may be part of the treatment if you develop lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Prevention

Should I avoid all asbestos products?

Asbestos fibers are only harmful when they are released into the air. Today, asbestos used in building materials and many other products are bonded into the products. This process keeps them from being released into the air. There is little to no risk of harmful health effects from these products. However, take care not to sand, tear or otherwise damage or crumble the material. These actions can release the fibers into the air.

Do I need to remove asbestos materials from my home?

If you have asbestos materials in your home that are in good condition, it’s best to leave them alone. If you touch or disturb the material, you risk releasing the fibers into the air. Have materials inspected from time to time for signs of damage or deterioration. Intact material doesn’t pose a risk.

What if the asbestos material is damaged?

If you notice the material crumbling, a professional should come take a sample of the material and analyze it. If the material is asbestos and has damage, you will need to have it removed or repaired.

The goal of repair is to prevent asbestos fibers from being released into the air. Hire an asbestos professional to do the repair or removal. Don’t try to do it yourself. Improper handling of asbestos can create more of a health risk than leaving the material alone.

Because asbestos-related diseases affect the lungs, smoking increases lung cancer risk in people who have been exposed to asbestos. People who have had asbestos exposure should take extra care not to smoke.

Outlook / Prognosis

Your prognosis and outlook depend on how asbestos affects your lungs. It may take several years for any sign of asbestos-related disease to be detected. Lung or pleural scarring may not affect your overall health — however severe scarring, lung cancer or mesothelioma will. It all depends on the severity of your condition, overall health and other risk factors.

Can damage from asbestos be reversed?

Treatment cannot reverse lung damage from asbestos. Treatment for asbestos-related diseases aims to relieve symptoms, treat complications related to the disease and slow its progress.

(Video) Mesothelioma: Understanding the Dangers of Asbestos Exposure

Living With

If I was exposed to asbestos through my job, does that increase health risks for my family members?

It is possible to have “secondhand” asbestos exposure, called “paraoccupational exposure.” When a person works with asbestos materials, they can bring home particles on their shoes, clothing, skin and hair. Some evidence shows that family members of people who are heavily exposed to asbestos have a higher risk of developing mesothelioma.

To decrease this risk, most jobs that use asbestos materials make sure that the workers change when they arrive and leave work. Most companies also have showers available for employees to clean particles from hair and skin. Trained employees who wear protective clothing launder the contaminated clothing. These precautions lower the risk of family members developing any diseases. If you are exposed to asbestos at work, talk to your healthcare provider about other precautions you and your family can take.

What should I ask my doctor?

If you work in an industry with asbestos, ask your healthcare provider:

  • How can I reduce my risk for asbestos-related illness?
  • Should I have any regular testing or monitoring?
  • Are there medications or other preventive steps to take?
  • How can I protect my family members from asbestos-related illnesses?
  • If I start to feel symptoms, what steps should I take?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you’ve been exposed to asbestos through your job, talk to your healthcare provider. Asbestos can cause several health conditions, including lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer. You may not have symptoms for decades after exposure. Even if you’re feeling fine, talk to a provider so you can take steps to protect yourself and reduce your health risks. If you do have an asbestos-related condition, your healthcare provider will help you get the treatment you need.

(Video) Secondhand Exposure to Asbestos Led to Six Surgeries

FAQs

What does asbestos exposure cause? ›

Asbestos exposure causes lung cancer, asbestosis and a rare cancer called mesothelioma. Prolonged exposure to asbestos increases the risk of developing these diseases. Symptoms can take from 20 to 60 years to develop after exposure.

What are the three main diseases that exposure to asbestos can cause? ›

Asbestosis, which causes permanent lung damage. Mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the chest and stomach lining. Cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, kidney and throat (larynx or oropharynx). Scarring of the lung lining.

What are the 4 major asbestos-related diseases? ›

Asbestos diseases are caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. The most common asbestos-related diseases are mesothelioma cancer, asbestosis, COPD, pleural plaques, pleural thickening, pleural effusions and atelectasis. Research shows asbestos can also cause lung cancer, ovarian cancer and laryngeal cancer.

What causes asbestos in a house? ›

Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives. Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape. Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.

When is asbestos harmful? ›

Asbestos is most hazardous when it is friable. The term "friable" means that the asbestos is easily crumbled by hand, releasing fibers into the air. Asbestos-containing ceiling tiles, floor tiles, undamaged laboratory cabinet tops, shingles, fire doors, siding shingles, etc.

What is asbestos meaning? ›

Asbestos refers to a group of fibrous minerals used to strengthen and fireproof materials. When inhaled over long periods of time, asbestos fibers become trapped in the body and cause diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

What is asbestos found in? ›

Asbestos can be found in vinyl flooring, patching compounds and textured paints, sprayed acoustic ceilings, acoustic ceiling tiles, stove insulation, furnace insulation, pipe insulation, wall and ceiling insulation, roofing shingles and siding, home appliances, fire- retardant clothing, vehicle brake pads, and cement ...

Can you test for asbestos exposure? ›

Asbestosis can be diagnosed by x-ray (fibrosis looks cloudy in chest x-rays) or a lung function test.

What are the 3 most common asbestos disease? ›

There are 4 main diseases caused by asbestos exposure:
  • Pleural disease. Pleural plaques and pleural thickening are non-cancerous conditions affecting the outer lining of the lungs (the pleura). ...
  • Mesothelioma. ...
  • Asbestosis. ...
  • Lung cancer.

What is long term exposure to asbestos? ›

Asbestosis (as-bes-TOE-sis) is a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Prolonged exposure to these fibers can cause lung tissue scarring and shortness of breath. Asbestosis symptoms can range from mild to severe, and usually don't appear until many years after initial exposure.

How is asbestos exposure treated? ›

How Asbestosis Is Treated. There is no treatment that can reverse the damage done by asbestos, but certain steps can help slow down progression of the disease and relieve symptoms. Avoiding further exposure to asbestos and other irritants such as cigarette smoke will help slow down the disease from progressing.

Can asbestosis be cured? ›

Treating asbestosis

There is no cure for asbestosis, as the damage to the lungs is irreversible. However, you can take steps to reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Which common material is most likely to contain asbestos? ›

Common materials that may contain asbestos
  • Lagging.
  • Sprayed coatings on ceilings, walls and beams/columns.
  • Asbestos insulating board.
  • Floortiles, textiles and composites.
  • Textured coatings.
  • Asbestos cement products.
  • Roofing felt.
  • Rope seals and gaskets.
22 May 2020

How long do you live with asbestosis? ›

Can You Live with Asbestosis? Yes, you can live with asbestosis for years, but there is no cure for this progressive condition. Patients live an average of 10 years with asbestosis. Lung transplantation is the best long-term treatment for asbestosis, but few patients qualify for this serious procedure.

Where is asbestos most commonly found in homes? ›

Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives. Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape. Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.

How do I clean my house after asbestos exposure? ›

Avoid activities that will cause asbestos to generate dust such as vacuuming or sweeping. Wet the area down completely and mop or wipe up the dust. If necessary, use a HEPA vacuum approved for use with asbestos fibers. Keep all family members out of the work area, or seal the area.

Where is asbestos found naturally? ›

Asbestos is most commonly found in three rock types: serpentinites, altered ultramafic rocks, and some mafic rocks. Other rock types known to host asbestos include metamorphosed dolostones, metamorphosed iron formations, carbonatites, and alkalic intrusions.

Can a single exposure to asbestos cause mesothelioma? ›

Is One-Time Exposure Harmful? It is possible to develop an illness such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, pleural effusions or lung cancer after a one-time exposure to asbestos if the exposure was significant enough to lead to asbestos particles lodging in the body's tissues. The 9/11 attack is a common example.

How much asbestos do we breathe per day? ›

We are all exposed to low levels of asbestos in the air we breathe every day. Ambient, or background, air usually contains between 10 and 200 asbestos fibres in every 1000 litres (or cubic metre) of air (equivalent to 0.01 to 0.20 fibres per litre of air) meaning we may breath up to 5000 fibres per day.

Do N95 masks protect against asbestos? ›

A: An N95 mask is a disposable filtering facepiece respirator with two straps. When worn properly (with the mask making a tight seal with the user's face), it can protect against hazardous airborne particles. N95 masks do not protect against gases, vapors and cannot be used for asbestos, and they do not provide oxygen.

What color is asbestos? ›

Asbestos
Formula mass277.11 g
ColorGreen, red, yellow, white, gray, blue
Crystal habitAmorphous, granular, massive
CleavagePrismatic
20 more rows

Is asbestos a chemical? ›

► Asbestos is on the Right to Know Hazardous Substance List because it is cited by OSHA, ACGIH, DOT, NIOSH, NTP, DEP, IARC, IRIS and EPA. ► This chemical is on the Special Health Hazard Substance List.

When was asbestos first used in houses? ›

Building materials containing asbestos were widely used from 1930 to around 1980, particularly from the 1960s onwards. So, houses and flats built or refurbished at this time may contain asbestos materials. Asbestos has also been used in some heat-resistant household products, such as oven gloves and ironing boards.

How long does it take to get asbestosis? ›

Development of asbestos-related disease that cause this restriction, as well as other symptoms, has a latency period anywhere between 10 and 50 years. Symptoms usually only present themselves 20 to 30 years after exposure to asbestos, once the disease has already started to develop.

Do I need to report asbestos exposure? ›

Exposure to asbestos is reportable under RIDDOR when a work activity causes the accidental release or escape of asbestos fibres into the air in a quantity sufficient to cause damage to the health of any person.

How much exposure to asbestos will cause mesothelioma? ›

It often takes 20 to 50 years of harm before the first diagnosis. Mesothelioma cancer emanates from asbestos exposure. Approximately 2% to 10% of people with lengthy asbestos exposure will get pleural mesothelioma. About 0.3% of all cancer cases involve mesothelioma.

Where do you get asbestos poisoning? ›

The primary route of asbestos entry into the body is inhalation of air that contains asbestos fibers. Asbestos can also enter the body via ingestion. With dermal exposure, asbestos fibers may lodge in the skin. The air pathway is the most important route of exposure to asbestos.

Can the lungs clear asbestos? ›

Unfortunately, there is no way to eliminate asbestos fibers from a person's lungs completely. Since individual asbestos fibers are so small and are not visible, they can easily enter a person's airway without the person even knowing about it.

Does asbestos make you tired? ›

Extreme tiredness can be a sign of an asbestos-related condition and when combined with other common symptoms, such as shortness of breath and swollen fingertips, can be an indication of an asbestos related illness, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer.

Does asbestos make you cough? ›

The most common signs of asbestos exposure include shortness of breath, cough and chest pain. Pleural plaques are a sign that a person had enough exposure to be at risk of other diseases.

Do microwaves have asbestos? ›

euronews innovation - Microwaves blast dangers of asbestos - YouTube

Can mesothelioma be cured if caught early? ›

There is no cure for stage 1 mesothelioma or any stage of mesothelioma cancer. While mesothelioma is incurable, early-stage mesothelioma does have more treatment options, and palliative treatments can ease symptoms. The prognosis for stage 1 mesothelioma is favorable compared to mesothelioma diagnosed in later stages.

Is mesothelioma a painful death? ›

With mesothelioma, people die a terrible death in agony.

What part of the body does asbestos affect? ›

The asbestos fibers irritate and scar lung tissue, causing the lungs to become stiff. This makes it difficult to breathe. As asbestosis progresses, more and more lung tissue becomes scarred. Eventually, your lung tissue becomes so stiff that it can't contract and expand normally.

What are the long-term effects of asbestos? ›

According to IARC, there is sufficient evidence that asbestos causes mesothelioma (a relatively rare cancer of the thin membranes that line the chest and abdomen), and cancers of the lung, larynx, and ovary (8). In fact, it is thought that most mesotheliomas are due to asbestos exposure (9).

How long does asbestos stay in the body? ›

These microscopic particles penetrate the tissues in the lining surrounding bodily organs and remain there indefinitely. Pleural mesothelioma is the most diagnosed asbestos-related cancer; however, three other types can affect other organs of the body.

Can a single exposure to asbestos cause mesothelioma? ›

Is One-Time Exposure Harmful? It is possible to develop an illness such as asbestosis, mesothelioma, pleural effusions or lung cancer after a one-time exposure to asbestos if the exposure was significant enough to lead to asbestos particles lodging in the body's tissues. The 9/11 attack is a common example.

Can you test for asbestos exposure? ›

Asbestosis can be diagnosed by x-ray (fibrosis looks cloudy in chest x-rays) or a lung function test.

Can a blood test detect asbestos? ›

If you've ever wondered if there is a blood test for asbestos exposure or cancer, there could be soon. Researchers work every day to make better advancements in blood-test biomarkers. Doctors are able to find evidence of mesothelioma through blood tests.

Where is asbestos found? ›

Industrial property
  • Sprayed coatings on ceilings, walls, beams and columns.
  • Asbestos cement water tank.
  • Loose fill insulation.
  • Lagging on boilers and pipes.
  • AIB ceiling tiles.
  • Toilet seat and cistern.
  • AIB partition walls.
  • AIB panels in fire doors.
6 Aug 2020

How is asbestos exposure treated? ›

How Asbestosis Is Treated. There is no treatment that can reverse the damage done by asbestos, but certain steps can help slow down progression of the disease and relieve symptoms. Avoiding further exposure to asbestos and other irritants such as cigarette smoke will help slow down the disease from progressing.

How common is asbestosis? ›

Asbestosis is a relatively rare condition, because it takes a considerable degree of asbestos exposure to cause it, and regulations to restrict exposure have been in place for many years. However, in 2011 there were 178 deaths directly caused by asbestosis and 429 where the condition was thought to have played a role.

How much asbestos do we breathe per day? ›

We are all exposed to low levels of asbestos in the air we breathe every day. Ambient, or background, air usually contains between 10 and 200 asbestos fibres in every 1000 litres (or cubic metre) of air (equivalent to 0.01 to 0.20 fibres per litre of air) meaning we may breath up to 5000 fibres per day.

Can you wash asbestos off your clothes? ›

You cannot easily wash asbestos out of clothes. Trying to do so can expose you to asbestos. Regular washing machines are not designed to clean asbestos-contaminated clothing. Trying to wash contaminated clothing will cause asbestos fibers to become airborne.

What is considered short term asbestos exposure? ›

Short-term asbestos exposure involves incidents that last less than a few days. Certain extreme events, such as the toxic exposure caused by the 9/11 attacks, can lead to a high risk of illness later in life. But in general, the health risk from short-term asbestos exposure is low.

How much exposure to asbestos will cause mesothelioma? ›

It often takes 20 to 50 years of harm before the first diagnosis. Mesothelioma cancer emanates from asbestos exposure. Approximately 2% to 10% of people with lengthy asbestos exposure will get pleural mesothelioma. About 0.3% of all cancer cases involve mesothelioma.

Do N95 masks protect against asbestos? ›

A: An N95 mask is a disposable filtering facepiece respirator with two straps. When worn properly (with the mask making a tight seal with the user's face), it can protect against hazardous airborne particles. N95 masks do not protect against gases, vapors and cannot be used for asbestos, and they do not provide oxygen.

Videos

1. Will Everyone Exposed to Asbestos Get Sick? | Weitz & Luxenberg
(David Kufeld)
2. Asbestosis | Occupational Lung Disease | Restrictive Lung Disease | Pulmonology
(Medicosis Perfectionalis)
3. Asbestos Exposure Symptoms | Sokolove Law
(Mesothelioma Resources by Sokolove Law)
4. MESOTHELIOMA, Causes, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment.
(Medical Centric)
5. Types of Diseases Caused by Asbestos Exposure
(Kazan Law)
6. Asbestos health issues - an extract from a film by Parsons Brinckerhoff
(WorkSafeQueensland)

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